Best Business Bars

Entrepreneur's guide to the best bars for doing business across the country--and the one bar that beats them all (would you believe it's in an airport?)
15+ min read

This story appears in the July 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Where are you drinking?*
Choosing a bar is your opening move. Be sure you make the right one.
By Monica Corcoran Harel

"I hate the office," growls Doug Ellin, the creator and executive producer of the hit HBO series Entourage. "I'd much rather do meetings in a great bar, where people aren't nervous and you can relax and be more creative."

Even on the show, Ellin rarely allows his achingly suave characters--Hollywood actors, agents, producers and directors--to broker a deal in a boardroom. Dark bars, pulsating nightclubs and old-school lounges that serve epiphany-causing martinis are the settings for onscreen business maneuvers. "You just need to find the right place and become a regular," says Ellin, who personally favors a sleek sports bar called Goal in Los Angeles. "I do my meetings there, back to back."

Finding a corner booth that substitutes well for your corner office, however, is no flimsy pursuit. Choose the right bar and you've found the place to deepen a connection, make a pitch, close a deal--and, not least of all, enhance a client's opinion of you. But the refreshing ease that comes with clinking glasses can melt as quickly as crushed ice if the lights suddenly dim low and Lady Gaga starts blaring.

So what makes a great business bar? Here are the essentials:

Discreet seating . A booth is optimum, but a corner table or tables with at least 3 feet between them will do (anything closer invites eavesdropping). Chairs should be comfortable, too.

Friendly, attentive staff. Whether it's the bartender, server or host, you should have a go-to person at your favorite haunt, who always looks out for you and your guest. Being neglected or mistreated does not reflect well.

The maitre d' or hostess often dictates where you sit, so Ann Marie Sabath, corporate etiquette consultant and author of Courting Business: 101 Ways for Accelerating Business Relationships, recommends some reconnaissance beforehand. "I like to introduce myself and then have someone call me by name when I arrive later with a client," she says. And to get the best table, she pre-tips $20.

Ellin avoids places with haughty servers. "I want to get treated well," he says. "And they have to be alright with the fact that I could be sitting in a booth for four hours." Indeed, Ellin recalls a successful meeting with actor Martin Landau at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills that lasted six hours.

Compelling crowd. You don't need to be surrounded by celebrities and moguls, but the place should be filled with interesting, professional-minded people. In essence, your peers. It goes without saying that a rowdy atmosphere or a pickup bar is unsuitable for sealing a deal.

"I like a quiet but interesting crowd, compelling d?cor and enough space to put down a computer," says Douglas Merrill, former Google CIO and author of the new book Getting Organized in the Google Era. His favorite haunt is Citizen Smith in Hollywood, Calif., a cavernous lounge and restaurant that feels like a mash-up of a Scottish castle and an Aspen lodge. For Merrill, who's amassing a team for his top-secret technology startup, conducting interviews at a bar sends out the right message. "An office meeting is better for a corporate deal. There's more structure and pressure," he says. "But doing an interview at a place like Citizen Smith shows that we're an interesting company."

Manageable din. You never want to be somewhere that suddenly packs up and requires you to scream negotiation points across the table and distracts from the business at hand.

"Can I hold a conversation in the room? That's my first question. I don't want to yell in a meeting," says Eric Kopeloff, a producer who works closely with Oliver Stone. When he and the director met with top financial honchos to research the upcoming sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 75 percent of their appointments took place in Manhattan bars that had minimal noise. The young turks liked the Rose Bar in Gramercy Park; older power execs roosted at Midtown's Monkey Bar.

"We got the best stuff for the film over drinks after breaking the ice with a personal question," Kopeloff says. "In some cases, we needed to ask them about using locations to shoot, like a trading room floor, and we could strike a deal right there."

Full range of liquor. A client may opt for a domestic beer, but top-shelf brands of alcohol and good wines are a must. You may want to celebrate a deal with a single-malt scotch or Champagne. Plus, you don't want to limit anyone's choices.

