Tag Archives: bar culture

House Rules: Buybacks

We’re loathe to admit that New York City has ever done anything better than Baltimore. Sure, they do everything bigger, but that’s not necessarily better.

It almost killed us when we were forced to admit that they’ve outdone us for happy hour, and it hurts us again when we have to discuss the matter of buybacks.

The next round's on the house, Hon.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘buyback’ is a round of drinks received on the house after buying a few rounds in a row. The idea of the buyback is an old tradition which is present in bars nationwide, and even internationally, but nowhere is it more ingrained than in New York. In Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, a round on the house is almost an entitlement in any bar worth drinking in. Instead of giving bartenders ‘shift drinks’ to comp at discretion, it’s not unusual for management in NYC to have stated policies on buybacks for employees and patrons to follow.

Granted, it is a decidedly old school practice, and like much of old New York is barely fighting to stay alive. This is why we were so pleased to discover by accident a website devoted entirely to finding and documenting the best bars for buybacks on the internet.

BuybackNYC.com never appears to have made it out of beta, and their scant blog hasn’t been updated in some 14 months. Still, their FAQ page is an excellent primer on the culture of buybacks, and the idea of mapping buyback bars is absolutely genius. We’re sorry it didn’t work out better.

Here in Charm City, people are currently still in a months-long frenzy over ‘deals’ sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, Chewpons, CityCents, Mobile Deals, Google and Facebook deals, etc. Personally, we’ve never understood the appeal of most of these, as a lot of them are designed to get you to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise, and to spend more than the value of the ‘deal.’ How many times has a $10 for $20 worth of food coupon turned into a $50 restaurant check? Many, we’d wager. Then there’s a whole host of restrictions and limitations to deal with, not to mention the problem of places closing down before you’ve got a chance to claim your deal.

We’ve always been more partial to specials that are offered directly by bars and restaurants themselves, and we’ve long admired the potential for sites and mobile apps like 600 Block, which like BuybackNYC is still in beta, and seldom if ever updated. At its inception, 600 Block was an invaluable tool for keeping track of the cheapest drinks in town. Unfortunately, a site like that is just too much for one or two people to keep updating daily when the only revenue is Google ads and a few local restaurant sponsorships.

The only solution we can see to the failure of such great ideas is is the publication of a fixed list, with regular specials that recur year in and year out, or to make happy hour calendars a wiki, which can easily be updated and edited by anyone, whether they happen to work in a bar or not. We’d love to see a wiki buybacks site here in Baltimore, to help prevent certain neophytes from walking into bars and behaving like a hipster dufus.

In the meantime though, we’ll continue to find our buybacks and happy hours the old fashioned way; on a barstool.

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House Rules: 2 for 1 Happy Hour and the New Math

In many ways, there’s no better bar special out there than the two for one happy hour. Unless you’re going to feed us some free tasty food, getting twice the drink and half the check is pretty hard to beat.

Perhaps the greatest thing about it though, is the new math. When you buy a drink for a friend, sometimes the 2 for 1 actually pays the dividends of a 3 for 1. Bear with us here: what we’re about to say might not make much sense, or it might blow your mind.

Have your beer, drink it too, and get another one into the bargain. The new happy hour math.

One of the recurring themes in our personal life this year has been the notion of trying to have your cake and eat it too. We’re convinced that with careful study and attention to detail that this is often possible, and that it’s one of the great keys to a life well lived. We’ve spent the better part of this year really concentrating on how to avoid making trade-offs in life, and so far it’s been working out pretty well for us.

A two for one happy hour is obviously one of the easiest ways to have your cake and eat it too. You can literally sip one drink while the other one sits on the bar. Giving it to your friend though, or anyone nearby, is a much better move. When you do this you’re actually buying 3 drinks: yours, your friend’s, and the one your friend will give you on the next round.

Granted, he’s technically purchasing that last one, but he is obligated. During a non-happy hour, the obligation might still be there, but it wouldn’t be quite so strong. There are plenty of situations in which you can accept a drink with polite thanks and not be on the hook to respond in kind, but during happy hour, when they’re pouring them two at a time, there’s no excuse for not giving back that second drink.

For just the price of a single drink, you’ve received your first drink, bought your friend a drink, and put him on the hook for your next round. That’s three drinks. It’s even better than having your cake and eating it too, and it works both ways. Your buddy is also getting three for one, after a fashion. It’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re in one of our favorite bars with a two for one happy hour, like George’s or the CVP.

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House Rules: Last Call Part 2

Just before New Year’s we weighed in with our opinion on Baltimore’s 2 am last call law. While some find it absurd, offensive, and annoying, we really don’t mind it much at all. Love it or hate it though, 2 am last calls aren’t going away anytime soon in the City of Baltimore.

Since it’s here to stay, we all might as well make the best of it. When you’re out late this weekend, or any weekend in the future, keep in mind that there is a well-established protocol- a set of House Rules if you will. While the drill may vary slightly from bar to bar, the last call ritual is easier to endure when you know the rules.

Closing time.

Know and understand Bar Time. First thing’s first, when you arrive at the bar you intend to close, locate the House Clock. This will almost always be a large, non-digital clock, most likely behind the bar, but possibly at its end, near the front door, or high on the opposite wall. This clock will be set to Bar Time. Bar time is usually 15-20 minutes ahead of real time, but may even be as much as 30. It may be 17, maybe 12 1/2 doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, that’s what time it is. Doesn’t matter what your watch says. Your watch is wrong until you’re on the other side of the door.

Anticipate the last call-call. When the Bar Time clock says 1:30, you know that last call is coming in the next few minutes. If you’re already ready for another round, get it before every other jerk in the bar orders ‘one more for the road.’ If the bartender asks you ‘Would you like anything for last call?’ or just announces it to the company at large, you should know immediately a) whether you want to order and b) what you want to order. Whether it’s one more of the same, a round of shots, or something for a nightcap, now is the time to order decisively.

Make preparations to leave. If you need a cab, arrange for it now. If your party got separated, get them back together posthaste. If you need to get a phone number, get it before the lights go up. Finish your drinks. Don’t Chug, just finish. If you can’t or don’t want to, then don’t. No shame in that. Now is also a good time to get your coat, since barroom coat theft is a problem rampant everywhere from Baltimore to Blighty.

Pay your check. It’s best to ask for your check before the bartender closes all tabs and hands them out. You should be asking for your check at the same moment you order your last round, before everyone else has a check to pay also. This is also a very good time to ask for a six pack to go if you need one, because it’s not like you can stop by the liquor on the way home, yes?

Know the difference between Last Call and Bar’s Closed. When the lights are turned on, the stools go up, and the staffers start making comments like ‘If you don’t work here and you’re not sleeping with someone who does, you have to leave now.’ that’s not last call anymore. That’s the bar being closed. That’s when you walk out of the door because the bar is not open anymore. Don’t stand around complaining. Don’t go for the bathroom. Don’t try to continue drinking. Just leave. Bouncers and barbacks in this town *will* snatch the drink right out of your hand and tell you to fuck off. Please don’t make it come to that.

Get the hell out of there. Don’t stand out front smoking cigarettes for an hour and a half. Don’t make out in your car in the parking lot until dawn. Don’t walk around in circles drunk dialing people for no good reason. Go home. Or go to the diner or Wawa or someplace. But mostly go home.

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