The Virgin Bar Guide for Turning 21

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You’re finally turning 21. Gone are the days of relying on your older friends to buy you beer. It’s finally up to you to navigate the bar scene by yourself, hopefully without looking like a newbie or making too many mistakes along the way. With these foolproof tips, even the most experienced of bar-goers will never know it’s your first time.

1. Doorman Do’s and Don’ts

Even as a 21-year-old, I still experience some anxiety upon approaching the doorman. Will he think my ID is a fake? Do I look too different in my ID photo? Will he turn away my guy friends? Try to act natural…
Over time, you’ll come to realize that it pays to be friendly with the doorman. Any time they give you trouble, it’s probably because he or she is just plain bored. I mean, just think of what their job entails: soberly sitting for hours, sometimes in the cold, ushering in young, drunken crazies until the wee hours of the morning. Not the most fun job, if you ask me. Instead of acting stiff and defensive with the bouncer, be nice, ask how they’re doing. Maybe next time, they’ll remember you and let you in free of charge.
“Upon entering the bar, ask for the bouncer or doorman’s name and remember it! On the way out, give him a high five or a fist bump and say his name. You’ll be instant friends. Works every time.” –Jesse Sauder, 22.

2. Bartender, Over Here!

I hate to sound cliché, but if you’re a girl, you probably want to scope out a guy bartender. And for men, vice versa. All I’m saying is that on your 21st, most men are going to find it far more amusing to serve a girl who’s wearing a hot pink tiara reading “BIRTHDAY GIRL,” than anyone I’ve ever met. [ed. note: Dear god. No, nooo!]
And once you’ve got his or her attention, move fast and order a drink, because everyone else is also vying for the bartender’s attention.

3. Whatcha Drinkin’?

Choosing your first legal drink can be a real headache if you aren’t quite sure about your preferences. While ordering, you’ll be faced with a number of questions: “Draft or bottle?” “Type of liquor?” “Open tab, closed tab?” And, if you aren’t ready, things can get complicated fast.
23-year-old, Trista Barrick, vividly remembers her first time ordering a drink. “The bartender asked what I wanted, and immediately, I started racking my brain for ANY alcoholic beverage I had heard of, except for beer because I thought it was gross at the time. I ordered a rum and coke and nearly gagged because it was god-awful. I remember thinking to myself, Why would people drink such nasty crap for the sake of having fun? I was totally not having any fun.”

The moral of the story is to at least talk to your friends before approaching the bar instead of assuming you’ll pick your favorite drink on the first try. Chances are, discovering your drink of choice will actually take a while and a lot of taste testing. It took me almost two years of college to realize that my drink of choice is anything containing gin, which is a spirit derived from juniper berries. Who knew I’d love the taste of pine needles so much? Not me.

22-year-old Jordan Sward advises new 21-year-olds to at least have an idea of what kind of liquor they want mixed in their drink. “Sounds simple, but the first time I was asked what kind of vodka I wanted in my mixed drink, I drew a blank. If you don’t have a favorite, say ‘house is fine.’ It’s often the cheapest.” [ed. note: And probably the worst tasting. *gags uncontrollably*]


4. Hey BIG Spender! 

Be forewarned, a night out on the town ain’t cheap. By the time you pay any possible cover fees at the door, two or more drinks for yourself and a round for your friends, you’re looking at … well, a lot of hard-earned money spent. How do you enjoy your 21-year-old self, while living on a student budget? It’s all about strategy. Find the bars with no cover fees, specials on drinks and ahem… ladies, look for bars with a good male to female ratio so you can get a free drink or two. And, gentlemen, be sure to choose wisely when buying drinks for girls. Make sure the girl you’ve got your eye on won’t just run away with her cranberry vodka immediately after it’s handed to her.

5. Just Say ‘No’

Whether you like it or not, turning 21 means that everyone around you is going to try and get you a tad more drunk than you should ever be. Another shocker that most 21-year-olds forget: you can refuse drinks and go on to live a full and healthy life. Actually, I recommend it.

“When I first turned 21 everyone bought me shots,” Barrick said. “And, I drank more than my newbie 21-year-old body should have drank. It’s OK to refuse drinks and shots that others buy you. They’re not the ones that will be suffering the next day with an agonizing hangover.”

For more on turning 21, check out:

What To Expect on Your 21st Birthday

21 Ways to Celebrate Your 21st Birthday

10 Things That Will Inevitably Happen When You Turn 21

Sophomore > News-Editorial Journalism > University of Illinois

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