babies in bars

Late in Bubelah’s first pregnancy, we stopped in at a bar after a visit to the doctor for a routine checkup. I had a beer and she had a seltzericon.  It was a mild winter day, mid-afternoon and we were savoring some quiet time together before the main event, due a few weeks later.  As we chatted, I was slightly surprised to see a couple walk in with a stroller and a baby who appeared to be about two years old.

As they sat at the bar, with their baby parked behind them, I stewed. I had a lifetime of bachelorhood behind me; the main interaction I had with children before I had my own was glaring at them when they cried on airplanes.  My just-recently born niece and nephew were – as far as I can remember – the first and second babies I had held in my life.  I hadn’t been around people with children much at all; my life in New York and Moscow before that was centered around singles life.  Babies and toddlers were a vague, distant afterthought.

So when the toddler at the bar started fussing, my passive-aggressive fury mounted, and I threw the parents a nice rough glare. They seemed to shrug it off.  Being midafternoon, the bar didn’t have any smoke in it, wasn’t crowded and except for a few patrons around the bar and towards the front watching a soccer game on TV, it was quiet.  My glare cut like a knife hurled in the parents’ direction – or at least I imagined it did.  They probably thought I was squinting at the TV.

I am more sympathetic now, of course, since I have two toddlers of my own. It’s tough to avoid “grown-up” places when you have kids.  Just because I have kids doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to visit an adult-oriented establishment from time to time.  The obvious answer is to have a babysitter, but it’s tough to leave two small toddlers alone in the evening with a babysitter unless you have a great deal of trust in her (and yes, I’ll be sexist and say “her”).  And now that I’m a parent, I’d like to expose my almost-four-year-old son to a nice restaurant once in a while.  I’m not sure my daughter appreciates the difference between McDonald’s and the Olive Garden and Morton’s yet, but why not let her enjoy french fries from Morton’s, too?

But. There’s a but.

Kids don’t belong in bars. There are two reasons:  first, they aren’t 21.  What’s the cutoff?  If I bring my 12 year old to a bar, is that OK?  Is it fine as long as they don’t drink?  If so, can a 16 year old stroll in?  19?  Second, I think other patrons have a right to a “no-children-allowed” bar experience, just as they do to a “no-kids-at-R-rated-movies” experience or a “no-kids-playing-in-the-office” experience.  I have seen both; I remember going to see the movie Alien Versus Predator at a matinée * and sitting there with my jaw on the ground as stroller after stroller rolled in filled with (understandably) shrieking babies.  I’ve seen quite a few single mothers who work in accounting over the years bring their kids in to the office in an emergency (babysitter sick, everyone else at work, etc.).  It’s not fair to everyone else to bring kids there.

This may be an Americanism.  Europeans don’t worry much about children at bars.
Maybe most cultures don’t care.  I’ve sat on enough beer garden benches with rugrats playing tag in the aisles while in Germany to know that.  Americans may just be more prudish, or more considerate, or less (or more) family oriented.  I’m sure the argument can be made that exposing children to the drinking of alcohol isn’t healthy, but you could make the same argument (in my opinion) for exposing them to TV, junk food, pop culture, toxic big cities and even various political philosophies.

I’m not sure when I’d start feeling comfortable bringing my kids to a bar at happy hour.  The article I read that prompted this thinking (here) seemed to be centered on the parents’ need for socializing.  I view that as selfish.  If you want to socialize, get a babysitter.  Have lunch while your child is at day care.  Take turns as parents staying home while the other goes out.  It’s not ideal, of course, but many of the comments were dead on:  you are a parent now.  If you miss hanging out all afternoon drinking sangria at the local watering hole with friends: tough.  If you’d like to pop into the local bar for a beer with the kid in tow on the way home from work when your child is sleepy:  too bad.

So if you go to TGI Friday’s with the family in tow, fine. They’ll put you near the kitchen, give you some crayons and a kids’ menu and tolerate the tossing of forks.  Should you go to O’Hallorans at 7 pm with your two-year old?  Nope.  Head home, read Runaway Bunny and suck it up.  There’s a happy medium, and I’d rather not be the guy pictured on CNN with an obviously crying baby on my lap and a half-drunk glass of wine in front of me (look at the article).

* I love science fiction.  I loved Alien.  I really loved Aliens, one of my favorite movies ever.  I loved Predator, too – how can you go wrong with two future governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura) fighting an eight-foot-tall invisible rastafarian bug-man?  I was really excited about Aliens versus Predator before it came out.  I did NOT love AvP.  Way to stick a fork in both franchises, people who made AvP.

photo by Penningtron

8 comments

  • trips in city

    I can't even believe there's debate about this. Babies in bars? Ludicrous! End of argument.

