How to Save the Most Money at Bars, According to Bartenders

Did those cocktails from last night leave a few extra, unexpected digits on your credit card?

(And, uh, maybe those drinks merrily offered to your friends — hey, put it on my tab! — didn’t help.)

Navigating the cost of going out, whether to a sophisticated cocktail bar or your favorite dive down the street, isn’t as easy as it might seem.

This is especially true if you’re ultimately trying to have fun and not think about finances, and if you’re not seasoned at figuring out the maze of a drinks menu, which somehow always looks a little fuzzier as the night rolls on.

To see if it’s possible to save money on one of most people’s biggest expenses (without swearing off drinking altogether, which is always an option), we talked to those who know best: bartenders themselves. Here, they share their own tips and strategies for going out — without going over-budget.

Well, well, well.

“Happy hour of course is the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind, but there are other ways to find good deals,” says Meredith Hayman, cocktail director at R6 Distillery in El Segundo, California, who’s also worked behind the bar in the Los Angeles area for over 13 years.

“Check out the well offerings [also known as house or rail liquors because they’re the go-to spirits used by staff],” she says. “Every bar offers these and they are typically around $10 and often what they use in their cocktails anyway. Talk to them and ask what’s in their well.”

Be honest, and servers will frequently be honest in return about which well options are worthwhile or not — and when you land on a promising option, you can request it in a standard cocktail.

Happy hour doesn’t have to be so obvious.

Happy hour mostly exists to lure in new customers and increase foot traffic during off-peak hours with large-volume orders. It has advantages (the discounts!) and disadvantages (the crowds!), but one perk is the ability to squeeze a few dollars off more experimental items.

“There are some interesting takes on [happy hour], especially in wine bars, where they use reduced pricing as a means to have their guests try different grape varietals and move out of their comfort zones, which I am all for,” says Frank Caiafa, beverage director at The Stayton Room at New York City’s Lexington Hotel. This can also apply to new tap beers or a house cocktail the head bartender is tweaking. If you’re willing to try something new, resist going to your default order and read the list from top to bottom.

Fall back on the shot-and-beer specials — or the wine bottle list.

“In more divey spots, where I am wary that I will get a good cocktail, a shot and beer can go a long way,” Hayman advises. Otherwise known as boilermakers, these supreme deals deliver exactly what’s listed and pack an alcoholic punch. They may or may not be advertised, but just ask your bartender to see what’s available.

Also “check out the wine bottle list,” Hayman adds, especially if you’re a discerning wine fan at a place with a decent list. “Don’t be scared. You can get a bottle for $40, and that is four drinks right there.” It’s not always easy, but estimating what you might drink at the beginning of the night — and what your drinking partner’s plan is, too — can save you both some money.

Go with draft beer…

Draft beer, or beer delivered directly from the keg, is the prize of any brew fan. It also makes the most monetary sense. “Choose draft when you can. There’s less overhead for the bar and the brewery,” Hayman advises, so the quality is higher for the price. “You also get a better beer, since it’s been dispensed from the tap. Think tap soda over bottled soda.”

…but don’t limit yourself anywhere on the menu.

If the draft list is sparse, look into all the offerings including canned and bottled beers (especially the former, which cost less to produce and can present amazing deals) to find something you think you’ll love.

The same goes for spirits. You may find that the standard liquor pour and that premium brand you’ve wanted to try are only separated by a few dollars.

Remember that you’re allowed to ask questions.

A nice cocktail bar is more expensive than a sports bar, and that’s by design. In a high-end establishment, especially in a city with a high cost of living, “be prepared to spend $13 to $18 a cocktail,” says Hayman.

But there’s a bonus: “You tend to get an expert along with it. Here you find the cocktails geeks, the hospitality experts, the ones that make this their career, their focus, their purpose,” Hayman says. “There is no question they can’t answer and you leave feeling that the cost was well worth it.” And while it’s not reflected that way in your checking account, isn’t it true a cocktail you adore at least feels less expensive?

About that infamous “buyback.”

The “buyback,” or the practice of getting a drink for free from your bartender, is mythical and poorly understood. You should never expect it just because you bought three beers or unloaded your thoughts about the latest season of Succession. But it can feel like a gift for those who do get it — and those people are always good patrons.

