Mormons are, generally speaking, afraid of bars. This is because people drink alcohol in bars and we do not. It is because we want to avoid the appearance of evil. It is because we want to stand in holy places (really drunk old men are not holy), and it is because we don’t like to look like total dorks who don’t know how to navigate the society of the bar. This leads others to believe that we are self-righteous, uptight and boring. This is not true, as evidenced by our impressive skills at boardgames, relay races (where one might carry an egg in a spoon) and charades.
It is my mission to help us feel a little more comfortable (and a little less nerdy) when we are occasionally obligated to be in a bar with others who drink.
First of all, I think it is important for us as Mormons to understand that most people do not go to a bar to get completely wasted, especially if it is a happy hour/work get together. Mostly it is another place to get together to socialize that is a not-so-structured environment (like the workplace). Think of it as the cultural hall versus the chapel.
Secondly, we need to let go of sermonizing about the Word of Wisdom when we are in bars or around people who are actively drinking. Sometimes, I think this impulse is genuinely born of our desire to share our gospel but mostly I think it’s because we feel awkward and a little defensive. Lots of people don’t drink in bars, as a Mormon you’ll just be one of the non-drinkers. No need to proselytize. If people want what you’ve got, those opportunities will come.
Thirdly, I recognize that most people have families or Mormon friends to hang out with but a little bit goes a long way with non-Mormon co-workers. Every few months, go out, chat, have a Shirley Temple.
Choosing your drink: the most awkward times I’ve been in bars is when I order water. There’s nothing wrong with water. I love it, but mostly it’s weird in a bar (unless you’ve drunk too much and you’re trying to water yourself down). Don’t order water.
Know that besides alcohol, there’s a huge variety of juices, mixers, and soda behind the bar. Get creative. Not all juice mixes are good (pineapple and cranberry are terrible together, for example) but it’s still fun to mix stuff. Here are the ingredients of a Shirley Temple: Ginger Ale (or Sprite) mixed with grenadine syrup (pomegranate flavor) and orange juice, garnished with a maraschino cherry. (Don’t get a dirty shirley or a Shirley Temple Black-that’s the alcoholic version of the ST.) Soda water and juice is great. I like cranberry and soda water with a lime. You could even be healthy at the bar and order bloody mary mix (spicy tomato juice) with a celery stick. Your favorite soda is fine too. I’m a big fan of Diet Coke with lime.
Ordering the drink: if a waitress comes to your table, just say what you want. Soda water with grenadine and a lime. You don’t have to announce to everyone that you’re not drinking alcohol. Just order a non-alcoholic drink. If you have to go to the bar to order (which sometimes can be scary) get close to the bar and hold cash in your hand. This makes the bartender know that you mean business. If the bar is crowded, sometimes you have to be a little bit pushy. Then you tell the bartender what you drink. For good measure, I sometimes say I’m the designated driver. (I always am at least my own designated driver, driving my feet to the train or bus). This sometimes will get you a free drink. I have no qualms about getting free drinks in this scenario. You will have to examine your own morals and see where this one falls. You could pray about it.
Hopefully this helps. If you get invited by co-workers to go out, maybe try it once. You might not hate it. And you probably won’t even see a drunk person (I’m sorry if this disappoints you). Also, be advised that when people ask you out for coffee, that is the generic name for going somewhere to chat in a coffee shop type setting. You are free to order herbal tea, juice, or hot chocolate and you would fit right in. Like you might fit in at the bar with a tonic on the rocks in your hand.
My next segment in my quest on making Mormons socially well-adjusted in the real world will be how to enter a crack house without doing crack.
That’s a joke. Don’t go to crackhouses. Don’t do crack. (BCC PSA)