The mystique of travel and drinking in bars alone

So, I found myself in a bar today. Hardly surprising, I know.

It would be more striking if I said that I didn’t spend a fragment of my day in a pub with a wine, poured carefully and precisely to the line on a cheap glass branded with the name of some shitty establishment.

I sat there, allowing my mind to pause and expand over a cheap ‘house red’. The sort of wine that, you’d be disappointed with if you’d bought yourself a bottle and opened at home yet, is suddenly acceptable when it’s overpriced and consumed in a dingy pub in Melbourne’s China Town.

Doing the beer tower at Leopold’s Bar in Colaba, Mumbai.

As I perched myself at a high table on a hard stool, I felt depressed. Daytime drinkers with hard, weathered faces, wiry hair and beady, bloodshot eyes suddenly surrounded me. Faces that looked as though they’d drunk the wind. Strange characters staring vacantly at TV screens with watery eyeballs. The sort of eyeballs that seemed to be suffering from a lack of regular blinking. You know, the kind of healthy and consistent blink cadence that keeps eyes fresh and alive?

Just like fish at the dark depths of the ocean adapt by growing transparent bodies and heads with no eyes due to the absence of sunlight… perhaps these bar flies have also adapted to the dark pub environment as they rarely glimpse the bright outside world.

I think I often walk into bars almost out of habit. Their dark, moody interiors, sports on oversized screens and refreshing drinks seduce me and draw me in. This appeal is because, when you travel a lot, bars become a large part of your life. One of my favourite things to do is sit it a foreign bar in a strange country, drink and people watch.

Having a Fosters because apparently it’s “Australian for beer” in Bangalore, India.

It’s funny how, when we travel, all rules about drinking go out the window, and this starts at the airport. No matter what time your flight is, suddenly it’s perfectly ok to wash down your ham and cheese croissant with a cold pint at 8am. I used to travel so regularly in and out of Sydney that the airport bar staff knew me well, and a glass of Stella with a croissant was my ‘usual’.

My beer with ham and cheese croissant breakfast special at Sydney Airport.

But… when I do this in my own country it just seems a bit sad. Why, when travelling, does having a drink in a bar alone feel like such an intriguing, creative experience yet when we do the same outside of travel, we feel odd and as if we’ve suddenly become one with the seedy bar flies?

I enjoy writing in bars. Clicking away at a laptop, pausing for a sip of cold frothy beer and allowing a slight drink-induced haze to cure my writer’s block. Yet, if I’m not travelling, and just at a local home-town pub, the whole process loses its mystique.

If you’re someone where alcohol and creativity seem to go hand-in-hand, you get to a point where you need to either:

  • Continuously travel, which would make it always socially acceptable to drink alone during the day.
  • Find another means of creative lubrication
  • Push-on trying to write in your own local pub but to the soundtrack of slot machine jingles, dialogue from characters who use ‘fuck’ as often as I’d use the word ‘um’, and sports commentary that’s always far too loud.

Having one last Heineken at Florence Train Station.

I guess the obvious answer is to travel more.

You see, it’s not even about the pubs or the bars. It’s travel itself. It’s the mind-expanding absorbing of other cultures and incredible experiences that shift your mindset, allowing you to be more creative… not the beer itself. I feel like I’m trying to emulate the travel experience and buzz you get from meeting strangers, people watching and drinking exotic beers in foreign cultures but it’s just not the same. A beer alone in a pub just isn’t inspiring when it’s combined with the familiarity of home and the price-tag that comes with over-priced hipster craft beers in Melbourne.

So, where to next? Which bar will I find myself in and where will the next blog be penned?

Do you have a favourite bar for people watching? Let me know in the comments below!

2 Replies to “The mystique of travel and drinking in bars alone”

  1. Interesting stuff. You’re so right about it being strangely acceptable to drink at any time whilst you’re travelling, it just feels right sometimes. My favourite places to drink are the beer gardens of Munich or if its winter, the beer halls of Munich. Maybe because they are so sociable so you never actually drink alone.

    1. Sounds great Jonno! I need to get to Munich. Europe in general is different with respect to drinking. In Italy, a shot of Grappa on a cold winter’s morning on the way to work is common! Also you’re right that when you travel, you’re rarely alone as travel lends itself to meeting strangers… I think we’re just more stand off ish in Australia!

Want to share your thoughts, questions or feedback? Leave a comment below!