Surviving Bay to Breakers: A Refresher in Bar Etiquette

Yes, it has a halo.
Bay to Breakers.

This year marks the centennial of the footrace that eventually became Bay to Breakers (in 1965), the Cross-City Race that occurred on January 1st, 1912. The event was started in part to lift the morale of a city devastated by the 1906 earthquake.

Bay to Breakers, a thoroughly San Francisco tradition, is no normal marathon. While many participants may be of the serious runner stripe (my step-mother keeps threatening to fly to SF and run the Bay to Breakers...and I have "volunteered" to accompany, so long as I can either walk or bike the "route"), most of the participants are more revelers than athletes.

The best way to sum it up would be to call it a "day long, semi-nude bar crawl."

Now set in May, it is a perfect storm for out-of-school coeds and teenagers, bridge and tunnel mobs and least of all, out-of-staters like my step-mother (who will quickly get out of the way of trouble with her bizzarre actual running-the-course behavior).

Warming up for this event, I decided I needed a (cheap) beer so I pulled myself together and hopped on the deucy-ist of deuce busses SF MUNI has to offer, the 22 Fillmore, and made my way to Lucky 13.

Within seconds, a mob of (presumably) 21-22 year olds in sports attire were pressing flesh at the bar, picking olives out of the garnish trays (the "salad bar"), and I was inspired to come up with a list of things every bar patron should know.

Free BBQ, Saturdays 4PM-7PM
Contributing to the list of rules were:
  • Lotta (Lucky 13)
  • Jeff (barback, Lucky 13)
  • Buddha (door, barback, Lucky 13)
  • Jeff (Mia's husband, Lucky 13)
  • James (Dear Mom)
  • Chelsee (Dear Mom)
Without further ado, I give you, straight from the source, Chowbacca!'s (Slightly SF Centric) Bar Commandments:
  • Keep your mitts out of the salad bar.
  • Keep your mitts off the cocktail waitress and/or bartender.
  • Keep your mitts off the taps.
  • Don't grab your own glassware or stemware.
  • Never reach behind the bar.
  • Know what you want when you go to the bar to order - don't waste the bartender's time!
  • If you order some frou-frou drink that you don't know how to make, tough. You'll get what the bartender gives you instead and you'll like it.
  • It doesn't matter if your drink costs $0.50 or $5, you tip no less than $1 for every drink.
  • Tip for water or soda.
  • Tip at least $2 if your drink is "fussy". You know who you are.
  • If you are comped a drink, tip at least half of the face value of the drink (there is some disagreement, but to be safe, I would say roughly 75%).
  • Most bars don't have table service.
  • All bars appreciate it if you bus your own dirty glasses and empties.
  • If glasses are accumulating on tables and the bartender is in the weeds, bussing glasses and empties off tables is a good way to earn the gratitude of the bartender, and perhaps a free drink.
  • Vomiting - don't.
  • Empty bags of drugs, condoms, tampons, cigarette butts and roaches go into the trashcan and not in the toilet or urinal.
  • Many bars are cash only - it's best to find out before ordering $60 of shots.
  • Stop. Dropping. The. Stools. Stools are expensive. Don't mess with them.
  • If you break a glass tell a staff member immediately - do not attempt to clean it up yourself and do not touch broken glass.
  • If you are going to the bar with the intention of copping drugs, you should know there is a two drink minimum. And tip.
  • Don't ask the bartender if they've seen your drug dealer - they don't know. Even if they do know, they don't know. Now get out.
  • No shooting up in the bathroom, ever.
  • It's best to assume you can't smoke (anything) in the bar.
  • Take your joint far enough away from the door so that you don't stink the place up like a Phish concert.
  • Chances are you are among the 90% of people who have terrible taste in music. Keep that in mind when selecting songs on the jukebox. No one in the industry wants to hear "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" followed by "Kashmir" followed by "War Pigs" followed by "Date With The Night (Yeah Yeah Yeahs!)" followed by "No Woman No Cry" followed by whatever vanilla frat-boy bullshit you and your dumb friends listen to over and over and over.
  • Ask the bartender if they have any requests on the jukebox. Do not be surprised if they rattle off a series of memorized numbers.
  • No one wants to hear you sing along.
  • If you think "the only good kind of music is ________," stay off the jukebox. And shut up.
  • Sports. They are not that important in the grand scheme of things.
  • No one, especially strangers, wants to listen to you bitch and moan about your shitty life. The bartender is just being polite.
  • Leave your guns at home.
  • Never, ever complain if your drink is too weak.
  • Never, ever complain if your drink is too strong.
  • Assume the bartender is watching and behave accordingly...
  • ...And if she isn't, assume she has at least one large, "I don't give an eff", ruffian bruiser friend seated near by who you haven't noticed yet - and who's notice you do not want visited upon thee.
  • Keep your shoes on.
  • Keep your shirt on. (Jeff adds, however, "show me your tits." Every rule has an exception, I suppose.)
  • Professional drunks hydrate. With water. You should too.
  • No Bloody Mary's after 4PM, please.
  • Don't call a bar during a busy hour and ask the bartender to look for your lost purse, jacket or wallet you degenerate drunk.
  • Don't complain when asked to show your ID, no matter how old you are or cool you think you are. It's the law. Shut up and show your ID.
  • No ID, no entry.
  • Don't snap.
  • Don't wave.
  • Don't wave your money.
  • Don't call the bartender boss, hoss, chief, big guy, pal, buddy, sweet tits, baby, honey, sugar, or friend. It's "sir," or "miss."
  • You. Yes, you asleep at the bar. Time to go.
  • The bartender is always right.
  • The bartender doesn't give an eff.
  • If you are paying with a credit card, tip cash.
  • Tip at least 20% on any tab.
  • 2AM is when they are legally obligated to close, but they can close any time before then that they want to. Get out.
  • Waste the bartenders time and she'll waste yours back.
  • No means no, even in Spanish.
  • Art school isn't an excuse.
  • The bartender has a life too - possibly a dog to walk. Get out.
  • If the bartender gives you a glass of water instead of your order, it's time to go (and don't forget to tip).
  • Lights up - time to go.
  • Last call - time to go.
  • "Bartender's singing Clementine," - time to go.


