Babies in Bars

Dear Helena,
There is always a lot of debate about babies in bars. I think younger people often don’t like to see them, because it messes up a bar’s sexy vibe. And adults with children don’t want to feel like second-class citizens. I am torn: I feel that babies should be allowed in bars, because pubs are one of the few community gathering spots we have in contemporary society (I’ve heard that in the UK, babies show up in bars a lot more often). On the other hand, I worry that the parents will have to change the babies in the cramped bathrooms, and thinking about that gives me the willies. What’s your take?
—Drinks in Diapers

Dear Drinks in Diapers,
You’re absolutely right: There’s nothing less sexy than a baby, unless it’s a dirty diaper. And one baby tends to attract more. Greg Curley, co-owner of the Double Windsor in Brooklyn, had to ban minors after 5 p.m. once the stroller set threatened to take over. “There were groups of moms with two or three each. People were sitting their babies on the bar.”

Even if your cherub is tucked out of harm’s way in a sling, its very presence is still a buzzkill for many patrons. Babies are like laptops, Curley says, which some bars also ban at night: Both are reminders of drudgery and responsibility—exactly what many patrons are there to escape from.

That said, new parents need to get out of the house and see other adults if they are to retain their sanity. Brooke Parkhurst, a mother and online columnist in New York who often enjoys a cocktail with her baby, says: “Just one hour can really lift your spirits.” And let’s face it: Sitting on a park bench doesn’t have quite the same mood-boosting effect as a pint with friends.

Let me be clear about a few things. First, in general you can only bring a baby into a business with a restaurant license—that is, one that serves food as well as alcohol (exact laws vary by state). It’s illegal to take a minor into an establishment with a bar or nightclub license, even when the minor is in diapers, says Steven Schmidt, vice president of the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association.

Second, moderation is key. Stay only for one or two drinks. This means that, with luck, you can save diaper changing until you get home and need not risk doing it on an unsanitary toilet floor. Some readers will doubtless object to parents having even one drink while in charge of a baby. But in many other cultures, it’s perfectly acceptable. Some upscale and crowded pubs in London, where I’m from, may object to the presences of babies anytime. But most traditional pubs in the UK will allow pre-toddler-aged tykes; my sister-in-law happily takes her baby to the pub. Michael Friedman, an American who teaches law in Hamburg, Germany, says no one bats an eyelid if he takes his baby to a “kneipe, which is like a friendly neighborhood pub that serves food.”

But even in pubs and kneipes, babies are chiefly seen in the afternoon. This brings me to my third caveat: Stick to happy hour. Parkhurst takes her baby out “around 5 or 6” and says she has never noticed any dirty looks. At that time, the place will be quieter and less crowded, and the staff won’t mind you taking up a table without ordering food. In the afternoon or early evening, most people aren’t there to get drunk and pick people up. Activities that a baby could derail usually don’t start until after dark.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. You can also follow her on Twitter and fan her Table Manners column on Facebook.