Shoemoney – I need me some. Above, are my recently deceased bartending kicks. They’re in desperate need of burial-at-sea, and replacement. They’re Clark Roars and they were actually quite stylish, comfortable, affordable and stank-free when new. They finally shit the bed last week at the most inopportune time: mid-shift. The soles separated from the leather. My Clarks lasted me 10 months of nearly daily use under extremely toxic conditions. That’s not bad for a $100 pair of leathers. If you’re bartending routinely, uber-comfortable, stylish (and hopefully water-resistant) dogs are essential to your health and happiness. Unfortunately, comfy almost never plays nice with stylish and waterproof, at least not for a shoe intended for harsh bartending environments.
Here’s what not to buy: crazy old man black New Balance or Reebok black sneakers. How sneakers meant to impersonate dress shoes, but look more like large hard turds, ever got to be so popular with the AARP and Krispy Kreme lovin’ crowds is a complete mystery to me. Like so many other garment faux-pas (e.g., sweats outside the gym, tacky logo’d t-shirts, and any cut of Wrangler jeans), these visual atrocities – while surely comfortable – indicate nothing less than the wearer having given up on even the most benign level of vanity.
Below, is one of my barbacks, sporting those nasty black sneaks on the job. He’s the nicest most efficient worker-bee on the planet. I heart him. But damn – if Leon Talley were to eyeball this tragedy, he’d be looking for the nearest source of Blue Meth to get some relief for his terribly seared retinas.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be summering at some bar on Shelter Island, The Hamptons, Montauk, etc. in a very casual and relatively dry atmosphere, it’s also not a good idea to rock dress shoes, boat shoes, Chucks, running shoes, or sandals (eww!). None of those shoes have decent enough stability (grippy soles) in wet, dirty environments.
You need shoes that can keep you comfortable for 6 – 10, and even 12 hours on your feet. Man feet in particular can get all kinds of sweaty and stinky. For that reason, it’s critical to try and keep your feet dry, your shoes routinely cleaned, and sport fresh socks daily.
Your choice in shoes is often affected by the type of venue in which you’ve managed to land a bartending gig. For example: if you work a steak house or high-heeled lounge, and are (a) either exposed to being seen behind a wide bar or (b) are required to venture out from behind the bar for cocktail or table service, then you’re probably not going to be able to sport Wellies or Combat Boots. You’ll need something more sophisticated. Consequently, if dressy footwear is a requirement, then you’re absolutely want to want to buy something other than Wingtips or Cockroach Killers. Even on rubber mats or wooden pallets behind the bar, your feet, ankles, knees, hips and back will never forgive you for the constant transmission of shock. You’re going to want shoes which have significant padding.
I’ve mentioned water-resistance – another show characteristic you’re going to want to give great consideration to. It’s because of the constant threats of (a) your typical bar/kitchen murky, grey, puddles and (b) melting, dripping, ice from Speed Rails [below] and flying liquor. Few situations make your evening more physically unbearable than walking around in soggy shoes, knowing you have hours to go until closing.
If you choose leather, I have some advice. Select shoes with seamless fronts like the Clarks. You want to allow liquid to roll off the sides rather than fester (and soak) on top. Many leather shoes have a top seam which proves to be horrendous in keeping your feet dry and comfortable behind the bar. Many shoes with similar seams create a catch-basin effect that allow drippings to slowly seep through over the course of a shift. Wash and waterproof your leather shoes on the regular. Every 2 or 3 months, I’d wash mine with saddle soap, allow them to thoroughly dry, and apply a generous coating of mink oil. Doing so will greatly aid in keeping your shoes dry and extend their useful life.
I’ve worked dozens of bars and several different genres in my Hospitality career; everything from beachfront cafes, to fine French/Italian dining, to shirtless nightclubs, to dive bars. My current gig has a very casual environment. Jeans and a t-shirt are what I sport most nights. Rarely, if ever, do I stray from bar itself. So, after my Clarks gave up the ghost, I had to weigh my options for new casual, comfortable foot-stuffs that could somehow keep my toesies from squishing in sour mix all night. Keep in mind that pretty much any shoes you wear to the bar will get destroyed in short order. I just bought me these Clark Narly Trail GTX boots.
Look… I know they’re fugly – not terribly bohemian or European. But, for my current situation (where my feet are frequently positioned under a drippity well), they’re ideal. I should caution that they do require a significant break-in period (not unlike many other thick boots).
I went with the Clarks again as they’re quite an outstanding bartending shoe in general. They’re tough, durable and supportive with an aggressive/grippy sole. They also look decent with both formal server attire as well as a good old pair of jeans. They lasted me longer, and have therefore provided me great value, than any other previous bartending shoe I’ve ever used. They’re also lined with Gore-tex to help keep my feet dry.. I wanted something that would stay drier longer and with less maintenance. These particular booties fit the bill. They keep me drier and are more comfortable than even my previous Roars. Should I ever go back to fine-dining or corporate type bartending, I’ll obviously reconsider my footwear options.
Don’t let me catch you with open-toe shoes at work. Nobody want’s to stare at nasty Man Toes.