Good lighting. This is not only key for reading facial cues, but it also sets the right tone for business. Too dark can send the wrong message; too bright can be unflattering. If you're unfamiliar with the bar, ask the maitre d' whether the lights are turned down at a certain hour.

Good food. You never know when negotiations will extend past cocktail time. Lots of great bars offer interesting snacks, such as fancy spiced nuts or Kettle Chips. Unshelled peanuts and popcorn don't cut it. Otherwise, look for an appealing bar menu with sophisticated small plates.

Kelly Cutrone, the no-nonsense New York fashion publicity guru and star of Bravo's reality show Kell on Earth, has a business meeting almost every weeknight and prefers the Caf? Bar at the Carlyle Hotel or the lounge at the Soho Grand.

"The scene is laid back, you can get a bar menu, and the service is top of the line," she says. "Once you have all that covered, the meeting becomes a little more liquid and things really start to flow."

Decent d?cor. This place is an extension of your office. If you're into a hip, retro '60s vibe, your bar should reflect your taste and personality. If you prefer Chesterfield sofas and mahogany paneling, settle in at a place with a clubby, masculine setting.

But sometimes, you must defer to your client. If out-of-towners crave a taste of the hottest scene, go with it.

"If I have CEOs or creative directors of fashion brands who are coming into town and want the supertrendy scene, I have to take them there," Cutrone says, with a groan. "But I don't get much business accomplished other than proving to them that I have enough power to get a really great table."


Monica Corcoran Harel is a Los Angeles writer and author specializing in the culture of keeping up appearances.

Best Business Bars In America

One Flew South

America has many fine bars in which to do business--dark, clubby places with lots of brass and leather and hand-rubbed oak, where you practically have to part the hush with your hands. One Flew South is not one of those: It's clean and modern, and there's a distinct lack of darkness, brass or hush. That's not to say it isn't a fine place--the host couldn't be more welcoming, the bartenders are skilled, and the drinks are made with all the attention to craft that one expects from a state-of-the-art 21st century cocktail bar.


One Flew South

But here's the thing: To meet in those other bars, you've got to get there first. All too often, that involves transporting yourself to an airport, clearing security, waiting around to board, flying, disembarking, snagging a taxi into town, checking into a hotel and then doing it all in reverse the next morning. This is where One Flew South scores major bonus points. Its address, you see, is in Terminal E of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

That's right, it's an airport bar, although unlike just about any other such establishment in the United States, it's one where you're treated like a person to be welcomed, not a problem to be gotten rid of. That means you can fly in (remember also that Atlanta's a hub), settle your business over a perfectly made Old-Fashioned or two and a Kobe burger, saunter over to your gate and fly home. All you have to bring is a briefcase. In fact, the only thing to stop us from wishing that there were a branch in every hub is the effect it would have on the hotel business. --David Wondrich

TIP: To get into the spirit of the place, order a classic Aviation--gin, fresh lemon juice and cherry liqueur.

GO: One Flew South, 6000 N. Terminal Parkway, Atlanta. (404) 816-3464



Los Angeles

The Chateau Marmont

In 1939, Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohn famously barked, "If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont." And, sure, steamy shenanigans still ensue at this exclusive hotel perched above Sunset Boulevard. But for lots of Hollywood directors, executives and agents, the patio and sunken lobby--with its asthmatic but still elegant antique decor of overstuffed wing chairs and silk upholstered couches--are ground zero for discussing scripts and poaching talent. The alpha-inclined covet the divans and striped settees in the very back of the lobby, which offer a panoramic view of the space and a clear vista of who's en route to the back garden and patio.