“The best way to get a buyback is to smile, be patient, and use your manners. At the end of the day, bartenders are human beings with feelings and emotions,” says Justin Campbell, bar director of The H.Wood Group, which is behind LA spots like Bootsy Bellows and The Nice Guy.

So don’t annoy your bartender by bragging about who you know. Don’t touch the garnish dishes. And don’t be obnoxious. Instead, be an amiable regular, because as Hayman succinctly puts it, “Many places reward you for your loyalty.”


Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Listen to the Phicklephilly podcast LIVE on Spotify!

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly

The Benefits of Living Alone After a Breakup

In every relationship, there’s one person who leaves unused seconds on the microwave timer for the other person to be annoyed about. But since the demise of my long term relationship, I am now both of these people in my home. I never hit the clear button, but every time I look at the microwave, I wonder why I can’t see the time. It was definitely me and not my ex. Insert fears of dying alone here. This is a frustrating downside of the #singlelife, but there are so many benefits to living alone that sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever go back.

Say what you want about the joys of being single, but it’s not all dancing to Lizzo in the kitchen with your cat. The prospect of living alone can be scary and lonely. It’s not just loneliness that scares people, though. People think living alone makes you weird and that it may not be good for your health. I asked therapists and other single solo dwellers to tell me what happens to people when they live alone.

You learn to enjoy your own company

When people say they’re scared of being lonely, what I often hear is that they’re scared of getting to know themselves. But when we take the time and effort to get intimate with ourselves — and that can manifest in anything from cooking breakfast naked to nights awake in bed reconciling with thoughts we’ve avoided for years — we often find that we actually enjoy our own company.

LaylaBird/E+/Getty Images

“Having time alone allowed me to explore what I am like when the pressure to be social is turned off,” says Brooke Fallek, a 25-year-old publicist who lives alone in NYC. She got her own place after going through a period of intense loss — within the space of a year, Fallek lost all three of her grandparents. She tells me that she wanted to live alone in order to give herself some mental and emotional space to heal. “As someone who recharges through alone time, I expected to find a sense of calm from having my own space. That turned out to be the case, but what I didn’t expect was feeling more comfortable in my own skin.”

But isn’t the point of being a social animal to connect with others?? Our culture tends to dismiss single living or even demean it as an existence that is incomplete, says Brittany Bouffard, a Denver-based psychotherapist. But, “learning how you like to spend your time, how you work, what you choose if no other opinions are available — these are vital understandings,” she adds. Living solo can help us understand ourselves more completely.

There are a lot of subtle things we don’t notice about ourselves when we’re always around another person, perhaps in a partnership. When I was in a relationship, I would always ask my partner for input on everything from what to wear to how I should spend my time. It wasn’t intentional, but most of the decisions I made were joint decisions. I never had to figure out the details of my preferences because there was always another person’s to consider.

When my partner moved out, one of the first things I did was cover a cow skull in rainbow lights and hang it on the wall. It’s not a decor choice that everyone would agree with, but it makes me really happy.

When we first split up, the subtle textures of my likes and dislikes were new territory. Now, they are fully mapped terrain, and I think that knowing my own internal landscape so well makes me more interesting, not just to me, but to others.

You get more confident about asking for what you need and offering what you have

When you live with a partner or a roommate, you don’t have to work very hard to get your basic social needs met. There’s another human around by default. But if you live alone, you have to work for it. If you want to share your ups and downs with another human, you have to reach out. This is a double-edged sword. A lot of folks find that learning to manage the daily rollercoaster of their emotions alone feels complicated.

“It can be tough sometimes to get out of a depressed rut and really isolate myself since there’s no one physically there to hang out with or talk to,” says Kayla Hockman, an account executive who lives alone in Los Angeles. John Simon, an editor who lives solo in Virginia, agrees: “Some days, I wake up feeling miserable because I have no one to talk to about my feelings.” This is so real. It can be really depressing to not have someone handy to share your joy and pain with.

On the flip side, what I’ve found is that living alone has strengthened my relationships, platonic and otherwise — precisely because I have to work so hard for them. I have to make an effort to go to an event or a friend’s house. It’s less convenient to connect, but because it takes some effort, it feels more valuable.

The effort people who live alone have to put into connecting can make for more satisfying connection. The truth is that, before I lived alone, I was kind of emotionally unavailable. I was busy being available to my live-in boo and it shut me out, to an extent, to other relationships. Fallek agrees that there’s something about living alone that makes you more open. “Meeting new people is exciting — having so much time to process my own thoughts has made me more present and genuinely interested when chatting with a stranger,” she says.

