Going to a bar or pub alone: tips for beginners

If you ever considered going to a bar alone and discarded the idea for fear about your safety or because you thought it was awkward, it is time to change your mindset. 

Having a drink at a bar or pub alone is an opportunity to celebrate your independence and enjoy your own company. You are your own best friend, treat yourself with the same kindness and attention you would give to a loved one and use our handy tips in this article to make the most of it and become an expert.

Own the place

Going to a bar alone is the same as going to a concert alone, dining alone, going to the beach alone or flying alone. Only the first time is daunting, the following are fun and empowering.

By being alone you are more likely to be in the moment, more appreciative of your freedom and more inclined to talk to others including the bartender or other bar goers. Who knows who you may meet or how the evening could go.

Like with eating alone, remember that those around you are engrossed in their own conversations and probably not noticing you. If they do, they will probably feel envious of your confidence in being with your own company without needing anyone else. Smile at them, let them know you are there of your own choice having a great time.

I was recently at the fine dining lounge of one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Bogota. Everyone around me was either in pairs or in a small group. They were all immersed in conversations and the waiters gave them brief and to the point explanations of the menu and every drink. I got the full service, including a 15 minute run down of the drinks menu, which were all incredibly unique and made of ingredients I had never heard before, and a personalized experience I would have never had if I had company.

Embrace your solo bra experience, you are fortunate to be there and should be grateful for having this me-time.

Choose a bar to suit your current mood

There are a lot of different kinds of bars and pubs out there. 

Some are dark and moody, some are bright and family-oriented. Start off by picking a bar or pub that matches your current mood.

If you are feeling like dancing, pick one with a dance floor. If you want a more relaxed space, pick a lounge bar. If you are into cocktails and mixology, find a bar that is proud of their drinks menu. If you love music, look for a bar with live music where you can listen to local bands play. If you are keen to try the local wine scene, find a wine bar where you can taste lots of different kinds of wines. If you like a view, pick a rooftop bar and go at sunset. And if you love sports, a sports bar that shows games will help you bond with others over a common love and share in the festive mood.

If you are in a different country where you are not familiar with the bar scene, it helps to find out more about how each type of bar is referred to. 

For example, in Italy, a bar is what most Anglosaxon countries would call a cafe. It is the place one goes to get an espresso on the way to work. You stand at the bar and order your drink, pay and drink it while standing, then leave. They also sell alcohol, but they are not the place to dance or listen to music, and there is one every corner.

Some countries have a more developed bar scene and are very much into cocktails and mixology while others favor wine bars. 

In several countries in Latin America such as Cuba, Guatemala or Colombia, a lot of bars have dance floors and live music and the experience is less about drinking and more about dancing to the tune of Reggaeton, Salsa or the latest hits.

One of the best ways to find out more about the local bar scene is to check out websites like Time Out or the World’s 50 Best Bars. Google is your best friend if you are somewhere where neither of the two are available. Asking the staff at the hotel where they go or places they recommend is useful to weed out bars or pubs that may be unsafe or seedy. 

Check the bar on social media

Once you have shortlisted a few bars you’d like to check out alone, go to their social media channels to read the reviews and go through their posts to make sure it offers the vibe you’re looking for.  

Always check if they organize themed nights or special events for solo people, live music, sports or game nights which may be what you are looking for or what you’d rather avoid.

For example, while on a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, the bar I wanted to check out had an event happening during my visit in collaboration with a famous mixologist from Mexico city, it was a chance to experience two kinds of styles under the same roof.

Many bars offer free drinks for women on certain days of the week, or when there are important football matches on TV and reading about the bar scene in the city you are in will help you uncover all these insider tricks. 

For example, in Singapore, many bars have Ladies’ Night on Wednesday and offer some sort of promotion ranging from free drinks to discounts, for women. This is great not only because of the free drinks but also because you get to mingle with other women. 

Choose where you will sit

Choosing where to sit when you are going to a bar alone is a personal matter. Typically, you either sit at the bar or at a table. 

Sitting at the bar makes it less immediately obvious to others that you are alone and gives you the chance of talking to the bartender. Bartenders are usually outgoing and used to listening to people’s lives. They are also a bottomless source of tips and suggestions for the city and can help you decide what bar or restaurant to check out next.

