Are Canadians More Open to Babies in Bars?

Filed under: In The News, Mommy Wars, Opinions

I've been following the Park Slope babies-in-bars battle with great interest. In Brooklyn, a war is waging between parents who want to bring their kids along when they go for a drink, and the twentysomethings who prefer their watering holes child-free. I live in a hipster-filled neighbourhood in a Canadian urban centre, and though I've never brought my toddler twins to an actual bar, I have gone to cool cafes, indie music stores and semi-chic restaurants with babies in tow. And especially at first, I did so with some trepidation -- Would my girls decide to scream bloody murder and annoy the heck out of everyone around me? Or would the coffee-swilling college kids in their Buddy Holly-framed specs and interesting hair give me withering looks?

Fortunately, the answer was no. Despite the fact that I've come barreling in with a huge double stroller housing two active and chatty girls, I've never gotten so much as a dirty look. As a matter of fact, staff and patrons have been generally polite -- At the very least indifferent, often nice, sometimes even helpful. Mind you, I don't park my kids in tiny, uber-cool beer joints on a regular basis, and I suppose it's possible that if I did, I'd be met with less tolerance. But as long as my kids behaved themselves and I wasn't singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" at the top of my lungs, I think I could probably enjoy a beer with my husband at our neighbourhood local with my kids at the table, and no one would bat an eye.

Hip Toronto mom Rebecca Brown says that she has had positive experiences when she's taken her two kids (who are 2 and 5) to cool, casual bar/restaurants in the daytime hours.

"We go to Bluegrass Brunch at the Dakota, and my kids are very comfortable at the Drake and at the Gladstone," she says. "Ninety-nine percent of the interactions I've had, even when my kids are misbehaving, people have been quite empathetic. And why wouldn't you be? As long as the parent isn't being negligent. What kind of twisted person doesn't like to see cute little kids running around as long as they're not bothering anybody?"

I tend to agree, particularly when I relate the issue to my own past. As a kidless twenty- and thirty-something living in an artsy downtown neighbourhood, I used to frequent brunch spots, cafes, restaurants and bars more regularly than was perhaps wise. I do remember seeing parents and kids there from time to time, and I can honestly say I never had a problem with it, nor did any of my friends. And I can't really fathom why I would have. What kind of self-absorbed, entitled jerk wants to dictate who can and can't sit next to them in a bar or a restaurant? Brown puts it best I think:

"Everyone has to be considerate of everyone else, whether you're a teenager or parents or a senior citizen," she says. "I take issue with people who, as a blanket statement, don't want to see kids out in a public places. Suck it!"

Brown believes firmly that a parent should be able to enjoy a bevvie while in the company of their kids. She founded Bunch Family, an organization that hosts parties in Toronto and Montreal for families in stylish venues like nightclubs and bars. The parties always include inventive activities for the kids, great music (NOT of the kiddie variety) and a bartender at the ready.

"I think it's really important for parents to be able to have a beer when they are out with their kids," she says. "It's such a symbol of conviviality with your friends. I started the Bunch parties when I had my son because I wanted to hang out with my friends and bring my baby along and I didn't want to get locked out of the cultural life of my city. And I wanted to create an experience that let people do that." Bunch has been a raging success, perhaps partly because it allows parents to hang out in a bar and still hang out with their kids. And why not? Kids aren't likely to act any more inappropriately than your average tipsy hipster on a girls night out.

Obviously, there are some places where children just shouldn't be. Says Brown, "I would take my kids to a neighbourhood pub before 7 p.m., but I wouldn't take my kid to a bar where people are there to do some heavy drinking or to meet other adults romantically, because that would be totally inappropriate."

The Park Slope brouhaha seems so strange to me. I can't relate to the perspective of people who are so incensed that their favourite haunt is being overrun by kids. And at the same time, I can't understand the parents who want to bring their kids to boozy nightspots on a regular basis. It seems to me if both sides took their self-involvement down a notch and chilled out a bit, the battle would cease to be. Who needs that kind of tension with their chardonnay? (And for the record, I would never let my kid scream or yell or cry or run around an establishment willy-nilly no matter where I was -- Why would it be any more acceptable at Swiss Chalet anyway?)

Somehow, I doubt a hullabaloo like the one in Brooklyn could happen north of the border. Perhaps it's something to do with our fabled politeness, but I find that when it comes to interactions between those with kids and those without, Canadians tend to err on the side of nice. Even when we are annoyed, we generally do our best to keep it to ourselves.

So maybe I will consider bringing my girls the next time my husband and I are craving a pint at the cozy pub down the street. That is, as long as they don't mind putting "Elmo's World" on the TV screens. Just kidding.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.