There are many ways to get to know a travel destination. You can read books ahead of time, go see the sights, but how do you really get to know the culture of a place? One way is to go run errands - like checking out the grocery stores, shopping, or going to the post office. You can observe how people handle their daily grind or stressful situation. However, I find the best way to really understand what a place and it’s people are all about is by sitting at the bar.
When I am traveling, alone or with companions, I like to eat at the bar of a restaurant instead of at a table. The bartenders make great hosts, you get better service, and chatting with the other people at the bar will give you a more authentic experience in the place you are visiting. The bar is a place where people come to unwind from the day, to commiserate or to celebrate. It’s here that locals love to give you insight into their city and other travelers might share in your stories.
In Seattle, Gman and I sat at the bar and this lovely local Seattleite gave us the her version of the history of the city, with its achievements and shortfalls. Her personality and passion helped us to better understand the what makes her city tick. Go to almost any bar in NYC and I bet your impression of mean New Yorkers will soften, particularly if you like their sports team. In Key West, it isn’t hard to belly up somewhere and meet that local hippie who moved there in the 1960s in search of bluer waters and looser social norms.
People are loyal to and passionate about the places they live, they moved there for a reason, after all, and you are there likely for the same reasons. Why not dig a little deeper? Next time you travel I encourage you to become part of the community at your destination and sit at the bar.