If you need to use the bathroom, the bartender can keep your space and they can also keep unwanted attention away if someone is bothering you.

As the bar tends to be reserved for solos, you are also more likely to meet solo travelers with whom to start a conversation if you wish to. I was once at the bar of a fine dining restaurant in Buenos Aires and there was only me and another solo traveler who ended up being my spontaneous evening partner. We had a great time chatting with the bartender about the food and drinks.

On the other hand, bar chairs are usually less comfortable, don’t have a back rest and force you to sit in awkward positions. You are also usually giving your back to the rest of the bar so there is less people-watching.

Sitting at a table is great if you love to people-watch, like nice chairs and a proper table or have something to do while enjoying your drink such as writing in your journal, reading a book or even doing some work. 

Having your personal space also builds a barrier in front of others who may be less inclined to interrupt you, especially if you are working or eating at the same time. But it makes you more of a visible solo customer to everyone else sitting in tables which can make less experienced solo bar goers more uncomfortable.

On the other hand, sitting at a table means you have no immediate protection from a bartender. If I am feeling like people watching, I pick a table that is strategically located on a corner and has a view of the space. If I feel like having some quiet time, I pick a cozier table in a corner.

Think about your dress code

To find out what the dress code is at the bar or pub you are looking to visit, check out their page on facebook or instagram to see how customers are dressed. Some bars also have dress codes mentioned on their website. 

Is it a posh place where women wear heels and men wear suits and ties or is it more laid back and casual where you could wear jeans and flats? 

Is it a dancing bar where they offer salsa classes, a fancy piano or jazz bar where people dress up or a spot chosen by corporate folk for an after work drink?

Blending in with the crowd will make you stand out less but if you feel like wearing a sequin mini dress and Louboutin heels at a country music or death metal bar, go for it. The most important consideration is to be comfortable and feel good about yourself.

And speaking of Louboutin, find out if the bar has sitting areas or it is all standing and choose your footwear accordingly. For example, if you know you may be standing only, it may not be the time to wear your new heels, if you are planning to sit down, it could be the chance to wear your new Jimmy Choo’s.

The dress code may also play an important role in how you dress. Some of the fancier bars may have strict door policies that frown upon women not wearing high heels and they may even refuse you entry. Do your research, ask in local Facebook groups or at your hotel.

Let someone know your plans

Going to a bar alone at night adds a layer of risk, albeit controlled. Whether you are at home or traveling, it is always a good idea to let someone close to you know where you are. Tell them when you leave the house, and inform them once you’re back safe in your place.

If you prefer, you can also share your live location with a friend so that they know where to look for you should anything happen. You can do so on Google Maps or Whatsapp.

Get backed up

Going to a bar or pub alone is a bit like traveling solo: it pays to prepare for the worst though you should always expect the best.

In case anything happens to you, find out the right emergency number you should call ahead of time.

Some countries have one number for everything, from the police to the medical emergency services, while others have different numbers for each that vary by province or city. Download this handy list by the US State department for your next solo trip. 

Besides knowing the emergency numbers, you can also set up several emergency features on your phone.

Emergency features on Android

Go to Settings > Safety & emergency and you will find:

  • Option to pick emergency contact people who will receive any emergency updates from you. 
  • Turn on alerts from emergency services, for natural disasters such as risk of flood, earthquakes, etc. 
  • Set up your Emergency SOS settings so you have a quick shortcut to call emergency services. For example, call emergency services if I press button number 1 three times. Your emergency contacts will also be notified if you do.
  • Add your medical info such as allergies or relevant medical details. This way the emergency services will automatically have access to your medical history. 

Emergency features on iPhone

There are two places where important features can be found on iPhone.

  1. Go to Settings> Emergency SOS > Edit emergency contacts in Health and you will be able to set up the phone number of your emergency contacts.
  2. Go to Settings > Health > Medical ID and you can add all your personal details accessed from the main screen without a password including details such as your age, whether you are an organ donor, your language, the emergency contact person to reach out to and your weight / height.

Your iPhone also offers emergency SOS calls by default which you can access by Pressing and holding the side button and one of the volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. Drag the Emergency Call slider to call emergency services. You need to have a working SIM card for this to work.

If you continue to hold down the side button and volume button, instead of dragging the slider, a countdown begins and an alert sounds.

