Last week, Sean Beck, the beverage director of H-Town Restaurant Group (Backstreet Cafe, Caracol, Hugo's, Xochi) wrote on Facebook that he "will never not be confused by all the people who bring kids to a bar." You can imagine that a lively discussion followed suit. So why did Beck throw it out there?
"I live in the Heights, and I think it's common in the Heights for everyone to go to bars, and some assume they can walk into (any) bar with kids," he says. "I'll be driving ... and see a family of four getting out of an Uber and walking into a bar."
Whether parents should bring children to bars, breweries, and other establishments that serve alcohol has long been a point of contention in the food and beverage industry—just do a Google search for "bars kids rules." Plus, every few months another bar or brewery announces some hard-and-fast policy (like no kids after 6 p.m.) that gets debated and picked apart.
Now, there will always be parents who don't listen or care, or perhaps they feel above policy. But as a society, we can generally come to some pretty basic rules about kids and bars without establishments feeling the need to play judge, jury, and executioner. So, here we go: The Rules for Bringing Kids to Bars and Other Establishments That Serve Alcohol.
- Respect what the bar is trying to accomplish. If it's a bar that generally serves and emphasizes cocktails and mixed drinks, don't bring your kid. If it's a beer bar that has giant Connect Four games and outdoor space, you're probably in the clear, but only during the afternoon. In between is where you should be cautious—if you're not sure whether it would be a good place to bring a kid, call ahead and ask (calling ahead really avoids a lot of problems).
- If we're talking about a bar that touts a strong food program, you should be fine early in the afternoon. For example, Beck will bring his 6-year-old daughter to Better Luck Tomorrow only during weekend brunch—BLT has some outdoor space and a more relaxed feel at that time. That said, happy hour at BLT, when the cocktail program is more front and center, is a different story. "When you're creating a bar, one of the hardest things to do is creating a place where people with disposable income would want to spend their time and money," says Beck. "It's a little hard to do that when there are kids there."
- My rule on dive and corner bars: generally no. That said, is there anything at the bar solely meant for people younger than 10? (Adults can also play pinball machines and Golden Tee, but maybe the bar has a full selection of Elmo's World videos, for some reason.) If there's nothing for the kid, get a babysitter.
- Icehouses: If the place has a full food menu, afternoons should be fine. If it's all about the booze, don't bring the little one.
- I bring my child to restaurants if they're explicitly casual or family-friendly, have plenty of seating (especially outside), and—most importantly—have food I know my child will eat. Kids' menu? We're there. Also, I go early in dinner service and try to avoid weekends unless it's a well-known kid-friendly establishment. If the only seating available is at the bar, we'll wait for a table or just find another place.
- Generally, breweries are awesome places to bring kids because they've been proactive in keeping a casual, family-friendly vibe. Breweries that have outdoor space (or a lot of indoor space that isn't just tanks and breakable items) and/or kid-friendly games (Connect Four boards, kids' board games, etc.) are fit for kids during the afternoon. But once the sun starts setting, it's time to go home.
- A late amendment: If your friend group is at the brewery and has no kids, it's probably better not to subject the friends to your kid, though you should know your friends' tolerances better than any rule.
- On wineries and distilleries: I generally avoid bringing kids to wineries and distilleries unless they explicitly state they're family-friendly (have cafés with kids' menus, had playground equipment outside, etc.).
General personal rules
- If I'm at the brewery or bar with open space, I like to know the surroundings. If there's a designated play area (I'm thinking Petrol Station's wooden train), I'm totally cool letting my daughter run around there by herself or with other kids, but I just sit close enough to keep an eye out (basically use your playground intuition). If it's a BLT situation (no play areas, just outdoor seating) I keep her at the table.
- If my daughter wants to wander or gets antsy and there's no play area, I hold hands and do a walk around the table, trying not to disrupt other guests. I don't force other guests into meeting my daughter (some people may extend greetings, but I never force them into that decision).
- If my kid is too loud, angry, or disruptive, I leave the place with her. At that point I don't have to go home, but five minutes outside or a walk around the block could be all the difference.
- If my kid is too loud, angry, or disruptive for too long (I'd say after two times pulling her away to take a breather), I just go home.
This should be stated: Drink in moderation and always ensure someone is sober to drive.
Finally, if your kid is a newborn (younger than nine months, doesn't walk yet), use that opportunity to visit bars and breweries in the afternoon. If the baby sits quietly in a stroller, you're golden. But don't bring the baby to a cocktail bar late at night. Beck has seen that—it's not cool.
And now, Beck with the final word: "There's a great many adults that behave far worse than kids. You hope that they will always remember the cardinal rule that you're in a shared environment."