A psychology major, a friend visiting from the University of Washington and the birthday girl walk into a bar. Awed by the low-light planetary fixtures in shades of muted red, orange and white, the group hangs in the back — contemplating the cost of cocktails chalked into the board on their right.
From an outside perspective, it seems this group knows what they are doing. But in the minds of newly minted 21-year-olds, walking into an unfamiliar setting and ordering a drink for the first time can be intimidating.
Bellingham is home to an array of bars, breweries and nightlife at the disposal of students young and old looking for a fun night out.
Jonny McIntyre, Western Washington University alumnus and owner of The Orion — a space-themed bar with cocktails averaging $6-7 each — dreamed of opening the type of bar he missed out on when he was in college. He wanted a place where people could learn about cocktails, drink and safely hang out.
“I would encourage students to try to get to know their bartenders as well because we’re there to serve you,” he said. “But we’re also there to keep you safe.”
McIntyre said people should never hesitate to ask a bartender a question or for any assistance whatsoever; asking bartenders’ names and heeding their advice — if they say you should drink some water or that it’s time for you to go home — increases your ability to drink responsibly.
“I feel like that can help build the comfort level early on and help you have a better time throughout your bar drinking experience,” he said.
A successful bar-hop is a constellation of dots, each unique in its own theme: tiki, German biergarten or pinball lounge. Each place is an opportunity to explore a different side of Bellingham and learn about the scene exclusive to people above the age of 21.
Kelly Horton, a second-year at Western, goes out because cocktails are too expensive to make at home since they usually require too many different types of alcohol, and going out to places open late at night is fun.
She recommends withdrawing all your cash in advance for the night and not even bringing your credit card when going out bar-hopping.
“A lot of people, especially when they don’t know how much alcohol they can take, they’ll black out and spend a bunch of money,” she said.
Horton advised to trust your instincts and to surround yourself with friends to make sure your drink has eyes on it at all times. She said to have at least one person you are going home with, whom you can rely on throughout the night to make sure you get home if you are “too far gone.”
Once the birthday group decided to stop fiddling with the ice in their glass, getting up to pay their tabs and bracing for the chilly nightfall, the question of how to get home was bound to come up.
Before fall quarter, students at Western could rely on the late-night shuttle, which worked on a fixed-route service and traveled along the WTA bus route. Now, it operates as the Starlight Shuttle with two vehicles, a Ford transit van and a Toyota hybrid minivan, driven by student employees.
Jillian Trinkaus, Western’s commute options and transportation planning manager, said the shuttle adds to people’s ability to travel safely when they go out.
“We don’t want people to pay for Uber and Lyft when they’ve already paid for the service through the alternative transportation fee,” she said.
For Western students, the Starlight Shuttle is an on-demand service available through the Transloc app, booking a ride online or calling the dispatcher at 206-638-7124 between the hours of 10:30 p.m. - 2:30 a.m. Monday to Saturday and from 9 p.m. - 2 a.m. on Sunday. It operates for students — masked up and equipped with their Western IDs, one guest allowed each — within a five-mile radius of campus.