Going to a Bar Alone: The Ultimate Social Psychology Experiment

I did something last night that I never expected to do. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I killed a man in cold blood. (You’ll never find the body, though, so good luck proving it.) Just kidding- I actually just went to a bar by myself for the first time. If you’re like me before yesterday, that second statement is probably as unappealing as the first one. I get it, we are social animals after all. However, you’d be surprised at how fun (and not terrible) it can be. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’m going to tell you why you should try going to a bar alone. Get ready for story time, kids, then after I’ll break down the psychology of the whole thing.

It all started as most trips to the bar do- after a long day of work. I had been hoping to go out with my roommate and his girlfriend (and her friends that I met last week doing the same thing). However, he was out of town. With my hopes not entirely dashed, I asked her to see if she and her friends were doing anything, and she said something about there being a Harry Potter themed bar crawl downtown. She was on the fence about going, but I had already started getting ready by this point.

So there I was, sitting in my freshly washed jeans and a bathrobe, pregaming and wholly committed. It was getting close to ten and I hadn’t heard a response. This is when I did a thing that only a somewhat intoxicated man who has gone out of his way to wash his good jeans specifically for the evening will ever understand-

I said fuck it.

Now, you may never find yourself in such a situation as I did. Since I moved to Reno last year, I have gone out a total of five times, including last night. This is largely due to the fact that I’ve spent most of my weekend nights hanging out with the roommates or playing guitar. You (hopefully) have more friends in town than me, and (probably) don’t have trouble finding someone who’s trying to “turn up” and “get lit” (or whatever the kids are saying these days) on the weekend. However, recently I decided that it was time to expand my social circle to more than the people I work with and the people I live with.

If you’re an introverted person like myself, this can be a daunting prospect. I, personally, have never understood how one is to actively make friends. That being said, I don’t really think it is something one actively does- and we’ll touch on that more in a bit.

I finished getting dressed and hopped in an Uber with a very nice man who was freshly immigrated from Pakistan. We had an interesting conversation about some of the differences he noticed in America, with the biggest one being that alcohol is illegal. People still drink covertly, but it’s nothing like being dropped into the center of Reno on a Saturday night during a Harry Potter-themed bar crawl. Maybe that’s too specific of a comparison? I digress. It was certainly a hell of a culture shock.

Having arrived, I wished him luck on what would certainly turn out to be a stranger evening than he had yet had in this town, and entered the West 2nd Street Bar. I chose this bar for a few reasons. The first was that I had been here last weekend with the aforementioned squad to sing karaoke, the second was to sing karaoke, and the third was that I only know like three damn bars in town. I figured that if I was flying solo, karaoke would be as decent a means to meet people as any (which would prove to be correct as the night went on).

I’m not a terribly experienced karaoke-er, but I’ve noticed a few things. The first is that there will always be a person who is incredibly good and only sings country songs- male or female. Another is that there will always be a person who is incredibly bad and sings things that are vastly out of their range- always male. The rest of people float in the middle, and the smart ones choose songs that the crowd will sing along to. I like to think I’m somewhere in that last group, perhaps only because I have no taste for country. Well, a boy can dream, right?

Having put a song in the queue and secured a double Jameson, I placed myself at a convenient location in the middle of the room. This is important- if you post up on the wall, you will definitely look like a creepy asshole.

Don’t be a creepy asshole.

From my vantage point, I had a pretty good view of the show over the top of the man in front of me’s sorting hat. To my right was a man who I believed to be Dumbledore, but was, in fact, Gandalf the Grey. Obviously, when he told me this, I high-fived him. I turned back to the karaoke (it wasn’t on a stage, but the setup worked) and watched as a rotund man dressed as Snape belted out a subpar tune that presently escapes me.

I remarked on this to the two ladies who were behind me, and they found that funny enough, so I talked to the two of them for a bit. Already, I was off to a good start. They moved to a booth at some point, but I saw a better spot and moved closer to the not-stage. There was a tall, un-Potter-esqe man in a metallic purple and green hoodie (that seemed to be just his normal clothes) who I congratulated for singing something kickass.

By this point I had been here for some time and hadn’t been called yet, so I asked the DJ and he said I was fourth in line.


I moved back to my spot and waited for my turn.

Eventually it was time for me to amaze the crowd with my rendition of Dean Martin’s perennial classic, “Ain’t That A Kick in the Head.” At least, I felt like they were amazed- it’s very hard to tell when you’ve actually done a good job at karaoke, because I feel like they cheer and clap for everyone. The world may never know. Regardless, I felt good about it, so I decided to grab another glass of Jame-o.

As you may have guessed, my recollection of these events got blurry right around this time. Regardless, the next thing I know I’m with a group of (I believe) four very Potter-esqe young ladies who suggested we go somewhere else. We departed for a casino that I have determined was the Eldorado by checking my bank statement just now. I got very turned around at some point during the walk there, which will come into play a bit later.

We found our way to one of the bars in the casino and posted up on a table. At some point during our conversation, I ended up with a wand in my hand.

Go figure.

Not too long after we got there, we were joined by another group of three girls, one who was smoking a cigar. We talked for a while about a variety of things, but I realized it was getting fairly late. I was also fairly well drunk by this point, so I decided I would head out.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember that I was turned around. As it happens, Reno has this thing where all the casinos downtown look very similar at night, so here I am, wandering north when I thought I was heading south. I made it all the way to the National Bowling Stadium before I realized my mistake. Somehow, I ended up going in a very large circle and ran into some people I met earlier from karaoke, until I remembered that I didn’t have to walk anywhere to catch an Uber.