Rubbernecking is unavoidable. Everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Drew Barrymore has been spotted toasting a three-picture deal or a potential producing partnership; stars such as Courtney Love and Jake Gyllenhaal have been known to wander the property as if they were born in one of the bungalows. (Director Sofia Coppola's next film will be mostly set here, too.) Those looking to be ogled opt for the tables and wicker bistro chairs on the outdoor patio, edged with lush palm trees. A producer's status can expand exponentially after being seen huddled with a Cameron--Diaz or Crowe--over a bottle of Beaujolais. (You pay for the scenery, with wine starting at about $15 per glass; dinner reservations are strongly encouraged after 6 p.m. on the patio, but you can get away with ordering just an appetizer to split.) Waiters are efficient but can be insouciant at times. It all works, though. Even the moguls take a cue and stop scowling. --Monica Corcoran Harel

TIP: For more privacy, ask for one of the tables that line the garden and gothic archway.

GO: The Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. (323) 656-1010



Al Biernat's

Buying a baseball team? Finessing a merger with a rival airline? In Dallas, these are the kinds of deals that start with a single malt at the bar at Al Biernat's, the power steakhouse in Big D's tony Oak Lawn district. Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher's a regular; so is Travelocity founder Terry Jones. It's a hangout, too, for Dallas Stars hockey players, Mavericks basketballers and rockers from Roger Waters to Jon Bon Jovi. When Nolan Ryan's investment group bought the Texas Rangers baseball team earlier this year, the deal, it is said, was cut at Al's.

One reason is owner Al Biernat (pronounced Ber-NAY) himself: He's a master networker, matching up bank presidents with wealthy investors or suavely leaking a rock star's visit to the Morning News gossip columnist.

"If I know someone's in a similar business, or somebody can help somebody else," Biernat says, "I try to connect them."

Until recently, walking in off the street, you'd never guess that this was the red-hot center of Dallas business schmoozing. The 12-year-old restaurant's horseshoe-shaped, domed bar was a bit in-your-face and not exactly private, with only a couple of tables off to the side.

Now Biernat is expanding the bar to "make it more conducive to business," with five comfy booths and a better connection to the patio, where Kelleher, for one, is in the habit of ducking out for a smoke. --Leslie Brenner

TIP: Make yourself known to the very friendly Biernat, who works the dining room every day except Sunday and Monday. You never know who he'll introduce you to.

GO: Al Biernat's, 4217 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas. (214) 219-2201



Miracle of Science Bar + Grill

Miracle of Science Bar + Grill

Don't let the T-shirts, messenger bags and occasional ID badge dangling from a belt fool you--serious business transpires at Miracle of Science Bar+Grill, the cool gathering place for the tech and biotech powerhouses by MIT.

A large, open room on the edge of funky Central Square, Miracle of Science is a magnet for tech execs, robotics researchers, grad students and the occasional venture capitalist discussing their latest gene-therapy breakthrough, when Zipcar is going public and, of course, video games. The beer selection is decent, with a dozen or so options. Wine, however, arrives in juice glasses.

Every seat has a good view of the whole place. If the weather's fine, try to stake out a spot by the big window next to the bar--it's marginally quieter.

And if your deal-making goes overtime, that giant chart that appears to be a periodic table of the elements is actually the menu, which features breakfast, lunch and dinner, including outstanding burgers and vegetarian dishes.--Marie Morris

TIP: After you use the nearest scrap of paper to capture the idea that's going to get your robot army funded, don't forget to take it with you--the bartenders regularly toss out cast-off napkins festooned with scientific data. (Oh, if you happen to have a next-gen iPhone, grab that, too.)

GO: Miracle of Science Bar+Grill, 321 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass. (617) 868-ATOM



New York


In a city with 16 million eyes--and ears--hotel bars are the savviest places to meet in Manhattan for a drink and a deal. You get private-club service with no Page Six attention (unless you want it). And while the usual suspects, such as the Four Seasons and the King Cole Room in the St. Regis, will always have their fans, the smart money lately is being spent at the Palace Hotel in Midtown.

The subtly neon-lighted bar at Gilt, the hotel's Michelin two-star restaurant, exudes downtown energy and uptown sophistication. "Gossip Girl" has filmed there, and this year's East Coast Oscar party was staged there, so the crowd has a properly starry mix of youth and gravitas. Plus the hotel itself attracts an elegant international clientele (no tripping over wheelie bags if you enter through the lobby).

