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May 18, 2009

Baltimore shot etiquette


Owl Meat Gravy starts this guest post with a confession that could get him in lots of trouble. And for the record, I've always been curious about this shot-taking tradition myself:

First let me say that I'm not from here, even though I have lived here quite a while on and off. I don't like steamed crabs (yeah, yeah, yeah) or Natty Bo.

In my defense, I did drink National Premium when I was in college here (once). Does that count? No?  OK.

After college and graduate school, I figured that all the ways that made me superficially different from Baltimore people were exposed. Wrong 'em, boyo.
In the past couple of years, I've gotten to know a lot of people who grew up in Baltimore. Being a thirsty creature of the night, I know them from local watering holes.

I recently noticed something that may have been there all the time, but eluded my occasionally blurry vision. Put simply: I have a problem and need help.  
Shots! Shots! Shots! Wanna do a shot? Uh, OK. It seems rude to answer otherwise and if I say "no" then the question of my man-parts is on the table. Ugh, I'm too old for this. Nah. So lately I've noticed that everybody clinks glasses, then taps them on the bar, and then drinks. It freaks me out ...

I've been clinking glasses my whole life here and in other parts of the world. Why is this local custom suddenly flippin' my wig? Is it a local custom? Just a Little Italy thing? That seems unlikely. Is it new? I'm lost. Here's what I'm comfortable with – clink clink clink, drink.
When you raise your glass with your friends and clink glasses it implies a (momentary) bond of good will. Here's to you. And you and you and you. Oh hell, I just had a weird flashback to the Sound of Music. I have no problem rolling with the local custom, but this seems new to me. Clink to your momentary bestest friend and then bang it on the bar before drinking? It seems dirty to me, like the bond has been broken.
So does anyone have an explanation? Is it new, really local, or have I been oblivious to local customs for the past 20 years?

Does it have some significance, like here's to the guy that built the bar? Or to remove demons? I'm clueless. I'll buy a shot for anyone with a reasonable explanation. Really.

(Getty images)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:00 AM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays


I've never seen this phenomenon. Thankfully. Because it sounds idiotic.

The tap on the bar is for the bartender. I went through the same thing when I came back home from the military. Had no idea, got looked at like a jerk when I missed the bar-tap, and now I have accepted and assimilated.

Well the reason that me and my friends "Tap the Glass" or bag it on the table before we drink is because its a sign of "Ok, get ready to down it." It preps you to the harsh content of what you are about to consume and mentally gets you in the zone to drink it. Its also bad luck not to tap it on the table for the fact that it will come back up later, but thats just myth. It's really what drinks you combine while drinking. Anyway you want to look at it, you must tap the drink before you down it. Its a drinking unwritten law to follow. There are many of them from where that one came from.

The reason for toasting was to put the kybosh on poisoning. You clink glasses and a little drinky goes in your glass and a little drinky goes in his. As for clinking/tapping/doing the hokypoky after a shot, it's taking the toast one degree further. Do I get my drink now?

I cannot provide an explaination, but how about just accepting it for what it is!?! Better than bitching about it...just my 2 cents

I never thought tapping your shot on the bar was a Baltimore thing, but then again I don't normally find myself in other metropolitan areas wanting to drink Tuaca.

I always took the tap on the bar as a synchronizing move - a kind of "everybody ready" indicator before throwing one back. Sort of makes sure everyone has roughly the same distance to travel from the bar to their mouth.

It also may have the unintended effect of untangling the octopus of arms intertwined during the whole "cheers" clinking phase. Imagine thinking you're done toasting, going to slam the shot into your gullet and realizing you're arm is stuck around the short chick in front of you, thereby spilling her shot all over your shirt and her head.

I actually did some looking into this a few years's pretty much a sign of respect to the house. It's a custom that was brought from Europe years ago, so it's not new. I can't help you with whether it's strictly local or not, but I can't recall seeing it happen anywhere outside of the region. As far as removing demons? If by demons you mean memory, then yes, that's precisely what it does. (Sorry, but I can't provide you with any details or sources for this explanation - it's been a few years and a few shots...)