  • I grew up in pubs – probably twice a week I was in one throughout my childhood (although it was with my friends rather than parents when I turned about 15) and that was when smoking was allowed in them. I'm one of those pesky Europeans of course, but there was definitely a divide between family pubs/teenage binge drinking pubs/singles pubs/so on that I'm not sure exists to the same extent here. Personally as a non-parent I'd rather the little brats, er, special snowflakes are kept clear of quieter, nicer restaurants where I may be on a date with my husband but have no issue with them in a noisier pub environment.

  • trips in city

    Bringing a baby to a bar is not by itself a harmful act. As a social worker, I can attest to the fact that there are far worse things that parents can do.

    • Well, yes, of course, everything is relevant or irrelevant in comparison. If I told some people in my circle that I took my kids to get flu shots and gave them infant tylenol when they had fevers, they would think I am abusing them.

    • Haha, where my other friends who professed to giving their kids dimetapp after a long week to ensure a smooth bedtime would not look down upon you.

      I often see families in target or Meijer later at night (past 10:00 sometimes) with small children in tow. I find that harmful as kids need a solid night sleep. A bar now and again before their bedtime- nothing to bad. As long as it is not some rough partying or college frat bar. Sometimes a local pub can be more kid friendly earlier. We always try to go out to eat closer to 5 when we do go out with the kiddos. The kitchen tends to be faster and the restaurants less busy.

  • Babies/kids in European bars, no big deal. Europe has a much more laissez faire view of alcohol in daily life, so “bars” are not the taboo dens of iniquity that they are viewed as in the US – go into any coffee shop in Europe and you will probably see a fully stocked bar as well.

    Bars in the US by contrast are meant to be taboo. Proximity to alcohol before 21 is taboo. Having a daily glass of wine is taboo on some levels. So I think it's natural that in the US, one would see the idea of children in a bar to be questionable at best.

  • I have to say I chuckled when I read this article. (Yes, I’m an European, which will become clear within a few sentences.)

    I think you did not realize the difference between “baby in a bar in the uncrowded afternoon” and “baby in the night club with drunk people and loud music”. I also laughed at the 21 year restriction – I was just two weeks ago with my kid (1,5 years old) in a resto/bar/cafe with that age limit and we joked with my friends about in what age will the kid be too old to come and hang out there. (The kid was mostly sitting on a lap or in a chair, quite happy to spend time in good company.) During the 1,5 hours in the bar, there were also two other kids around the same age, happily playing in a comfy couch while parents had a glass of wine and socializing. I wasn’t drinking as I am also pregnant, but having a glass of wine at a restaurant with your kid is no different than the glass at home, or at a quiet child-friendly (yes!) bar-cafe.

    No, getting drunk with a child is not appropriate, but it is a rule that works at home as well. I also remember a friend who had a small baby in a wedding party with her – the baby was in a sling on her laps, sleeping beautifully while the mom and pop stayed up until 4 am, chatting and having fun. (We have noticed our kid sleeps better when there is a chatter around. We’ve held champagne tasting at home, as well.)

    I also try to avoid “child-friendly” restaurants like a plague. They mostly serve elevated fast-food, fries and burgers, and are generally noisy and unpleasant. We take our kid (since 3-4 months of age) to good, nice places and he has already managed through two courses in an Italian white-clothed restaurant sitting happily in a high chair, with minimal entertainment (well, the kids that young truly find entertainment in the simplest things). We have eaten on travels (yes, we also travel with the kid! abroad!) in beautiful and even romantic restaurants without much hassle – in southern Europe it works particularly well as we need to eat earlier than the crowds because of bedtime.

    Next step is to take the kids (in 3 years, I guess) to a 5 course meal 🙂 I still remember when we were celebrating our engagement in a michelin-star restaurant, and there was a family of five in the next room. The restaurant only served 5 course meals. The youngest kid was maybe 3-4 years. No hassle, at all. You don’t achieve that without training the kid to gradually dine out.

    It’s the culture difference, I know. The more south you travel in Europe, the more you see kids around. The later you see them. The families sit outside in restaurants and finish their meals at 11 pm. No one is the odd one out. And well, I guess in US you go to prison for letting the kid taste wine at 7 years, whether it was mixed with water or not 🙂

  • Oh, and the best part was about the fact that you have to somehow separate socializing from the kid 🙂 yes, when I go to a movie or for after work with friends, I generally leave the kids to my husband or babysitter. Other than that, kids ARE part of family life and belong to it as well. Meet a friend in a cafe? Take the kid with you! Want to see a friend? Invite them over while you are home with the kid – or visit them with the kid!

    I’d rather note that if there is a need for separation, it is between alcohol and socializing. I do not quite grasp the concept of the two being intertwined.