As you've probably gathered by now, I go to a lot of bars. It's a by-product of being a member in good standing of the international boozing press. Over the years, certain similarities have emerged between these bars. Upon noticing this I immediately realized further research was in order. Several weeks later I remembered what the similarities were again. And the process started all over again. It's like the circle of life, only drunker. And now, after two full decades of remembering to try to figure it out, I have done it. I have determined that there are precisely 10 kinds of bar in the world. I call them the Barchetypes. And to give the last 20 years of my drinking some modicum of meaning, I'm going to tell them you about them.
Notes Toward An Ontological Exploration of The Ten Barchetypes and the Flora and Fauna Pertaining Thereunto
1. The Pub
Pubs differ from dive bars in that they're usually larger, cleaner and more tourist-tolerant (and when I say tourist, I mean anyone who didn't grow up within a three-block radius of the place). They tend to be cozy spots where a lot of drinking still gets done, but you're far less likely to see someone projectile vomit on his wife, get beat up by a Teamster, collapse and die of liver failure, or put their shit-digits in the pretzel barrel. Most pubs offer good beer, reasonably priced drinks and greasy cheeseburgers that taste awesome after midnight. The Cool-People-To-Total-Jag-Off ratio in these places tends to hover around 10-to-1. Disregard this ratio, however, if said pub has a karaoke night. In this case the ratio reverses. Depending on the frequency of said karaoke night, you may actually want to consider downgrading this place's rating from a Pub to a Plastic Bar (see below).
2. The Plastic Bar
My friends and I sometimes call these Karl Rove bars. Which is to say, The Plastic Bar was born without a soul. You might know them as fern bars, or yuppie bars or “that place with the frozen daiquiri machine.” But while they may not have authenticity on their side, they do have booze, so let's not get too hung up on technicalities. Treat your plastic bar the same way you'd treat a museum exhibit. Speak softly, don't touch anything and leave as quickly as possible. You may have sex with things you find inside the plastic bar, but only once.
3. The High Concept Bar
These are built upon a central idea that is sometimes clever, but more often tiresome once the novelty has worn off (this process usually takes about a week). These typically sprout up in major metropolitan areas like New York, LA and Paris where there's an ample supply of either a) tourists looking for expensive thrills or b) arrogant twits who believe they're more sophisticated than the average beer-swilling Philistine and feel the need to prove it by embracing the latest in nightlife novelties. For example, I was once dragged by a publicist to the Ice Kube Bar in Paris where, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 dollars (luckily I wasn't paying), I got to dress up like an arctic explorer and spend 20 minutes doing Grey Goose shooters inside a bleak frozen chamber made entirely of ice (as evidenced by the pic on the right). The publicist maintained that freezing my dick off just to catch a buzz was an “authentic experience like no other.” Funny, it seemed an awful lot like another highly authentic experience called “homeless in winter,” only a hell of a lot more expensive.
I will admit that there are a few high-concept bars that are just too awesome and original to be dismissed. For instance, the Skeleton Bar in Gruyère, Switzerland (yes, where the cheese comes from) is a magnificent, otherworldly boneyard designed by HR Giger, the guy who won an Oscar for production design on “Alien” and also conceived the highly controversial Dead Kennedy's album cover, “Frankenchrist.” That place is genius. But for every Skeleton Bar, there are ten Rodeo Bars and ten Waikiki Wallys. Bottom line is, when in doubt, stay the fuck away.
4. The Strip Club
Ah, where to begin? Mandatory two-drink minimums for watered down cocktails in plastic shot-glasses at 15 dollars a pop. Or 20 dollar glasses of fruit punch masquerading as Mai Tais that you're obliged to buy the stripper who's charging you 20 more for every three minutes of grinding robotically on your lap to some suggestive hip-hop song from 10 years ago. Throw in all manner of creeps, pimps, punks and skanks and what have you got? A multi-billion-dollar industry that generates more money per year than theater, opera, ballet, jazz and classical music concerts combined. Which I'm kind of relieved about, quite frankly. Because a world in which people pay more to see an anorexic perform a pirouette than they do to see a ripe pair of titties is no world I want to live in. Still, if you're looking to get any kind of serious drinking done, don't do it here unless you just sold your tech startup to Google.
5. The Full Of Itself Bar
This category was the subject of some debate between me and my editor. He wanted to put The Full Of Itself in with the Vertical Bars. He is a heathen. I say that because these bars are specifically aimed at that vertical slice of humanity that enjoys liquor, they deserve a category all their own. Plus, there are too many of them around these days to ignore. I'm talking, of course, about the bars that purport to bring a science and a purism and a sense of history to the creation of cocktails. In these places you'll often hear bartending referred to as “mixology.” You are also very likely to be charged $15-$20 per drink. Which is great when they're great. But their trendlet has attracted poseurs, and when these places are bad, they are deeply hideous. Because the last thing you want when you're trying to enjoy a relaxing drink is either smug superiority from the bartender or a member of the waitstaff insisting on telling you about the fair-trade origin of the drink's agave syrup. Shut the hell up and make with the alcohol fetching. And turn off the fucking lounge music. Oh and a comfortable chair would be nice. I should reiterate that many of these places are wonderful and employ some of my favorite people in the world.