House rules: taking the fun out of bars
Words by Jane Ryan
Rule 1: The bartender is always right.
Rule 2: If the bartender is wrong refer to rule 1.
How many bars have this hanging somewhere on the wall?
It's easy to understand why bars have house rules, especially member's clubs. Usually they are there for a reason and are often humorous along the way, such as Milk & Honey's which include "no name-dropping, no star fucking" - essentially a ban on sycophantic behaviour. Fair dues.
Rules about respecting the bartender's judgement also make sense, seeing as they are supposed to be the sober ones in the exchange of money for booze. But when do these rules stop shaping the venue into the bar its owners envisaged and start becoming an egotistical exercise in power? Because after all bars are still supposed to be fun - right?
To being let's start with the understanding that rules such as 'please consider our neighbours when leaving' are widely accepted as sensible. To further that point, the original reasoning behind the iconic Milk & Honey rules New York was the location. If people were causing a ruckus downstairs the neighbours upstairs would hear them. Makes sense. The members bar in London continues this to make sure members respect the bar, and really members' bars can make whatever rules up they please - people are paying to adhere to them after all. The choice is theirs.
But what of regular bars and their rules? How much right do they have to ask for strict observance and what can they demand of their patrons? For example the rule of 'no selfies'. Yes they can be annoying and silly but do bars really have the right to tell customers they can't stick a camera in their own face? No flash photography in a dark and intimate venue is one thing, no photos whatsoever because it distracts the bartenders is surely a step too far?
Not offering classic drinks is at the discretion of the bar. Telling guests 'don't even think of asking for a "Cosmo"' on your house rules is another matter. Perhaps it's intended to be funny, tongue-in-cheek, but is it also alienating to the common drinker?
The most ridiculous we came across: "Do not make eye contact with the bartender if you do not want a drink." We're fairly certain they were trying to make a joke, but the rest of the rule list read so seriously that it's hard to tell. Either way printing a list of rules such as this on the menu (which included "do not fold or bend this menu and no bachelor parties, themes or ridiculous movements") is unfortunately becoming increasingly common.
Because basically all these rules boil down to just one: 'there will be no enjoyment in this venue.' When did everything become so serious?