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Opinion: Should Kids Be Allowed in Bars?

Marilyn Acosta/Flickr

The debate has been distilled, conveniently, into a simple binary question: should kids be allowed into bars with their parents or not?

It's a hot-button issue that gets fresh ink in New York, it seems, at least once a year. In 2008 Brooklyn's Union Hall kicked up a stir for banning strollers all together. In 2010 another Brooklyn bar, the Double Windsor, declared that no one under the age of 21 would be allowed on its premises after 5 pm.  

Now the fight has moved to a new beer garden – also in breeding-ground Brooklyn – called Greenwood Park, which has instituted a curfew. Kids are allowed on its expansive 1,300 square-foot grounds, but only until 8 pm.

Every year the debate flares up in predictable patterns: the childless are irate about having to share their elbow room with kids; parents feel entitled to an occasional beer with peers before bed time. Both sides have their valid talking points.

But more often than not, the childless come off sounding whinier than a toddler at bath-time. “You almost feel like you’re the irresponsible one by showing up to drink around so many children,” one Yelp reviewer wrote of Greenwood Park

The parents come off sounding, well, just plain entitled.

Both sides highlight the real problem: an increasing inability among grownups – childless and breeders alike – to behave like grownups. Some, not all, parents either outsource daycare to other bar patrons or simply can't keep their kids under control in the first place. And some, not all, childless 20- and 30-somethings are so locked into their Never Never Land lives they almost need babysitters themselves.

Let's take Brooklyn's new bar as an example: On one recent afternoon I spotted toddlers using the Greenwood Park bocce courts as their playground, rooting around in the sand while parents drank with the confidence that their kids were safe, watched over by the collective. The collective, of course, had never signed up for childcare duty. And the kids were admittedly disruptive.

But on another night, long after the last stroller had left, one group of adult patrons set an entire pack of cigarettes on fire and threw it across the table. They were all giggles until they were asked to leave.

As with any polarizing debate, the devil's in the details. I’ve seen perfectly well-behaved kids come with their families to enjoy a mid-day burger at the beer garden (the meatheads shouting at the overhead flatscreen tuned to ESPN were more annoying than any 7-year-old I’ve seen).

So, it's not about whether we let kids into bars with their parents. It's about how we make these decisions and whether we're all mature enough to honor the social contract. Greenwood Park's policy is eminently reasonable: parents can bring their kids as long as it's before bedtime and everyone behaves. It's the customers who are less level headed.

“Moms are encouraged to come by with their children,” the co-owner, Ted Mann, told a local blog before the bar opened. “It’s completely stroller friendly.”

The friction comes when neither side can see beyond their own bottle – be it filled with beer or milk.