Arrive early

I prefer to arrive early at a bar when I am alone. This means I am there before it gets stressfully crowded and I choose the best seat, order a drink and take the time to soak it all in and feel comfortable before the crowds arrive. 

This is also helpful as a solo female traveler because I like to make the most of the day and go to bed early, and the earlier I go out the earlier I will return, which also decreases the risk of trying to get transportation back to my hotel when it’s well into the night.

In our online community we regularly hear solo female travelers complain that bars and restaurants didn’t want to sit them because they were a solo diner. If you go earlier, when the bar is not yet full and availability of seats isn’t an issue, they are less likely to say no.

Don’t bring any valuables

This is not the time to show off your Cartier bracelet or your big engagement ring, especially if you are abroad and in an unknown area. It’s best to leave jewelry and other valuables at home to make sure you won’t be targeted by thieves who go to dark, noisy and busy spaces to find easy targets.

Bring some cash for tips, a credit card and some kind of identification, especially if you look very young and could be denied entry on the basis of your age. Remember that in some countries such as the US, the minimum legal drinking age is 21. 

Keep the cash in your wallet and the credit card in your pocket or on you, or the other way around so that you are still left with something in case you lose your wallet or someone steals it. 

Anti theft bags are a good idea to minimize the risk and some of the smaller ones you can keep on your lap for the whole evening so that it is always within your sight.

Never leave your personal belongings or bag unattended or hanging from the back of your chair. Many bars have hooks under the table or bar to hang your bag in between your legs but I would still recommend you keep it across your body or on your lap.

Plan your transportation

If you are going to a bar alone at night, planning your transportation ahead of time is very important. 

While in many cities it is perfectly safe to take public transportation and walk after dark, especially when it is still early (remember winter hours means cities are dark after 4-5pm across the Northern Hemisphere), having a taxi come pick you up will reduce the risk of anything happening.

Beware of peak hours. Some cities get really busy at certain hours or have far fewer taxi options at night, making getting a taxi difficult. Ask the hotel if they think it will be difficult to get a taxi to return and what other options they would suggest. 

Ideally, you should have 2 ride hailing apps ready and set up. Most countries use more than one app, which may include Uber or another international service plus a local app that is used by the local taxis. Across Europe, taxi companies use FreeNow.

I prefer to use ride hailing apps where the price is preset and I do not need to negotiate prices at night with a taxi driver who may see me as an easy target in desperate need to get back to the hotel.

Given you are going to a bar and may end up drinking, driving is not the best idea. It would also require you to find a spot to park and expose you to the risk of getting your car impounded if you are not familiar with the local parking rules.

Above all, I do not recommend accepting offers from strangers you just met to walk you or drive you back to your hotel. This would show them where you are staying and comes with its own set of risks.  

People watch

Observing people is my favorite “sport”. 

I find it extremely fascinating to observe the different personalities, interactions and behaviors. As bars attract a diverse crowd, I feel that people watching can offer a glimpse into various cultures, fashion styles and social dynamics, providing a unique cultural experience that makes going to a bar alone extra interesting. 

I sometimes like to imagine stories or backgrounds for the people around me. Sometimes, I do not even need to imagine anything as I am given an accidental glimpse into their darkest secrets should they happen to have loud conversations next to me.

People watching allows you to unplug from digital devices and simply enjoy the real world interactions happening around you. It can improve your social intelligence by sharpening your ability to read body language, interpret social cues and understand group dynamics. And it is something you wouldn’t be doing if you had gone with someone.

Remember to approach people watching with respect and consideration, ensuring that you do not make others uncomfortable. It’s an activity meant for personal enjoyment and cultural appreciation. Staring will not help you make new acquaintances.

Bring a distraction

If you feel extremely self conscious and nervous about going to a bar alone for the first time and people watching makes you uncomfortable, taking a distraction will help you build the necessary confidence. You won’t feel empty handed and will appear like you are there with a purpose.

The most common of the distractions is looking at your phone while having your drink. You could talk to a loved one or friend or just scroll through social media.

Having a book with you and reading a couple of pages till you build your confidence up is a fantastic distraction. Reading will put you in a pleasant mood and other book lovers will probably see it as an excuse to come talk to you. 

Talking about your favorite books is a great ice breaker and you can also use the same trick with people carrying books next time.