Lucky 13
2140 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 487-1313

Dear Mom
2700 16th Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 625-3362


  1. Yes! Most of these are spot on. I assume, however, that these are guidelines for appropriate behavior from wasted weekend warriors during the actual Bay to Breakers, or when the bar is otherwise packed nuts-to-butts, like Thursday - Saturday night, or during (fucking despicable, douchebag-riddled) pub crawls, right?
    'Cause a handfull of these are a little, um, dainty for a "professional drunk" to give a shit about at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
    HOWEVER: "•If you are comped a drink, tip at least half of the face value of the drink (there is some disagreement, but to be safe, I would say roughly 75%)." CRAP! I never knew that! I always thought the standard $1 tip would be okay for comps. I apologize to all bartenders, everywhere, for my negligence.

  2. Wow, what a bunch of tools. A tip is not a REQUIREMENT, it's something you EARN by providing superior service. Typical San Francisco sense of entitlement. YOU OWE ME for COMING INTO MY BAR! Give me a break.

    If you're paying $7 for a beer and the bartender treats you like a jerk, you have every right not to tip (this coming from the girl who usually tips $2 - $4 per drink depending). Don't tell me what to do.

    1. oh boy! I'll answer this with an anecdote. in England the tip is offered up before the service is rendered. hence, "to insure prompt service."

      you will find that if you take your suggested approach to heart, you will get the service you deserve.

      many states halve or less the minimum wage for jobs where tips are earned. when I worked for tips, that was $2.13 an hour.

      you have a right to do whatever is it you want to, but don't except me to come running whenever you wave your hands or snap your fingers at me if you can't meet minimal requirements of not being a dick.

      if the bartender is a jerk, leave. it works both ways, you know.

      by the way, where are you paying $7 a beer? get out of the hotel bar.


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