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How and where to imbibe with your kids in tow

Baby Up to the Bar

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Everyone talks about the sleepless nights and countless diapers they have to change after having their first baby. The well-wishers ask about how the newborn is eating, and parents and parents-to-be discuss the pros and cons of newly fascinating topics like co-sleeping and baby wearing. But once the breastfeeding stops and the chaos has been reined in, couples often find themselves in a unique position: they're still the same-beer loving, bourbon-swilling, wine-sipping folks they were, but now they've got a baby to contend with. What's a drinker to do? Here's your guide to being able to imbibe, responsibly of course, with your tots in tow.

Happy Hours. This is your new sweet spot in the daily timeline. Not only do you get to benefit from the various bargains, this is your only time to drink in public before your child's bedtime. And as most parents know, the witching hour for kids tends to happen at the end of this window, so the alcohol is that much more appreciated. Plus, when you're at a venue before it's dark, it can have a much different vibe. Places that are pick-up joints at midnight can be downright cozy at dusk.

Get Comfortable. Find just a handful of places that you really like, even if they're not the most child-friendly. If you go to any place regularly enough, the staff will know what you need to be happy (milk with straw for the baby, milk with vodka for the mom) and will be equally interested in keeping everything copacetic. Quick service from a staff you're comfortable with goes a long way. Also, tip well if you want to be welcomed back. This applies to almost every time you go out with kids. You need to pay up for all your tyke's food smearing, drink spilling, and chaos creating.

Know the Layout. Think like a CIA agent. Map out the establishment so you know where that diaper-changing station is (yes, there are bars where these exist, and it's a bizarre source of joy to discover one). Also, you'll need to know the exits for that necessary speedy getaway should a tantrum or blowout (diaper, not hair) present itself. Plus, you'll want to score the corner table so you're closed in by two sides, which helps limit the ways a toddler can escape. If possible, request a booth, which allows for movement and play that a high chair can't.

Amenities. As mentioned, a diaper-changing table is nirvana for any parent with a baby. But if you see high chairs and booster seats, you can take that as a sign that the bar owners don't view your kid as the antichrist. Children's menus are good, but what you really want is a kids' menu that offers more than the usual hamburger, chicken tender, or plain pasta. Variety is great, and healthy is rare but ideal.

Vibe. The atmosphere is pretty much the No. 1 way a place can go from child-friendly to child-hating. Are the tablecloths linen? Not child-friendly. Candles or soft lighting? This place hates kids. Live piano or jazz muzak? Death knell for children. You want something that is casual, loud, and dark enough that spills are ignored or so bright that it feels like a cafeteria. You also need to ensure that the bar is safe and not seedy. Broken glass, full ashtrays, ear-pounding music — all signs to turn around.

Distraction. This can take on many forms, from a fish tank (low-level limited distraction) to a live band (high-level maximum distraction). Sitting anywhere for long periods of time only appeals to newborns and parents, toddlers will quickly get bored. So look for spots that offer activity — corn hole and bocce are great. Space to move is crucial. Any child able to move their limbs, from six months to six years, will want to move — run, crawl, dance, play, explore, climb — so coloring will last all of two seconds. What you really need is a bar next to a playground.

Location. Any bar or restaurant that is next to water in some capacity is ideal. Whether you're near a marina, an active waterway, or the beach, water provides endless fascination and interest. Granted, it can also drown, so vigilance is necessary, but it's a lot easier to drink a beer walking up and down a dock than it is to drink a beer while your child is screaming for mercy from its high chair prison. You also want to avoid bars that have open access to cars. The threat of your child running headlong into traffic is a little too real, so select places that are either remote or far removed from roads or, even better, fenced in. Gates are your new best friends.

Armed with these suggestions, you can go forth and try your hand at throwing one back while your toddler happily plays.

Awendaw Green, Awendaw

With a huge dirt pile, a growing number of abandoned toys, a fort, and swing set, the hodgepodge playground at the back end of Awendaw Green allows kids to get good, dirty, and tired while parents can drink (BYOB) and listen to three to four bands every Wednesday night from 6-10 p.m. Entrance into this woody oasis is an inexpensive $5 for adults while kids get in free.

Bohemian Bull, James Island

The wide-open backyard of this big beer house on Folly Road is fully gated and has a number of distractions. A large bocce court, corn hole, and picnic benches allow kids to come and go as they please while their parents can relax with a drink while keeping an eye on them.

House of Brews, Mt. Pleasant

This craft brewhouse rotates their six-plus drafts on tap daily, making it a good stop for any beer drinker. Adding to that, the life-size Jenga set, chalk for the walls, and a large gravel patio that is entirely gated make this venue a perennial favorite of both parents and dog owners.

Madra Rua, North Charleston

Now that Madra is strictly non-smoking, this dark and comfy Irish pub is a right swell spot for parents and their children, thanks primarily to the cozy nooks that line the front of the tavern. Plop your kid down on the booth seat and kick back in your own private little room.

Morgan Creek Grill, Isle of Palms

The boats coming and going on the water provide plenty of action for your kids. Live, free music during the day on the weekends, plus corn hole, help make this spot ideal for outdoor entertainment.

Palmetto Brewery, Downtown

Palmetto Brewery's live music Loading Dock Series every Friday night from 6 p.m. is a great way to enjoy some tunes and drink great beer. A food truck offers quick eats, and the open venue fosters some great kiddie dance-offs. But as the night darkens, it's time to clear out to let the kid-free adults do their thing.

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