Brilliant. I took the Uber home and passed out forthwith.

Now let’s deconstruct my experience.

The primary reason that I chose to do this was genuinely because I was already halfway dressed and planning on going out. By the time I realized I had no one to go with, I was already so set on it that there was no avoiding it.

I chose to go to the same bar as last week because I knew it was centrally located in town and I’d have options if I wasn’t feeling it. Fortunately, I was, but it’s always good to have a backup plan.

I remember reading once that you should always enter a bar with a smile on your face, and, being giddy from the challenge this evening presented, I certainly did. Having been to the bar earlier, I knew the layout, which gave me the opportunity to watch for my good central location.

Now, a lot of this is actually my clever (if I do say so myself) application of social psychology. Most people are (sadly) not comfortable with the idea of going to a bar by themself. As a result, a normal person will look at anyone who is at a bar alone with suspicion- either they’re Nicky-No-Mates and are a psycho, or they are somehow exceptional.

This is the angle I was hoping to play up. I wore a very loud red hawaiian shirt that I’m quite fond of to draw some attention. While I may be introverted by nature, my hair straightener sales experience has forced me to develop my ability to deal with strangers quite a bit.

One of the most important bits of bar psychology I ever learned was from a buddy of mine who is my polar opposite socially (a hyper-extroverted person who can make friends with anyone, anywhere). I will lovingly call this Dudemeister’s Law- become the master of dudes. When you’re at any kind of a social event, the first thing you should do is make friends with the guys in the room. This is generally very easy, especially when aided by alcohol. One trick is to pick something they’re wearing that’s notable (a sorting hat, Gandalf costume, or strange metallic hoodie are prime examples here) and compliment them on it.

Also high fives. No sane person turns down a high five.

Once you’ve put yourself in a central location and made some friends, you have forced any curious onlookers to cast aside any doubts about you being a Nicky-No-Mates psycho type. This activates an interesting trick of psychology- the polarization reversal. In any situation where there is a straightforward (and polarizing) explanation for how you’re perceived (a loner drunk), if you can control the frame and reverse it, people will change their perception of you much more than if you presented yourself that way to begin with.

That sounds like gibberish so here’s some examples.

Imagine you have a super meek, uptight coworker who never goes out, then one day at a work party they get drunk, start a fight, and totally lose their shit. Because you’re trying to reconcile you earlier idea of them with this new, very contradictory model, your brain will overcompensate. You’ll think their uptightness is actually a mask for how crazy they really are on the down-low.

For my purposes, I’m not terribly outgoing, but I knew I could leverage this effect in conjunction with Dudemeister’s Law. People expect a solo barfly to be strange, but when he’s high-fiving all the guys in the room, you have to assume that he’s not just outgoing, he’s the man.

Surprisingly, none of this is hard to do. You would think that it is, because if you’re like me, most of your bar experiences involve sitting at a table with your dude friends just shooting the shit. While you’re sitting in the protective bubble of the corner table, the idea of making friends isn’t just foreign, it’s actively pointless- because you already have friends.

The brain actively seeks to minimize expended effort- we call this laziness or efficiency depending on the circumstances. In this case it’s the former, but your subconscious will tell you it’s the latter to make you feel better.

The karaoke is also a great means by which to expand your social circle. If you’ve done the above and you’re looking like the man, the confidence that solo karaoke displays just cranks the knob to 11. While I don’t remember what exactly happened to cause me to meet all those girls after the karaoke (due to sweet, sweet Jameson), this is certainly the reasoning behind it.

On top of that, being the only guy with a group of girls is a surefire way to attract more groups of girls, as we can see from the casino. The interesting thing about the whole thing is the core principle, which is:

People like people that other people like. The more people that like you, the more people like you.

Tongue twister, I know, but it’s true. I believe the accurate name for this is social proof theory, but the principle is what matters. Jordan Peterson said something that may help elucidate this a bit:

“Life isn’t a game; it’s a set of games. And the rule is, ‘Never sacrifice victory across the set of games for victory in one game,’ right? And that’s what it means to play properly. You wanna play so that people keep inviting you to play, ‘cause that’s how you win, right? You win by being invited to play the largest possible array of games, and the way you do that is by manifesting the fact that you can play in a reciprocal manner every time you play, even if there’s victory at stake, and that’s what makes you successful across time. And we all know that, and we even tell our kids that, but we don’t know that we know it. And so we’re not adapting ourselves to the game and victory in the game; we’re adapting ourselves to the metagame and victory across the set of all possible games. … To act morally is not to win today’s contest at the expense of the rest of possible contests.”

Essentially, the key is being the kind of person that people want to (in this case) drink with at a bar. For dudes, that’s the guy that likes your Gandalf costume and high-fives you. For ladies, it seems to be being the dude that the dudes like to drink with.

Or karaoke.

Well, that’s probably enough of this for now. However, due to the extreme success of the evening in my eyes (and the need for fresh content for this site), I’m probably going to start doing more weird social challenges for you, my lovely readers.

With that being said, you should absolutely try this sometime. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had going out in my life, and while I haven’t gone out much in the last year, I used to quite a bit. If you understand the principles I laid out and you force yourself to not post up in the corner, the rest will happen naturally with very little effort (you say lazy, I say efficient.)

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

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