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There's something about sitting at the bar, side-by-side with a companion or perhaps entirely en seul and proud of it, that inclines me to enjoy a meal even more than if I'm sitting at a typical table at a restaurant (yes, even more than a corner booth). Maybe it's that sense of triumph that comes from ducking past the line outside when an open stool is spotted, or the appeal of an area that's a little more accepting of elbows on the eating surface (sorry, mom), or simply that at the bar you're that much more likely to get a drink that goes well with your dinner.
The one hitch? A bad bar stool.
I'm convinced that there's a conspiracy amongst certain restauranteurs to opt for bar stools that aren't inviting, that encourage bar flies to get their beverages and begone. Though I can't be sure why—since where there's a bar, there is sure to be lingering. Especially if the restaurant offers food at said bar!
A plea to all restauranteurs planning their bars: Please choose stools not just for aesthetics, but because they are great to sit in. A good starting place would be to pull one up to the bar and enjoy a drink in it before going in on a whole set. A truly excellent bar stool has at least one—and hopefully more—of the following features.
1. A back.
Consider your favorite dive bar. The reason you want to hang around there—besides that they know you and your friends and have the dodgy beer you like on tap—is because the bar stools are really more like tall chairs than stools at all: They have backs. The only kind of bar stool you can really relax into is one that has a back, while backless stools, by comparison, are basically a row of middle fingers to customers looking to unburden themselves.
2. Cushioning of some sort.
No matter how naturally cushioned your bum, very few would actually consider a wooden slab to be a place you'd want to hang out on for long (and contouring on a rustic wooden stool top doesn't quite count). As with any furniture, the comfort level of said cushioning is only determined by sitting in it; just because a seat looks comfortable doesn't mean it will be!
3. A place for feet.
Being a mere 5'3", this is my personal pain point when it comes to bar stools. If there's no bar for my feet to rest upon, it's almost more comfortable to slide off the stool and put a foot on solid ground while hanging out, a sole cheek remaining upon the seat. Dangling feet are weirdly heavy after a while.
You don't just want to be comfortable sitting in a bar stool—you want to be comfortable shimmying it up to the bar, closer to your lover, or back slightly to include a third person in the conversation. A good bar stool, therefore, shall not be planted in the ground but instead mobile. The ability to pivot—or swivel without a spring that flings you back around—is likewise appreciated.
Height also matters, and specifically in relation to the height of the bar. In the world of bar stools, nothing exacerbates more than one that's too tall for the bar—thereby preventing you from scooching up to it at all without crushing your thighs. And if it's too low, a bar that comes up to your armpits will make you feel twelve rather than twenty-one.
In a room designed for drinking, an unstable bar stool is like a ticking time bomb. Not only should a bar stool be sturdy, but it should have a certain heft that tells your body it's okay to relax.
A friend of mine recently voiced a frustration with the over-abundance of these standard aluminum bar stools, which actually do feature backs and foot rests. It's not even the lack of cushioning that gets me about them—it's that you see them everywhere and at more than $100 a piece, nobody can call them cheap. The best, most comfortable bar stools get bonus points for not being featured in every restaurant in Brooklyn.
What bars and restaurants feature your favorite bar seating? Share your go-to's in the comments.