closing time at Long Island Bar in Brooklyn, photo by Tim Miner
All bars, no matter the style, spin into a flurry of action when “Last Call” is announced and the final order is presented to the guest. Everyone has a purpose and a role in getting the place cleaned and closed in a timely fashion. That includes the patrons.
You had your fun (hopefully a lot of it) but from the minute “last call” is made you, dear guest, are on the clock. That last round should be enjoyed. As I have told many a guest, “I wouldn’t have served it to you if I didn’t want you to enjoy it.” But there is a limit to the staff’s patience. They are tired. They most likely have some things they need to get done in the morning and every minute you sit sipping (or worse, ignoring) the drink you ordered at last call is a minute longer before they can get home and crawl into bed to rest their aching feet. By all means, drink your drink, but do it with purpose. This goes doubly so if you are not at a bar with the latest last call in town. In that case, by all means, tip up your glass and head to another bar with a later close. There are, as with any good rule, some exceptions to this one and I’ll get to those but for the moment, hear me out.
Read the signs
Did the server just pull all the condiments off your table? Did the lights get a bit brighter? Did the music get turned down? Those are polite signs that you’re lingering a bit long. Instead of filling your empty water glass was it bussed from your table? That’s another sign.
Sure, you know the owner… are you an investor? No? Then you are just the same as any other customer at this hour. Everyone knows the owner. The owner would like to turn off the stereo and the lights and the air conditioner. Those things cost your friend money.
Are you trying to close the deal with a date? Here’s a tip: 15 more minutes in a bar with the music down and the lights up is not going to help. The line you’re looking for is, “Do you wanna get out of here?” Try it. I’ve seen it work hundreds of times and I’ll see it work countless more times in the future. It’s called confidence. If your date hasn’t “gotten an emergency call from a friend” yet then they think you are at least worthy of another date.
If you find yourself thinking or uttering the phrase, “Wow, they really want us out of here”!” No, that was twenty minutes ago. Now they wish they worked in a trashy place where they had a bouncer that would have thrown you out “Uncle Phil Style.” For you millennial’s, that’s a Fresh Prince of Bel Air reference. Google it (if that’s still how you kids look things up).
Reasons to give it some space
Hey look, the staff has stopped cleaning and is sitting at the bar having a drink. This is a sacred moment and it’s time to give these hard working folks their space. Bartenders often work entire twelve hour shifts without a break. Standing, walking, running, stirring and shaking all to get drinks into the hands of their thirsty patrons without finding the time to use the restroom or go for a smoke. The shift drink is their precious little time to unwind. They may be too nice or work in a place that doesn’t allow them to ask you to leave but I beg you – respect this moment. It is in these moments that the staff gathers together, reflects on the good and the bad of the night and finds the courage to come back to do it all again the following night. Did the bartender have to physically remove someone tonight? That usually upsets them and the want to talk about it. Was a patron lewd or worse to one of the staff (‘cos that happens way too often)? They may want to vent about that to their friends and they need to trust the people that are within earshot. Stealing too many of these moments may very well cause the end of the bar industry as we know it.
There are exceptions
My friend Rachel, a former bartender, had a great way of explaining last call exceptions. She would say, “If you don’t know my last name, get the fuck out!” Now that’s a bit harsh depending on the particular bar you find yourself in, but it worked in her bar. That said, I always think about it when someone shouts those all too familiar words, “Last Call!” If I don’t know their name I find myself finishing my drink in a timely fashion.
What’s that? You’re friends with the staff? Sweet! We want you around. In fact, we probably want you to hang out until we leave so we can go have a drink together at one of the places with a later “last call.” The only thing we ask of you is that you settle your bill at last call and tip well because you’re probably gonna get a few extra beers or shots “on the house” as we finish our closing procedures. But, let’s face it, you already knew that cause you’re probably in the industry and if not, you’ve heard enough of our bitching.
How to know you won’t miss the last train home if you linger at the bar? Here’s a list of closing times and schedules from some major cities.