Like all custom content services, writing about specific bars is more difficult than one would initially think. It’s easy to write about the first one, as well as the second and third. By about the tenth article or blog post, however, you begin to realize that a lot of the bars and clubs that you’ve been asked to write about kind of look the same. The people are kind of the same, too. Even the unique and kooky elements that seemed so genuine while you were in the establishment suddenly become dry and almost hackneyed as you put them onto paper. The deadline is fast approaching, and you suddenly feel as though you’re just filling the page with innocuous details in order to get to your client’s required word count.
What the hell happened? This was supposed to be fun.
I don’t really consider myself a nightlife writer. True, I have a novel that takes place in numerous bars around New York, and I write a monthly column on bars for an online magazine, but I don’t write about things like drink specials. I feel this information isn’t pertinent to a review since just about every bar has a website, and this information can be found online. Furthermore, I feel that a nightlife writer needs to be able to provide more substance.
For me, nightlife writing is about the experience of going out, and one should be able to find something unique about each bar or club or lounge. I feel that I have managed to do so, and I also feel that the only way to write compelling and original pieces on bars is to go beyond the scope of conventional nightlife writing. For those who want to be able to say the same of their own writing, here is the best advice that I have.
Think Outside the Bar
If you’re writing about a place in a city, then it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists within a neighborhood, and it can either fit in with its surroundings or it can stand out. If it fits in, then a discussion of the neighborhood will inform readers about the type of people they can expect to find at the bar. If the establishment does not fit in with one’s impression of the neighborhood, perhaps one that is not particularly known for its nightlife, then a mention of gentrification is entirely warranted. This is also the case if the bar is a relic set in a newly affluent neighborhood. Such a discussion allows people to know not only what the bar is like, but how the neighborhood has changed or may be changing.
Anecdotes should never be avoided unless they’re incriminating. That’s my rule, anyhow. Furthermore, I’ve found that including a passage about a specific incident or patron can really make for compelling writing. I also like bragging about some of the experiences that I’ve had, like the one time I hung out with Dr. Dog in a Hell’s Kitchen bar that specializes in dishes featuring tater tots.
Tell Me What’s on Your Mind
The individual bar you’ve been asked to write about can serve as a jumping off point for another conversation, provided, of course, the piece you’ve been asked to write can be longer than a few hundred words. If you’re writing about a hipster bar, you should be able to define what a hipster is, even if it’s in vague terms. If the bar happens to be airing the third presidential debate while you’re there, describing how the patrons are responding to it, as well as your own personal take on the whole scene, should definitely be included.
The point here is that nightlife writing can be a lot of fun, but you have to be willing to go beyond what’s on tap if you want to stand out. You have to understand the bar, the neighborhood in which it’s located, and, perhaps most importantly, have an interesting story or two to tell.
Jay F is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.