The designers retained the room's late-1800s detailing, with a vaulted ceiling multiple stories up, but added the perfect oval bar to maximize people-watching. Tables line the walls and fill a second room; all can be reserved.

The noise level is perfect: You can hear your guest, your neighbors can't hear you. Drink prices are steep but not horrifying ($17 for a glass of Arneis). And the liquid menu is minimalist, with no futzy cocktails, so you can get right down to business. --Regina Schrambling

TIP: To really dazzle a client, enter the bar through the lobby but head straight to the courtyard. This summer, for the second year, drinks will be served al fresco, with a view toward St. Patrick's Cathedral. No bar in Midtown can rival it.

GO: Gilt, 455 Madison Ave. (at 50th Street), New York. (212) 891-8100


Silicon Valley

Madera Lounge

The tech crowd isn't exactly known for surrounding itself with glamour. The clubhouses tend to be more like frat houses--at least until about year ago, when the plush Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel opened on a golden ridge above Stanford University.

Suddenly the Valley boys grew up, and the hotel's Madera Lounge became the VC watering hole. A few minutes from Sand Hill Road's tech offices, not to mention VC and private equity firms, the place offers a taste of the good life promised by the next killer deal: rich woods, serious art, a sweeping view of the Santa Cruz Mountains, battalions of people eager to please ... it's all here. The bar's sliding doors are often flung wide, and tie-free meetings are de rigueur on the terrace (quieter meetings sometimes take place in the adjacent library). Celebratory toasts usually involve a big-ticket bottle of wine off the 900-label list, or maybe $120 glasses of Johnny Walker King George V single malt.

When the sun sets, the music goes up and the scene factor kicks in--offering a chance to meet the movers and shakers you may never "get a meeting" with. The crowd ranges from mega-preneur Marc Andreessen to former 49er Ronnie Lott, who is, by the way, quite successful in private equity investments these days. --Marcia Gagliardi

TIP: Sand Hill Road office hours tend to be flexible, so regulars come early and stake out tables, especially in the summer.

GO: Madera Lounge at Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel, 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, Calif. (650) 561-1540


San Francisco

Seasons Bar and Lounge

The "lousy economy" hiatus is over, and Season's beloved pianist Michael Udelson is back with his classic repertoire of ... wait? Is that Radiohead? Why, yes, it is.

Tucked away on the fifth floor of the Four Seasons is this highly polished lounge--offering three luxurious rooms, discreet spacing between substantial tables, a view of downtown and ... a few surprises.

Grab one of the corner tables with the high-backed leather chairs. The bar opens at 2:30 p.m., ideal for late afternoon meetings, maybe between sessions at nearby Moscone Convention Center. Bartender Sierra Zimei is known for classic cocktails with a twist. And one of her signatures--you'll spot it on many tables--is the Trust Fund, made with Plymouth Gin, St. Germain, orange marmalade, mint and Champagne. --Marcia Gagliardi

TIP: The bar snacks are the civilized kind that won't make a mess on your suit, so don't hesitate to order the duck spring rolls or the Olives Three Ways, which come de-pitted, of course.

GO: Seasons Bar and Lounge at the Four Seasons, 757 Market St., San Francisco. (415) 633-3737


Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C., boasts a higher per capita alcohol consumption rate than any state in the union. But it's also a town that goes home early--so what you want is a great place for a lunchtime tipple. And there is none better than Proof, a hip spot on G Street Northwest, midway between the Capitol and the K Street corridor, the lawyer-and-lobbyist center of gravity. The wine list is superb (witness the '47 Ch?FDFDteau Cheval Blanc), but the cocktails nearly steal the show (simple, clean, with distinctive ingredients such as Douglas Fir eau de vie).

Amid the thirty- and fortysomething professionals, you might spot White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu--or Bruce Springsteen. Sommelier Sebastian Zutant recalls passing a table to hear former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remark to the British ambassador, "This could affect 9 million people!" --Chris Lewis

TIP: Proof nods to its across-the-street neighbor, the National Portrait Gallery, with a slide show of the museum's collection. And naming the subjects--Duke or Satchmo? John Adams or John Quincy Adams?--makes for cool, easy bar chat.

