It's been observed that there are only seven unique plot lines in the world, and all books, movies and plays are just variations on those themes. The same is true for barroom conversations, except there are only five. (There used to be six, but when Bukowski died he took one to the grave with him.) As someone who gets paid to go out to bars, I've had plenty of opportunities to observe these types in action. And since I’m on the road a lot of the time, I’m going to most of these places for the first time, often by myself. This has only fueled my rabid curiosity for talking to strangers. I’m not looking to become best friends with these people, I just want to hear what comes out of their mouths after I get them going. Boozy repartee is the lifeblood of any spirits scribe worth his margarita salt, and I am, if nothing else, a professional. (It says so on my organ donor card. Well, what it actually says is “anything but the liver.” Same thing, really.)
Here, then, are the five unique types of barroom conversations, and my hard-won advice on navigating them successfully:
1. Boy Meets Girl
There is a big difference between picking up a woman in a bar and meeting a woman in bar. To achieve the latter—almost always a more rewarding experience—you need to stay off the rehearsed lines and get into some genuine, off-the-cuff banter. The most important part of making that happen, however, is the groundwork you lay in the bar before the conversation starts. The main thing you need to do is build a Coalition Of The Thrilling, which is to say, a third-party group that can validate how awesome you are to the object of your ardor. This means becoming what I call "Liquor Fabulous." It all starts with the bartender. Get his or her name when you walk in, write it on your hand and tip well (this does wonders for helping a barkeep remember your name). Now you just need to strike up a conversation with the other well-lubricated patrons around you (see conversations two through five below). Once you have a decent Coalition built, when you do get a chance to chat up the hottie who just walked in, everyone will know your name and think you're the funniest bastard that ever lived. She'll never know what hit her.
2. Be Somebody!
Somebody else, that is. Somebody a lot cooler than you. For instance, a few months back I had a grand old time in the lobby bar at the The Morrison Hotel in Dublin, regaling the locals with the story of the time I was forced to turn back just 500 feet from the summit of K2. I grew somber as I recounted how rapidly and unexpectedly the weather conditions had deteriorated. And then when my Sherpa lost his footing and broke his ankle, well, I had no choice but to strap him to my back and turn around. Fortunately, I’d brought along a pair of Telemark skis.
“Now keep in mind it was no easy task securing Tenzing to my back, given that I was already carrying little Timmy,” I said, tossing back the remainder of a tall glass of Redbreast whiskey.
“Little Timmy?” someone asked. I think her name was Siobhan.
“Yes,” I whispered, my voice cracking ever so slightly. “From the Make-a-Wish Foundation.”
And then the tears came. Oh, how those tears came. I’m pretty sure I got laid that night.