This is not new, although I am surprised to hear people doing in the bars that you go to. The "tap" is it give cheers to those who are no longer with us...

It started at the beach for me, I never saw it here in bmor until the 2000's, and have no idea what the signifigance of it....

I grew up here but lived in Colorado for 7 years. I began tapping on the bar there. I was told the tradition was started as a tribute to "those who have gone before us". So I drink to those I love who have gone before me, as does my dad. I have no idea why everyone else is doing it but I like to think it is for the same reason.

I learned the meaning of this tradition when I was a bartender at a large bar in Fell's Point that will remain anonymous.

What I was told was that this tradition was started in the Midwest, rumor was Chicago, but I've also heard variations of Key West and New Orleans. When bartenders would do a shot before or after their shifts, they would toast each other and then tap their shots on the bar as a nod to all the other bartenders, barkeeps, barmaids, or mixologists around the world who were their colleagues. Kinda a unity toast.

It expanded when we would go to other bars and either we would buy the bartender a shot or a shot would be bought for us, we would toast and again tap our glasses on the bar as a nod to all those around the globe who are serving and drinking.

I will say that 15 years after I've been behind a bar, that I still do this on every shot and even after every call of "cheers" or a toast. I think it's a cool homage to those who are rocking and rolling in the trenches.

Here's my stab at it. A hundred years ago - the people I went to High School with - - uh - I mean College - used to play Quarters. After you made a certain number in a row - you could make a 'rule'. A common 'rule' was you have to tap your beer before you drink it...if you didn't tap your beer - you had to drink twice (OH NO!!!!). For me - everytime I do a shot - I tap the glass - and am reminded of those crazy times waaaaay back when.

You know, I've done this for a while...and never really gave it a thought.

Every time I order a shot, I always offer one to the bartender as well. And I picked up that they would always tap the glass on the bar. So since the bartender is the expert, I started doing it too and would always nod to the bartender as I tapped. It became a habit and I dont give it a second thought now.

I have seen this more frequently lately too. I thought it was kinda like a let's drink at the same time thing, like when you're starting off a round of flip cup and you have to toast-tap-drink. All the different explanations leads me to believe that a lot of us are just following along, haha.

Hey look, it only took a whole day to post comments for this interactive post.

Eeyore... you missed the point. Some people here clink then tap on the bar and then drink. As for tapping the glass on the bar afterwards, well where else are you gloing to put it? No drink for you!

Sorry guys, I'll try to remember to keep up with comments for the rest of the week -- Sessa's wayward (but temporary) comment publisher, Tim Swift

but how about just accepting it for what it is!?! Better than bitching about it...just my 2 cents

Uh, I'd like to know what it is before I accept it. I love you too, Sue Hopper, er, Anonymous.

No concensus. Cool. I was looking for discussion. Thanks for the feedback ... and the usual request for me to shut the hell up 8>)

A bartender told me that it originated in Poland and was brought to Baltimore by Polish immigrants of which there are plenty of in East Baltimore. His version is incredibly racist. He said in all seriousness that it was to knock off the germs of any non-Christians.

That may sound ludicrous to us now, but it has historical precedent. Wine glasses have stems so that the drinkers doesn't have contact with the area that the lowly servant touches.

Has anybody seen this is other areas?

You're all wrong... Except for Eutaw Street Historian. You're "blessing the bar," paying homage to the bartenders, etc., that came before you. It's one of those things that patrons saw bartenders doing and started drinking Grand Marnier. Now we need a new secret handshake.

It is what it is.

I have a better question.

Why is anyone ever drinking something straight up in a shot that apparently and obviously tastes so wretched that it has to be poured straight down the gullet in a quick shot, rather than savored in a mellow fashion?

ADMIV, peer pressure, ritual, to get a fast buzz, stupidity, tradition, so that the boss doesn't see the bartender or server drinking ...

Try to sip a shot and see the derision that will follow.