You can throw yourself into your creativity

Writing is the real love of my life, and it is the relationship I put the most time and effort in to. When I lived with my partner, I felt under constant pressure to work less and play more. The problem was that writing is my idea of play. “I can focus on my passions without having to divide my time or being made to feel guilty for not doing so,” agrees Nina Dafe, who lives alone in London.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you may find yourself being more creative about how you live your life. “For the first time I was able to truly explore my own aesthetic, not having to consult others about furniture, art and decor choices,” says Fallek. “ I experienced a new feeling of confidence in my home.” When my partner moved out, one of the first things I did was cover a cow skull in rainbow lights and hang it on the wall. It’s not a decor choice that everyone would agree with, but it makes me really happy.

All the projects that get stuck in the negotiation stage when you live with someone else can be a easier to follow through on when you live alone. Margo Benge, who lives alone in Texas, decided to start her own publishing company. Simon finally did some things he had always wanted to do. He took a bunch of digital marketing classes and launched his career as a relationship coach. “The joy of accomplishing a long-term goal is unparalleled,” he says.

Marina Abramovic, the Serbian artist who’s 2012 piece, The Artist is Present, became a viral sensation on Youtube, says that cultivating solitude is a requirement for artists. You could argue, but she turned performance art from a thing only other artists knew about into a pop cultural phenom, and it’s hard to argue with that. As Joe Fassler said in The Atlantic, “It’s not drugs, poverty, or wild lovers that make a great writer. It’s discipline and time alone.” Well, if the minor annoyances of a flashing microwave clock and spooning with my pitbull instead of a human are what it takes for me to make better writing, I think it’s a fair trade.


Rebecca – Chapter 8 – Cypress and the Oak – Part 5

The city vanishes behind her lips.

I met Rebecca 3 years ago on a date. Rebecca has recently made an appearance in my life so I thought I’d re-run this series so everyone won’t have to go back and search for her series to catch up. Enjoy!

Fall of 2016

In our last episode we left our hero right here:

“I’ve had a wonderful night with you.” She says, taking my hands in hers. She looks up at me. Her eyes are dark but full of light. I don’t question what is happening. “Thank you so much for your time tonight. I can’t thank you enough. I feel like you fixed me. I’ve been wearing armor my whole life and when I take it off I always get hurt. I feel like I’m safe when I’m with you.” She lifts her hands slowly and gently touches my cheeks and kisses me gently. Her kisses are soft and sincere.

I’m blown away by her words. Normally the work is being done and the results just come. They never realize until later. But she seems to feel it in the moment. I’ve not encountered a girl like this before. She’s so mature. I’m captivated by her beauty and honesty. Just when you think you can’t feel that magic again, you do. The key, I think is not to look for it. Just let it happen.

It’s happening. She wants to see me again and is sure about that. But deeds are stronger than words. Young people get distracted. It’s so easy now. I’m already prepared for disappointment again. I’m just happy that tonight happened even if I never see her again.

This one is different. But I can’t put my finger on it. I actually like that. The unexpected is so exciting. That’s my favorite part of the game.

We sit for a moment at 20th and Market. “I love Philly in the Fall.” she says.

She looks down Market street. Billy Penn stands proudly atop City Hall.

“Why is his back to the city?”

“He’s not turning his back on Philly. He’s welcoming the world to come here, Rebecca. The only world they knew back then came from the East.”

When I came here 8 years ago I was clueless about the city but now I’m an authority on all things Philly.

There’s this moment where we’re just sitting there. I’ve just had this incredible night with my future second ex-wife. (kidding!) The city is moving all around us. The lights, the cabs, the people, and the energy of the night. There is a moment when we’re just sitting there silently looking into each other’s eyes. My God, she’s exquisite. What curse is this that has been cast upon me? Where I fall in love with this lovely maiden only to be shattered again. I’m not afraid. I love the drug. I hear the hiss of her stockings as she crosses her legs. We kiss again. I’m once again 18. It’s new and magical.

The city vanishes behind her lips.

“Ok. So movies or something?” She says in her hopeful girlish voice.

As corny as this sounds I said: “Yes! A thousand times, yes!”