GO: Proof, 775 G St. N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 737-7663



Purple Café and Wine Bar

Purple Café and Wine Ba

Seattle is the kind of city where talking shop is as likely to take place over a venti soy latte as it is over a Walla Walla Syrah. But when it's time to swap the coffee mug for a wine glass, Seattle's business crowd heads for Purple Café and Wine Bar in the downtown financial district, a place that draws financiers from Morgan Stanley and Kibble & Prentice, executives from Nordstrom and Microsoft, as well as entrepreneurs from the biotech, communications and high-tech industries. 'Treps take note: Thursday and Friday evenings are particularly popular with the neighboring finance and legal firms.

Purple's d?cor might be described as medieval modern, with massive candelabras hanging beneath a ceiling of woven sheets of steel. Rising behind the bar is a two-story column housing 5,500 bottles of wine, from Willamette Valley whites to Tuscan reds (the bar has an extensive beer and cocktail selection, too). Like the rest of Seattle, Purple has a casual vibe, but there's a good chance that guy in jeans and nerd glasses is the latest grenache-sipping millionaire in a city known for creating more than a few. --Paul Clarke

TIP: Some of the details surrounding JPMorgan Chase's 2008 purchase of Washington Mutual were worked out in Purple's upstairs dining room.

GO: Purple Café and Wine Bar, 1225 Fourth Ave., Seattle. (206) 829-2280




The Living Room

Since summer 2008, when the Living Room opened as the W Hotel's street-level bar inside the historic Foshay Tower, top executives from Target's nearby corporate headquarters and downtown's law firms, ad agencies and software houses have gathered beside local luminaries such as Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to sip single-malt scotches and cocktails such as the Epiphany (vodka, elderflower liqueur, Champagne).

A cocktail lounge done up in black and magenta, its atmosphere is more nightclub than country club (as you'd expect from a W), yet business suits, not party dresses, fill its banquettes deep into the dinner hour. The spacious room has varied arrangements of couches and tables to facilitate semiprivate meetings, and its noise level--a hum, not a roar--encourages discreet conversation. (Be warned, though, DJs start playing music at about 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The clientele turns decidedly younger, and the business crowd departs in a rush.) There are appetizers--from truffled deviled eggs with caviar to jerk shrimp--but most everyone is there to talk and drink. --Bruce Schoenfeld

TIP: The Speakeasy, a secondary space with a hidden entrance off the bar, is boardroom-equipped with full AV capabilities.

GO: The Living Room at the W Minneapolis, 821 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis. (612) 215-3700


Las Vegas


At Sage, chef Shawn McClain's hot spot in the new Aria Resort in CityCenter, you won't run into tour groups from Idaho, or anywhere else. The place exudes power and glamour, for one thing. For another, it's in a far corner of the resort.

Behind the bar are two of the city's master mixologists: Tall, feisty Leann Kelly and the more circumspect Jeff Watson. Kelly, a force of nature from Columbus, Ohio, loves to joust with her clients (who follow her from gig to gig) but is all business when it comes to making cocktails.

You might spot Mayor Oscar Goodman at the black granite bar or even a famous chef, such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, here to powwow or taste one of the latest creations from a terrific bar menu. The Vancouver Island Kusshi oysters topped with piquillo peppers and Tabasco sorbet is hard to beat. --Max Jacobson

TIP: Ask for Table 94, in a quiet corner. It affords a view of the bar and entrance, so you won't miss a thing.

GO: Sage at Aria Resort & Casino, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas. (702) 590-7111



Motel Bar

Motel Bar

Leave the formal hotel bars downtown to the suits: The Motel Bar in River North is where the city's startup culture gathers. That's why Andrew Mason is in his element here. Motel Bar is where Mason--who founded Groupon, the hugely popular, crowd-driven deal site--takes his meetings when he wants to get out of the office. It is also where Group-on's own crowd gathers: The outdoor patio (weather permitting) and the bar's leather-backed, half-round booths offer plenty of spots for poring over the next round of funding to the next big idea.

