This is just another in a long string of conflicts over the past few years between parents who don't want to be exiled from the bar scene for having kids, and everyone else, who generally would rather not do their drinking around small children. In the interest of staying diplomatic here, we figured we'd take the high road and focus on — what else? — etiquette. After all, if you're going to bring a kid along when you grab a beer, there are ways to do it without making servers and other patrons, not to mention your kids, miserable.
Mining the experience of bartenders, parents, and teachers, a few things to consider before toting your baby with you to the local bar, along with a few spots in Brooklyn we hear are more friendly to the underaged set.
While it is technically legal for kids under 16 to be in any bar in the New York City (accompanied by an adult), everyone knows there's a world of difference between a family-friendly beer garden and a urine-soaked dive. Take note of this, and also take note of whether its proprietors are actually welcoming you and your brood or figuring out ways to get you to leave, since legally, their hands are more or less tied.
"While it may seem innocent enough to [officially] ban kids, it's a small segway away from banning patrons on the basis of, say, ethnicity," explained Jeff Pan, co-owner of Bushwick's Skytown Cafe. [...] "From a legal perspective, it's an explicit redlining attempt that is discriminating on the basis of age. New York City has the Commission of Human Right to prosecute these cases with a starting fine of $5,000."
"That being said, bars and restaurants in the city have plenty of subtle (and legal) means to shape the demographics of their patrons. Don't want old people in your restaurant? Then don't take reservations, use low lighting, and have communal seating. Don't want kids in your bar? Then play loud music or put something scandalous on the TV. It's not exactly rocket science to make your place kid-unfriendly."
Since you're the exception, not the rule, keep an eye out for whether or not your bar of choice is actually set up to accomodate kids, and take comfort in the numerous places that will welcome you with open arms — Habana Outpost, for instance, actually has a kiddie ride on the premises now and hosts the occasional "Kid's Corner" event.
This should be a no-brainer, but based on quite a few (anecdotal) horror stories, it doesn't seem to be. A bar isn't, in fact, an automatic pool of ad-hoc babysitters, so if your kid is old enough to run laps around the room, watch them like a hawk. Better yet, give them an activity, a snack, anything to keep this from happening.
"It's not so much a problem with the kids, as the parents," said one Prospect Heights bartender. "I see kids running around in a situation where people are maybe drunk, and it could be dangerous. Then parents are horrified when I ask them to have their kids sit down."
Then there are the noise complaints. "I don't think it's a problem to bring her, but if my kid starts screaming and being an asshole, I'll be embarrassed and leave immediately," says L Magazine executive editor Mike Conklin. This is a solid strategy if ever there was one.
A number of parents have mentioned a not-past-sundown rule, which makes sense for a lot of reasons, chief among them that any bar will be less crowded (and less full of drunk people) if you leave before happy hour. "Brunch on weekends is fine, but otherwise there should really be a 4 or 5 p.m. cutoff," said the Prospect Heights bartender.
Plus, there are plenty of places that are willing to accommodate earlier in the day, like Fort Greene's Der Schwarze Kölner, which actually hosts a "Babies and Beer" playgroup on certain weekday afternoons. If it works with your schedule, this is pretty much the ideal scenario.
Legality aside, a lot of people are firmly in the camp that bars and children don't ever mix, so it's worth at least hearing them out.
"Kids shouldn't be in a bar. Period." Kimani Calneck, a local public school teacher. "They just don't need to see that shit." As far as the Greenwood Park teachers go, however, Calneck added, "They just need to be meeting somewhere farther away [than the neighborhood bar]."
Pan concurs, "As for etiquette, there's really only one guideline for parents bringing their children to a bar: don't. We're going to be making enough money off your degenerate son soon enough. We can wait."
Following this incredibly concrete set of rules, you've presumably landed in a place (and at a time of day) that at least seems open to hosting both you and your kid, right? So it can't hurt to at least ask if they have plastic cups available for the younger, more accident-prone people at the table.
We guarantee the people behind the bar would rather haul out any plastic cups they have on hand then have to clean up broken glass later.
Like the whole "watch your kid" thing, this should go without saying, but just in case, drink responsibly, or get a babysitter. Rarely in my life do I tell anyone to "think of the children," but you know, think of the children! Numerous bar owners have way too many stories of drunk parents wheeling strollers out of the bar at 11. Don't be that person.
But really, what this all comes down to is common sense. Like nearly all things, act like a reasonable human being, and you'll be just fine. We promise.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.