Rebecca giggled and said: “I’m going to call and UBER.”

“Already done.” I replied. The black Lincoln pulled up to the curb, and stopped. She looked at me. “What?”

“Safe passage, dear.” I smiled.

She attacked me once again like a Northern Pike hitting the bait. Her arms suddenly around me. Her breasts pressed against my chest like flowers in a memory book. Those full lips against mine. Her tongue swirling with mine. Me…grateful I had popped a piece of Dentyne Ice peppermint gum before we left the bar.

The car arrives…

“Take her home. She’s precious cargo. I’ve seen your face, Santos,” I joke to the driver.

Rebecca giggled as she got in the car. Her skirt riding up on her thighs. “I’ll text you when I get home safe! Thank you! Movie date!”

I smile and wave.

I’m in love.

The sedan pulls away. I turn and make my way back to Rittenhouse to the bat cave. I’m feeling sparkling, crackling, euphoria. Dopamine is an inferno in my brain.

I get a text. “I feel so special you sending me home in a car.”

“Because you are special.”

I’m happy, but I wince slightly knowing I’ve lived a similar scenario like this once before that ended badly. Well, they all end badly. What relationship ends well? It’s super rare. You either get married and have kids or you break up. That’s it. Rarely do people ever find a happy medium. Most of humanity is just predisposed to fall into a couple of buckets of what is right to ensure happiness, and it’s all a lie. Those are old laws that were put in place to bring order to the tribes and the colonies. You can’t bang your sister, or your cousin, oh, and stay away from your neighbor’s wife or you’ll go to Hell.

That’s the only choices we have as a society. Do they really work? I spit out the gum in my mouth. I contemplate this as I walk home, taking a long drag on a glorious cigarette. It feels so good. I’m not going to smoke around this exquisite baby. She’ll never kiss me then.

We don’t have many choices here. If you love somebody and it is electric, then you should get married. Live together. get a mortgage. Buy a $1000 dress you’ll wear once. Get piles of gifts and money. Pay $20,000 for a party to make you too guilty to get divorced for at least 5 years. Go on a big expensive vacation. Why? None of it makes any sense. I’ve done it and it’s all just a waste of time. It’s all been created by corporations to make money.

The greatest things in life can’t be seen and can only be felt, and are absolutely free. I don’t believe in God, But I swear to God It’s true. Everything else you think you have to do is bullshit. All there is, is your health, your family, (if you choose, unless they’re assholes, then fuck them) and your own life. All you need is stuff to do, some cool people around you and some stuff to look forward to. But without your health you’re totally fucked. So that one erases everything else. Look at that asshole Steve Jobs. That motherfucker was rich as fuck and that cunt never recognized his own daughter. He was super rich and cancer came and took his ass. Almost seems like justice for being a dick, but I digress…

It doesn’t matter what happens after this date with Rebecca. She’s a doll and I like her. I hope to go out with her again. And odds are I will based on this writing. But even if I never see her again, I’ll at least know we shared some great moments. I only have about 20 summers left in me according to Keith Richards. (Bullshit! Keith just turned 76!) So as Jim Morrison said: “I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shit house goes up in flames.” Sure the Doors, suck and the Stones rock but you get the point.

I make my way back to Rittenhouse down 20th street. I draw deep on my Parliament 100. It feels good. I’m clear. I walk past the 7-Eleven and Twenty Manning. So many good memories at Twenty Manning with my ex Michelle.

I get to my door and work the key into the lock. My building is old. 120 years old. But it has character. I like it because it’s like me and it’s where I belong. I’m done. I strip down to my home uniform; T-shirt and shorts. Nothing else. I fix myself a vodka and club soda and flop in my chair. I drop my cell on the table next to me and search Netflix for something short and sweet. 30 Rock works. I take a sip and light another cig. It all tastes good and satisfying because of the nights events. Oh, and that Liz Lemon has fantastic legs.

My phone pings.

“Home safe. Had an amazing night with you. Thank you for everything. Let me know when you’re available to see me again. Looking forward to it! – Rebecca XOXO”

I text her back that I’m home and confirm our amazingness. I tell her I’ll text her tomorrow.

I take a sip from my drink and a drag from my cig. Tonight I welcome the sound of the crickets singing outside my window.



Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

Listen to the Phicklephilly podcast LIVE on Spotify!

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly

%d bloggers like this: