Pickup Secrets from Bartenders

Tom Cruise tends bar in the '80s classic 'Cocktail.'
Tom Cruise tends bar in the '80s classic 'Cocktail.' Everett Collection

Picking up people at a bar is a time-honored tradition. More often than not, it’s also an exercise in failure. But why? The bartender knows. We talked to four of our favorite tenders of bar — from Rochelle’s in New York to Greco’s in Frisco, Colorado — about how to better approach the late-night post-drink pickup.

1. Get a new line.

Is “Can I buy you a drink?" your de facto pickup line? Ditch it. "Bribes generally aren't good openers," says Steve Yorsz of Rochelle’s in New York City.

2. Don't be crude.

"It sounds simple and unnecessary to say, but you would be shocked at how many guys don't realize this. What you find funny, she might not. Something you think isn't even crude, she could find repulsive," says JR Gudger, bartender at New York City's popular beer-soaked bro-country nirvana Brother Jimmy's and member of The Barnstorm.

3. Hit the ATM.

If you’re going to pick up a girl in a bar, always have cash ready. “That way if she wants to leave with you, you won't get held up waiting for the bartender to close your tab,” says Yorsz.

4. Let the bartender do the work for you.

Usually when girls see that a guy has a good rapport with the bartender, they’re more likely to relax. “If the bartender thinks you’re a cool enough person, he’ll happily act as the wingman,” says Vitaliy R., a bartender in Austin, Texas, who originally hails from New York City.

5. Stop trying so hard.

“When guys focus on having a great time with the people they came with to the bar or restaurant, girls tend to gravitate toward that great time. It reminds me of a craps table in Vegas; when the table is hot and exciting, that's where people are gathering,” says Johnny Welsh, who tends bar at Greco's Pastaria in Frisco, Colorado, and is author of Weedgalized in Colorado: True Tales From the High Country.

6. Don't look overeager.

Because when was the last time that worked? Really. "I think the hardest thing is not to come across as too keen, so body language is important too,” says Billy Pirie, who tends bar at U.K. cocktail bar Be At One. Something as simple as a casual brush on the back while you're talking, as you're picking up your drink, or positioning your stool toward hers is enough to clue her in that you're interested. And don't give your number out on a napkin to every girl who walks in, just ask them for theirs!

7. Pay attention to what she orders.

“No matter what she's drinking, always buy her a shot of whiskey. But if she is drinking Red Bull, don't bother,” says Yorsz. “If she is drinking bourbon neat and sitting by herself, don't bother buying her a drink. You're not ready for her,” he says.

8. Order something interesting.

Order a drink you have some talking points about. “That way when she asks, ‘What are you drinking?’ you should have a good story to back it up," says Yorsz.  If you pick something that's a tad odd for the place and she overhears you order, that might even be enough of a segue to get chatting.

9. Never try to isolate a girl from her friends.

Always be friendly to the group, but engage with her the most to make sure she knows she is the target, not her friends. “As long as you’re cool, she will break away from the bunch when the time is right,” says Yorsz.

10. Be a nice person.

Be polite to the bartender and friendly to anyone with whom you interact. "Whoever told you that chicks like it when you act like an asshole is an idiot,"says Yorsz.

11. Make them laugh!

“I have seen girls leave the bar with guys that I thought would never happen. The reason is simple; the guy made her laugh,” says Welsh. The atmosphere becomes lighter and both relax.

12. Include them in conversations, but don’t make everything about them.

“As a bartender, I have seen girls respond better to conversations in which they are included and not the focus,” says Welsh. Small talk gets small results.

13. Don't interrupt.

Here's some advice for both sexes; when someone is talking, listen. "Checking your phone as it beeps and vibrates every time is a sure sign that it ain't gonna happen," says Welsh. 

14. Above all: Be respectful.

It all boils down to this. "It's really easy to do, and while nothing is 100%, I promise if you're respectful, your success rate with talking to women at a bar will make a noticeable jump," says Gudger.