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Babies in bars and cafs: a menace to Brooklyn? Babble’s Parental Advisory

I feel like every day I read another story about how horrible it is that kids are brought into bars or cafes. But I live in Brooklyn and if I’m going to grab a latte with a friend or to drop in on my friends’ early-evening, happy-hour birthday party, I don’t see what’s wrong with having my well-behaved baby on my hip. I never get sloppy drunk or spill scalding coffee on him. And he never interrupts other patrons, except with the occasional smile or wave. But they glare at me like I’m a terrible parent and like it’s impossible for them to update their websites with a one-year-old in sight! Why do I keep reading blogs and op-eds about how I’m ruining Brooklyn? Am I really supposed to get a babysitter for that thirty-minute visit to a drinks party or that hour-long catch-up coffee? – Bottled Up

Dear Bottled Up,

We read those stories too and wonder, could it really be so horrible in Park Slope? With parents indulging in loud conversations about sleep training as their howling babies toddle from table to table, spilling mat’ on innocent flaneurs? We’ve never lived in Brooklyn, but our many friends who do are wonderful people with healthy ideas about public family decorum. The horror stories of babies overrunning bars just don’t add up. They seem to come from some bigger source of baby angst . . . one that goes way beyond happy hour on Smith Street.

Our combined travels have shown us that in other parts of the world (and debatably, other parts of the country), people don’t see babies as an affront. They actually seem to like them, both culturally and personally. Or better yet, they don’t even seem to notice them most of the time. In these fantasylands, children are allowed to freely dine in adult establishments. Mostly, they are pretty well behaved. Occasionally, they cry or nurse or whine or speak in an Outside Voice, and people don’t glare continually in the parent’s direction until the offending object is removed from the premises. People seem to still be able to enjoy their gourmet meals and alcoholic beverages, and the world seems to continue to turn on its axis. So what’s our problem? Are New Yorkers more “civilized,” or are we control freaks? Is the urban breeding frenzy raining on the young bohemian parade? When we were twenty-two, there were no babies and mommies at Max Fish to remind us that there were such things as babies and mommies, and that one day we might be involved in the phenomenon. (Are there babies at Max Fish now? Do people still go to Max Fish? We have no idea.)

We can relate to both sides of the argument. We’ve had long-awaited date nights marred by whining at the next table. But we wouldn’t begrudge anyone the right to bring a child out with them. Not just because we’re parents, but because, here in our free country, no one has a right to an irritation-free experience – at a restaurant or anywhere. Otherwise, they’d be banning perfume, public bickering, groups of more than three Wall Street employees who have had more than two drinks each, and most definitely, bachelorette parties. You have as much right to be in there annoying people with your baby as those other people have to be in there annoying you with their giggles or ring tones or high-volume debates about when exactly Brooklyn started going down the tubes.

But you also have a responsibility as a conscientious human being to consider the environment and make a judgment call about whether the baby’s behavior is negatively affecting people’s experience. Keep context in mind. A candlelit cocktail lounge is different than a beer-stinky dive, which is different than an outdoor caf’ (the latter is usually considered the most kid-friendly, save the smoke). A thirty-minute stop by at 5:30 is different from one at 10:30. A baby who is shrieking incessantly is different than one who squawks occasionally. And a kid who is up, mobile and cruising the bar on his own is another thing entirely. When legitimate disturbances occur, be respectful of your fellow patrons, or you’ll end up adding more fuel to the baby-hating fire. You may not be able to convince people that babies actually should be out on the town, but you can give them fewer examples of why they shouldn’t be.

Look, we all have to live in this overcrowded city together, and no one needs a beer more than a new parent. Yet we do feel for the single young people and their needs: to have a nice bump (not the belly kind) and grind without the buzz-harshing reality of a drooling infant. So in the interest of peaceful cohabitation, here’s a list of situations where it’s probably best for you to NOT be with your baby:

It’s so quiet you can hear every word of the conversation two tables away.

It’s so loud you can feel the music in your intestines.

It’s bottle-service only, and none of them have nipples.

A group of junior bankers is serenading your baby with an a capella version of “White Lines.”

There are grown-ups dancing on tables . . . There are grown-ups urinating on tables.

Most of the topless people aren’t breastfeeding.

Your Graco has been repurposed as a gun check.

They were going to film the Bukowski biopic here, but the place was too run down.

Babyshambles goes on in twenty minutes.

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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