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Cardinal drinking etiquette at the local bar

By By OYUNGA PALA | November 25th 2013


KENYA: He ‘local’ is the bar around the corner in the neighbourhood within staggering distance. It is a place where most of the patrons know you by name and your credit good with the bar man. The ambiance at a local is enhanced by camaraderie because a bar is a sanctuary, protected by its ‘owners’ through a set of unspoken rituals.

Most locals are governed by a drinking etiquette that is sometimes lost on the newbies. In my local, there is a rule on offering rounds.  Say you walk in without company and join a table that occupied by an acquaintance (a familiar face you would never lend money).  After ordering the first drink, you notice that the acquaintance is nursing his drink.

Since it is depressing to drink alone in a bar and for the sake of company, it is considered good manners to offer a drink.


 That usually prompts him to reciprocate by covering the next round. The rule does not apply when the companion is a woman. If the level of conversation deteriorates and hesitation is noticed as the cue for the next round approaches, a graceful gentleman will appraise the situation before buying another drink to close the relationship and make his polite exit.

When it becomes apparent, a man has developed the habit of receiving without reciprocation; he is marked and generally avoided because meanness is not a trait is encouraged in the local.

In a case where a group of regular drinking companions share a table certain rules of etiquette prevail.  Most peers are expected to pay for their first drink.

 An offer of a second round of drinks for everyone on the table implies that the company is worthwhile. The strategic thinking man generally sets the pace by throwing the first round. The gesture then goes around the table in turns as the evening progresses and the conversation livens up.

No fuss

When peers have had a good time, most will be inclined to be generous and make their contribution towards settling the bill with no fuss. In principle, that is how it works but sometimes characters emerge to threaten the sustainability of this age old ritual. Most men drink beer because it is patriotic (buy Kenya), readily available and easy on the pocket.

Men with health concerns will opt for fermented grapes, which are easier on the head and gentle on the wallet too. However, when a character joins the circle and insists on drinking a top shelf single malt whiskey brand such as Glenfiddich he upsets the balance of a beer/ wine kind of joint. 


The cost of a double is good enough to cover another round for everyone. The man ends up enjoying his expensive whiskey at everyone’s expense and forcing the unprepared to spend above their means. By the second round, most wonder if they have enough float in their Mpesa accounts to last the night.

The abrupt entrance of Glenfiddich upsets the pool and prompts an early night. The evening ends prematurely and excuses are leveled because keeping with up a single malt poser does more harm than good to your mood.

It is good manners to fit in and make some compromise especially in a local. The motivation is equality in company but not everyone gets it. Those single malt types who have no sense of occasion are a threat to the spirit of generosity in my local and that is not a good thing.

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