That's just what owner Hubie Greenwald intended when he designed the place: A bar that offers old-school cocktails and sophistication for new-business types. Bartenders concentrate on the classics: the Tom Collins and Jameson Fizz, plus sazeracs, sidecars, gimlets and grasshoppers. The menu was originally inspired by room-service classics--not exactly promising--but Greenwald expanded beyond club sandwiches to offerings from steak frites to four-cheese flatbread.

You can still find Greenwald's vintage bar guides, shelved in one corner of the bar. Take a look and decide what to order next while you await an audience with the Groupon guru or another of Chicago's upstarts. --Jason Meyers

TIP: Mason, a vegetarian, recommends the mac and cheese. And an Old-Fashioned.

GO: The Motel Bar, 600 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago. (312) 822-2900




Churchill Bar

It would seem wise for today's politicians to avoid smoke-filled rooms, but Churchill's cigar bar--inside Denver's storied Brown Palace hotel--has nevertheless become the after-hours clubhouse for state legislators of both parties. Done up in fine-grained oak and maroon leather, the bar also attracts the wildcat prospectors of the state's oil and gas industries. They're the ones right out of the region's romantic past, sipping afternoon single malts, moaning about dry wells and providing a colorful backdrop for the rest of us. Later, top attorneys and Qwest and Wells Fargo execs settle in beneath the cloud of blue smoke and munch complimentary blue-cheese-stuffed olives. --Bruce Schoenfeld

TIP: Need to lobby your legislator? Wait until the day's session is over, then watch Churchill's fill up with white shirts and gray suits.

GO: Churchill Bar at The Brown Palace Hotel, 321 17th St., Denver.(303) 297-3111




Philadelphia has quietly become the capital of the beer culture--gastropubs with the most esoteric brews on tap are the keys to gentrifying any neighborhood. But they aren't always the most sedate spots for doing business. That's where Tria comes in. The stylish and cozy bar, just off ritzy Rittenhouse Square, has a world-class beer list but also specializes in wine and cheese. Order a Porterhouse Oyster Stout, a craft beer from Dublin that's a rarity in the United States, and maybe a shared plate of cured meats or cheeses, or just an order of the most popular small plate: figs poached in Port, stuffed with Gorgonzola, toasted and set atop prosciutto. The crowd skews young--20- to 40-year-olds--and is mostly professional, but everyone is looking for a great place to gather with no distractions: no television, Internet or karaoke. Just a smart oasis to have a drink and talk. And unlike so many business bars, it's decidedly female-friendly. --Regina Schrambling

TIP: Send a subtle message by ordering the Sly Fox Phoenix pale ale.

GO: Tria, 123 S. 18th St., Philadelphia. (215) 972-8742


Raleigh, N.C.

The Wild Turkey Bar & Lounge

OK, so we're sending you to a big, red barn--really, a big, red barn--perched on a commercial strip above Highway 70 and telling you that this is the best place to strike a deal in the entire Research Triangle. And we are saying this without irony, because The Wild Turkey Bar & Lounge has been a cross-sectional hotbed of local politicos, big pharma executives and tech tycoons since it opened in 1984. And, yes, it's in the Angus Barn restaurant, a rambling, kid-friendly steakhouse. But suspend disbelief and go directly upstairs to the Wild Turkey lounge. There you will find a seriously kooky haven of masculinity, a clubby room with heart of pinewood, leather armchairs and ledges decorated with hundreds--hundreds--of garish ceramic Wild Turkey bourbon decanters.

