The Single Best Sign You’re at a Good Bar

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(Image credit: Branislav Jovanović/Stocksy)

I love cocktails and cocktail bars. The fancier, the better. I love a bar with a sherry list and a whiskey library, a pressed-tin ceiling, and 20 varieties of house-made bitters. Yet the thing that makes the biggest impact on my first impression of a bar has nothing to do with the menu at all. It’s a tiny detail that’s easy to overlook, but it makes a huge difference in the bar-going experience: purse hooks.

All bars should have purse hooks. I still remember the first time I ever saw a bar with purse hooks. It made a huge impression on me and has influenced the way I’ve judged all bars from that moment on. It was the mid 2000s, and a successful restaurateur was proudly showing off the attention to detail that had gone into the design of his new bar. He was talking about how much thought had gone into understanding the customers’ experience and how people would use the space, and then he bent down to gesture under the bar and show that a tiny hook had been installed at each seat so customers would have a convenient place to hang their purses.

It was a tiny detail, but I was gobsmacked by the brilliant simplicity of it and wondered how I’d never seen a purse hook before. What really struck me was the fact that the owner was specifically talking about the experience of female customers. At that point in time, I was still getting surprised looks and raised eyebrows at the idea of women drinking whiskey at all. The fact that this high-end bar with its whiskey list and Cognac library was thinking in detail about its female customers was impressive. Instantly, I felt my expectations rise. A bar that had installed tiny hooks for its customers’ purses would probably have exceptional service in other areas too, I thought. And it did!

After that, I started looking for them. To this day, any time I walk into a bar I look at the bottles on the shelf, then under the bar for the purse hooks. If I don’t find them, my expectations immediately drop a few points. It feels like a weird oversight, and if a bar didn’t think to add purse hooks, I wonder what else they didn’t think of.

Hooks under the bar are a tiny addition that make a huge difference in the way a space works. People who come into bars have things with them, and those coats, scarves, shopping bags, and handbags of all varieties have to go somewhere. If there’s not a hook, things get uncomfortable for everybody.

If coats and bags go on the bar, they take up space and annoy everybody. On the floor, they risk tripping people or getting stepped or spilled on. And when hooks exist, people are less likely to plop their coats and bags down on the nearest bar stool. That cuts down on my least favorite thing in the world — having to interrupt a stranger’s conversation to ask if they’ll move their coat or handbag.

Purse hooks are a lot more common these days. It’s rare to go to a “nice” place that doesn’t have purse hooks. But I still get a little thrill whenever I see one, and a little mad when I don’t.

Do you love a bar hook as much as I do?