♫ Men, men, men, men, ...

There's nothing like savoring a shot of Knockandu served in a rocks glass. (Not a shot glass)

It has always been a sign of respect "for those who have gone before us."

I get the symbolism of "one for my homies" but why here and why now? It seems local and recent. Toasting is a centuries old tradition and this has NEVER been a part of it in Europe or America (as far as I know), until recently.

Oh my bartender friend said that it wasn't the Poles who were knocking undesirable germs off the glass but Nazis in occupied Poland doing it. That makes more sense, but how it went from there to Baltimore is a mystery.

I don't think this has a concrete answer.

I saw a stupid new version of this recently. Two delicate yuppies clinked glasses and then simulaneously lowered them toward the bar but pulled up before touching it. Something weird is happening.

My theory: toast inflation

I think this is more stupid trend than cultural anthroppolgy. It's less trad and more dbags makinng stuff more complicated. It's def changinng

Write that in a bar, furreali? :)

Let's hope the toast doesn't become like the urban handshake of the 70s and 80s, getting ever more elaborate.

I actually learned this tradition from my Aunt Katie, God rest her soul. My mother's family did this for generations, and they owned a small inn in northeast Pennsylvania for more than 60 years.

Aunt Katie told me that it's a tradition from the Old Country. (In our family, that could have been Germany, Lithuania or Poland.) You clink glasses "to celebrate the good times", and you tap the bar "to keep yourself grounded for the hard times, past, present and future."

I've always understood that to mean you should enjoy yourself at the moment, but stay humble.

Rather stoic people are we Eastern Europeans.

I think it also has to do with drinking games in addition to drinking one for those who passed before us

Flip cup, you do tap down up, so now I'm just conditioned to tap the bar when I drink. Also, the tap rule from games like a$$hole, quarters, etc.

Congratulations. I declare Jack in EC the winner. I owe you a drink Jack.

i've heard several origins of this custom in my 10 years of bartending, i've heard it's to honor the bar (including the owner, bartender, etc) , i've heard remember the fallen. as far as where and how long ago, i've always heard it's from eurpoe- mostly i've heard germany and ireland.
those seem to be the 2 biggest stories i've heard, the bar (bartender)and the fallen

we may never know the exact truth behind where, when, or why it started, but each person has their reason why just as each person has their favorite cheers.

"It's one of those things that patrons saw bartenders doing and started drinking Grand Marnier. Now we need a new secret handshake."

- i think anyone who's a bartender will get and agree with that one, before one bartenders drank grand ma'. and open for ideas to the new bartender "thing"

I have always heard that tapping referred to how Nazis did not have anyone to drink with but the Jews in the Concentration Camps. They would clink glasses then tap to know the Jew off. I have bartended for many years and once I heard this I refuse to do this and honor such a hideous tradition.

can't believe I missed this post in May. I had no idea that people do that here in Baltimore (maybe because I am too old for shots these days) but people always did this when I was growing up in Texas. It's common there and many other parts of the country I've lived in, except for Los Angeles. I never saw it there, even though I did many shots there.

I heard this too from several someones, Jason K. For whatever reason it creeps me out. It doesn't matter if this is historically true or not, what matters is that people would knowingly condone an apocryphal tradition of knocking the Jewness off their glasses in a lame and vulgar anti-Semitic throwback.

Even if this isn't true, it always freaks me out symbolically because it breaks the bond between drinks. It's just weird.

Yep.. We also do it here.. as a toast to bartenders around the world..

Greg In Texas

I am in Europe currently. My American friend and I were advised not to use this tradition while there because the Nazi's used it to symbolize "no Jews here (or at the table)" and that people would take offense to it.
I would imagine that it may have other origins as well or was carried over to America and the real meaning changed or was lost over time.

I did some research on this topic and I found the it dates back to midevil days when the beer mugs were heavy and after a long toast they had to set the mugs back on the bar for a second to rest their arms! But now it has translated into a sign of respect for the bartender who made the drink!

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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