And why should you stay? Because everyone else is already here: On any given night you're likely to encounter Marc Basnight, president of the North Carolina Senate, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, SAS and GlaxoSmithKline bigwigs. The atmosphere may be pure good ol' boy, but the crowd is highly evolved. And it flocks here because the lounge was literally the first bar in town: When North Carolina repealed its "brown bagging" law, the Wild Turkey lounge opened immediately, a beacon for folks in a Baptist-run town who'd never had a proper bar. It helped that owner Thad Eure's father served a 52-year term as North Carolina secretary of the state. So folks here decided to do business at this bar a long time ago, and they haven't changed their minds since. And those other folks who drive their Priuses and don't care to smoke cigars have clearly found a home here, too. --Kelly Alexander

TIP: Stay away on Friday and Saturday nights. Deals get done here Monday through Thursday.

GO: The Wild Turkey Bar & Lounge, 9401 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, N.C. (919) 781-2444

You called the meeting, you get to the bar early. Even if you didn't call the meeting, you get there early. Because if you get there early, you begin defining relationships. Not only between you and the people you're meeting with, but between you and the bar itself: the cocktail waitresses, the bartenders, the guy sitting next to you. You have come to this bar for relationships. You might as well begin making them.


The Rules

The Rules
By Ross McCammon
Because this isn't really about cocktails. It's about business.

I work at Esquire, and we drink on occasion. We drink when things need to be celebrated, contemplated, figured out--but languidly, casually, without a clear goal in mind. We drink for defined periods of time and not all that often, but we drink. We drink with each other or with people we're getting to know. We drink in the conference room. We drink at bars. We drink to build relationships, to learn things. We're not looking for an escape but the opposite of escape. We don't want to lose something but gain something--an idea or a partnership or a new way of looking at our existing ideas and partnerships. Serious stuff, if you think about it. We think drinking is good for business when done the right way. So there are rules that we've worked out from drinking, from sharing knowledge about drinking in the magazine, from being around people who know more about what we drink than we do. And the rules are like this...