Working on your laptop is always a good distraction and a common one at bars that are made for digital nomads (aka they are known for having good internet) or at hotel lobby bars. 

When I was in the South Pacific and liked to enjoy sunset drinks at local bars, I would bring my journal and write about the day as the sun set. This was the perfect distraction, a great conversation starter with others and now a great compendium of memories to look back on. Plus it gives you the air of being a famous author writing her hit nobel.

Order something to eat

Pubs and bars that sell food are the best places to go out for a drink alone. You can enjoy a drink and the local bar scene while also getting a meal. 

Especially in countries where pubs are common such as the UK or Ireland, they are the perfect place for some alone time. They are family-friendly and attract a wide range of people, plus they are cultural treasure troves.

The best part for a solo traveler is that pubs usually sell very local home made dishes so they are a great chance to try the local cuisine.

Engage with the staff, ask them for suggestions on what to eat and about what is the local or the chef’s specials. Use the solo dining experience as a chance to be adventurous with your food choices. 

I love ordering an aperitif while waiting for my food. When the food arrives, I enjoy it as if I were tasting wine; I pay attention to how it looks, how it is presented, how it smells and then how it tastes. Mindful eating is one of the advantages of eating and drinking alone.

Know your limits

Drinking alone at a bar means you have nobody to fall back on in case you drink too much and feel uneasy, so the first thing to do is set limits for yourself. 

Decide the number of drinks you’ll have before you start the night and stick to it. 

The average woman can process 1 unit of alcohol every hour. That is 10ml of pure alcohol or a shot of a spirit that has 33% of alcohol. Confused yet?

This article explores this in depth but, to simplify, you can assume that a shot is equivalent to 1 unit of alcohol, a standard glass of wine is 2 units and a pint has 3 units. If you are drinking over a 2-hour period, you should limit your intake to 2 mixed drinks, 1 glass of wine and three-quarters of a pint.

However, these are averages. How much you can personally process per hour depends on your weight, how used you are to drinking, your health, etc. 

Where you are can also determine how much you should drink as some countries are more generous than others when it comes to alcohol.

For example, in Spain, the amount of spirit added to a drink is often more than the amount of mixer so you may have to stick to one mixed drink maximum. 

To minimize the effect of alcohol and the aftermath of a night out, it is also a good idea to have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink, and eat something along with your drink. Both of these help with any headaches.

Do not leave your glass unattended

You should never leave your drink unattended when drinking solo. If you are sitting at a bar, you can easily trace the bartender making it and giving it to you, ensuring nobody tampered with it on the way to your table.

If you need to use the bathroom, finish your drink first. If someone offers to buy you a drink, order and get it directly from the bartender. If you suspect someone tampered with your drink, order a new one or go home.

One of our community members suggested using a nightcap scrunchie which is a cover for your glass so nobody can pour anything into it. This is a good idea whether you are drinking alone or with friends.

Don’t forget to dance

If you have picked a bar that is known for the dancefloor, this is your chance to mingle with the locals over the shared love for shaking it. 

For example, in many Latin American countries such as Colombia or Cuba there are salsa bars where you can have a drink and dance to live salsa music. Expert dancers, staff or regulars ready to help you practice or teach you. Everyone is there to dance and there are no awkward moments even if this is a dance of proximity. 

If you like salsa, you are bound to find a salsa bar wherever you are, and it will always be full of people who share a love for the dance and are keen to meet new people to practice with. The same happens with bachata, merengue or even tango.

Keep your personal belongings safe

Nobody has fun if the night ends on a bad note, so plan your safety before going out. 

Bring an anti-theft bag and keep it on your lap at all times or in front of you if you are standing. 

These bags have features that make it hard to open, plus they are typically made of material that can’t be easily cut with a knife. Many of them also have RFID protection features that make it hard to steal the details of your credit card.

A phone lanyard is useful, especially if you are planning to dance. Bars can be quite dark and noisy so it is difficult to keep track of your belongings and it is much harder to steal a phone that is attached to your neck than on the table.

Leave when you are ready

You came alone and that means that you have nobody to compromise for. When you are ready to go, ask for the bill and leave, no need for an Irish goodbye.

But, before leaving the bar, order a cab with a ride hailing app, and stay inside until the cab is at the door so you don’t stand around outside in the dark.

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