These 5 essential rules of jukebox etiquette will keep everyone in the bar happy

Congratulations on your decision to darken the doors of your local bar for a respite from the outside world! I see from your quizzical expression you have just discovered that magical box in the corner — the one with the shiny lights and exotic rhythms that keep undulating from its mysterious and boxy loins.

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It used to be that jukeboxes were filled with a very limited number of 45 rpm singles but, with the advent of new technology, those have been replaced with Internet facsimiles that function like giant iPods. Nowadays, most jukeboxes are fraught with sonic dangers (too many deep cuts, too many choices) that can make you look like a giant tool at your preferred watering hole or greasy spoon if you fail to heed these warnings of jukebox etiquette. (Follow these rules closely, and you may just drink for free all night long.)


Rule No. 1:

Everyone at the bar (except you) thinks your taste in music sucks.

Remember as you dive into that second (or fourth) rum and coke, you are not a DJ (if you are a DJ, then this rule goes double for you). Embrace this knowledge and move on with your life. Enjoy your music in all of its various forms — just don’t assume everyone else does, especially in public. Yes, I’m looking at you. In today’s economy, $5 should be your limit for jukebox plays. Don’t be that guy — give someone else a turn.

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Rule No. 2:

Consider your surroundings.

You would do well to assume nobody at the metal bar wants to hear the dulcet tones of Mancini and Andy Williams doing Dreamsville (but if you do, crank up the volume and press play below). Nor does anyone want to hear your “killer” 18-minute EDM dubstep remix at the country bar in the middle of Hooterville. Use some common sense and read the crowd. (Rule two falls apart depending on how drunk the bar is — use caution. )

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Rule No. 3:

When in doubt, ask your bartender.

Just remember, your bartender holds the remote control. If you decide to play some music, ASK YOUR BARTENDER what they like, and play a couple of their favorites. (My favorite barmaid always wants to hear “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War, and I always oblige her because she makes a heavenly drink — go figure. If you take care of your bartenders, they will always take care of you.)

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Rule No. 4:

Mix it up.

Don’t play 8 songs from the same artist. If you run out of ideas — or if you secretly know that your taste in music is marginal at best — ask your friends or other patrons for suggestions, and watch the free drinks start rolling in! (This can also go badly … see Rule No. 1.)



Rule No. 5:

The Nuclear Option.

Not so much a rule as a suggestion. Should you find yourself in a hostile jukebox environment —say, one with really terrible service and obnoxious, drunk people — take that five-spot in your pocket, and load up the jukebox with the worst possible music you can find. This is called “The Nuclear Option.” I suggest you run out the door once the music starts. A famous example of this comes from everyone’s favorite late-night Southern restaurant — The Waffle House. Played on repeat for the 25th time by 3 a.m., it’s a song so loathed by their employees that I have personally seen waitresses chase off customers who dared to play it twice in a row.

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Good Luck and Godspeed — and remember to tip your wait and bar staff generously!

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