  1. You called the meeting, you get to the bar early. Even if you didn't call the meeting, you get there early. Because if you get there early, you begin defining relationships. Not only between you and the people you're meeting with, but between you and the bar itself: the cocktail waitresses, the bartenders, the guy sitting next to you. You have come to this bar for relationships. You might as well begin making them.
  2. You can sit at the bar. But standing's better. When you stand, you are able to receive. You are on the level of those who will approach you. You're not in a position of weakness. You're in a position of authority. Or at least parity. Anyway, you got there first. So you stand and wait. With a drink.
  3. Your order is one of two things: a beer or a whiskey on the rocks. The beer is safe. The whiskey is less safe. But so much more interesting and potentially rewarding. Because when you order a scotch (good when drinking with the Japanese) or a bourbon (good when drinking with the Americans) or a rye (good when drinking with the Southerners--or other Americans or the Japanese), you are suggesting that you are committed. A whiskey isn't a beverage, it's a drink. And a drink is an experience. And it would suggest to those you are meeting with that you are about to have an experience that could lead to more experiences. Also, a whiskey will get you drunk. But you are not going to get drunk tonight.
  4. If you're ordering beer, it should not be a light beer. Light beers are weak beers. They are tentative. They are for weak people. No one has ever wanted to enter into or continue a relationship with a weak person. Order anything else: a Guinness, a Budweiser, whatever IPA is on tap, etc.
  5. Drinks should be ordered confidently, explicitly, specifically. You should have an idea of what you want before you even walk inside. You should scan the taps before you even get to the bar. Unless you're sitting at a table too far away from the bar to see the taps, never ask, "What do you have on tap?" It's too easy to find out for yourself. Also, beer on tap is generally no better than beer in a bottle. Bars don't clean their taps enough. They get gunky. Bottled beer is consistently fresher. It's true.
  6. Always drink what you want. There's a thing that happens in meetings at a bar or even over lunch. The first person orders a beer. The second person orders a beer. The third and fourth people order beers. You are the fifth person. You don't want a beer. You want a whiskey. Do you order the beer? You do not. You order a whiskey. More often than not, you will find that the second through fourth persons will change their orders based on your order--the rogue order. Because they never wanted a beer. No one should ever drink anything in a meeting at a bar they wouldn't drink by themselves.
  7. There are some drinks no one should ever order during a business meeting. No light beers, as stated previously. No rum and Cokes. Not because this isn't a serious drink (it's a serious drink in the right context--if you're in a beach bar in Cuba, for instance) but because it is too closely connected to nonserious drinkers. No gin and tonics unless it's hot outside. No drinks ordered off the cocktail menu. There is great risk here. When you order off the cocktail menu, you risk that the drink comes in a very tall glass with too much accoutrement: oranges and cherries and umbrellas, etc. Then you're the one sitting there with the stupid drink. You don't want to be the one with the stupid drink.
  8. If you don't drink: Order a club soda on the rocks with lemon. There is no shame in club soda.
  9. So, the perfect drink. There are many, of course. Some guidelines: It should be a drink that no one can screw up. It should be a drink that every bartender knows how to make. It should be a drink with ingredients that every bar has. If we had to settle on one though, we'd go with an "Old-Fashioned, no fruit." If you have any doubt that your bartender won't know how to make an Old-Fashioned, then order bourbon (or rye, if they have any) on the rocks with a dash of bitters. A little trivia if you need it: The Old-Fashioned is the first cocktail. First made in 1806. Whiskey, sugar, water and bitters. And no fruit. (The fruit--muddled orange and cherry--is an adulteration that came much later. Which is a shame.)
  10. At some point, order and pay for a round. Doesn't matter if you are the one being courted. Order a round. You are capable of ordering and paying, so you do.
  11. And, for chrissakes, never ask about specials. Asking about A few words about restroom breaks: Uh ... not too many. Monitor your intake. Looks weak. Anyway, you might miss something. Specials in a bar is like asking a shoeshine guy for extra polish.
  12. Do not get drunk. To aid this, come hydrated and well fed. And don't drink too much. How much to drink? Don't drink more than the most senior person at the meeting (client, partner, co-worker or the potential version of all these). To ensure this, order a "water back" with your first order. Drink at least half a glass of water for each drink. Sinatra supposedly did this. Even if he didn't, you should. If you start with a whiskey, switch to beer after the second one.
  13. A few words about restroom breaks: Uh ... not too many. Monitor your intake. Looks weak. Anyway, you might miss something.
  14. Only bring up business after the first drink. You've allowed people to relax. You've allowed them to get their bearings. The only business that happens before the second drink is the business of drinking. Which is serious business. (See the first 13 rules.)
  15. Things to talk about: You could talk about kids. People enjoy talking about their kids. You could talk about sports--but only if you actually know something about sports. People who talk about sports but don't know anything about sports might as well be talking about the weather. Things you shouldn't talk about: the weather, the cocktail waitress, religion, politics, the guy in your party who just got up from your table to hit the john. You could talk about booze, maybe. You could talk about how rye is made from rye. And scotch is made from malt. And bourbon is made from corn. And vodka is made from pretty much anything: potatoes and wheat and grapes and lots of other things. You could talk about how the difference between a good bartender and a great bartender is how long they shake a martini--a drink doesn't start getting cold until after the 15th shake.
  16. Here's when you leave: You leave about 30 minutes after you've deemed that business has been taken care of. You leave before you've gotten drunk. You leave in a position of strength. There are three phases of a long night of drinking. There is the first half, when no one is having any fun, when things are a little awkward and you're feeling everyone out and they're feeling you out. There's a second half, when things are fun, when things are comfortable, when things are still intelligent and when work is getting done. And then there is overtime. Overtime is tricky. This is the time when work has been done, when you are still feeling good, when you could stick around for a little while. You could go either way, you know? "Another drink?" someone asks you. "Come on!" they say. The answer is: You have to get going. You'd love to, though, really. But you've gotta get home. Whether or not you go home is unimportant. Maybe you do. Or maybe you go to another bar, where there aren't so many rules. The point is, these aren't your friends. These are people you're doing business with. Big difference. And when you're doing business, you quit while you're still pretty much sober. That is: ahead.


Ross McCammon is an articles editor at Esquire magazine.

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