I Let My Kid Hang Out in a Bar

Our family of three regularly eats at a bar, whether it's waffles for breakfast, tacos for lunch, or spaghetti at dinner. Our 6-year-old son A often draws, plays with Legos, and practices his writing from a bar stool — while making funny faces at himself in a mirrored wall that sits behind martini glasses.

But it's not a seedy bar in the village. Or even a more sophisticated one in a posh hotel. It's tucked away in the Catskills, just outside of Woodstock, New York, inside a former hunting lodge that my husband and I own. 

The place has been a private residence since 1971, but the rooms still have numbers on the doors, and it has a dark-wood bar, complete with a decades-old cash register and a non-working pay phone. 

The house also has a big kitchen, a breakfast room, a living room, a pool, and a big yard. However, we spend most of our inside time in the roomy bar area, which also serves as a foyer, piano room, party HQ — and it's roomy enough for indoor soccer with a Nerf ball. But the long bar is the main attraction to the little guy — and his pals. When the kids return from sledding, they enjoy hot chocolate and goldfish while swiveling in red leather bar stools. And where did the Easter bunny leave the baskets? On the bar. Where does everyone play board games? At the bar.  

While mum and dad (and our pals) certainly like seasonal cocktails, as well as wine with dinner and then some, we usually enjoy them when A's in dreamland. But little eyes and ears are always paying attention, and our drinking preferences haven't been lost on him. First of all, A won't let us forget to clink our glasses for a cheers at dinner (and then we have to peer intensely into each other's eyes for a hearty, Nordic skal! after that). One night during dinner, when I didn't indulge in seconds or cake, but I did have a second glass of Cabernet, A said "You don't even like cake" and accused me of just wanting wine, which isn't true, but a girl has to watch her figure and can't have both. Someday, he'll understand.

And he may understand sooner rather than later. When my cousin and her significant other visited us upstate at a recent holiday, I was fiddling in the kitchen making waffles and coffee. The boyfriend and A were settled in at the bar when A said, matter-of-factly, "Wine is good for your soul." The 60-something-year-old sounded appalled: "Wine is good for your soul? Your mother told you that?" I sheepishly explained he has 1,000 questions about everything (including wine and souls) and wants to know exactly which foods and beverages are and aren't going to help him grow. So I had to explain to him that wine, for grown-ups only, isn't really beneficial from a health aspect (all studies notwithstanding), but it is good for the soul. (For the record, he also knows cupcakes, ice cream, and chocolate aren't really good for you, but are good for the soul — and nuts make you smart!) 

Our personal watering hole has a history of neighborhood kids playing bartender, polishing the glasses, wiping down the counter, and serving mocktails. I do wonder if other parents will look askance at A — or us — when he talks about sitting at the bar. It doesn't sound good if you don't know the details. And I wonder if feeling comfortable on a bar stool or behind the bar is okay. Maybe a tavern in any city will feel like home to him — and that can go either way. We won't know for decades to come. 

But early signs seem to point to it all being all right. I asked him why he likes to eat at the bar. "You have lots of space and the seats swivel," he said. 

Which is all one can ask for. 

Photo: Getty