On the night of my twenty-first birthday, I stumbled into a college bar with a friend who was dressed in a large polyester carrot costume. I downed several potent cocktails called trash cans, yelled a lot, and then briefly made out with the captain of the school’s croquet team. Throughout the evening, I proudly brandished the government-issued ID that confirmed I was legally allowed to be there, took mystery shots, and lurched around the sticky dance floor to the dulcet tones of Flo Rida. I was an adult woman in a space reserved for adults.
I thought of that night, and the many like it that followed, when I read about Bentley’s on Broadway, a bar in San Antonio that recently announced it was raising its age limit.
“Bentley’s on Broadway is officially 25+ & up now,” the venue announced on Instagram in May.
In the comments section, reactions to the news were mixed. “Yesssss finally . . . PERFECT MOVE,” effused one user. “What about 24 turning 25 this year,” asked another, who expressed despair with a crying emoji.
My own research yielded overwhelmingly positive responses. Though I threw in the trash can–soaked towel of my own drinking years ago, in a survey of my immediate friends and neighbors (a decidedly thirty-plus crowd), respondents said the concept sounded like “paradise”—a utopia where the still-young-but-increasingly-creaky could gather to revel together in their own muted way without having to watch a 21-year-old puke up a neon-blue beverage and then leave a loud, tearful voicemail for their ex.
I reached out to Bentley’s, eager to learn what had prompted it to make the bar of my friends’ dreams. But when reached by phone, a representative declined to comment. “It is what it is. We’re twenty-five-plus,” a gentleman said, before abruptly ending the call. Much like the 24-but-almost-25-year-old who posted the crying emoji, my entrance to Bentley’s, albeit merely conversational, had been denied.
Bentley’s is not the only establishment in San Antonio to limit its customers to those whose prefrontal cortices have fully developed. When it opened its doors in March 2022, the thirty-and-up bar Horizons & More, located just four miles east of Bentley’s, promised to be a space for the “grown and mature.”
“If I’m going to go out, I don’t want to party with my children,” Toya Taylor, the owner of Horizons, told me over the phone. (Taylor’s daughter is a co-owner of the bar with her, but she’s 32.)
Taylor said she knew from day one that Horizons would have age restrictions. Prior to opening the venue, Taylor worked for the city in various capacities. She said it was her experience working with San Antonians of all ages that helped her land on thirty as an appropriate cutoff. “I just feel like, with someone over the age of thirty, you’ve set standards for yourself,” she said. “You’re on a pathway in life where if you go out and you’re put in a situation, you have a lot to lose. You have a family; you have a career. You’ve set goals for yourself.”
As appealing as these venues sounded, I wondered whether all of this was legal. Could a 22-year-old wannabe Horizons patron hell-bent on enjoying a glass of chardonnay in a “grown and mature” venue cry age discrimination and bring a lawsuit against the bar?
Given that Bentley’s and Horizons are private businesses, they can set whatever age limits they want. Randall Erben, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law, said unless bars are owned by a government entity, there’s basically no discrimination case to be made. “There would likely be no cause of action for discrimination under the 14th Amendment equal protection or due process clauses,” he explained in an email.
Chris Porter, the public information officer for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said that to the best of his knowledge, there’s nothing to prevent bars from raising their age limits. “There is no statute that actually sets an age limit, young or old, for people to enter a bar, as long as people under twenty-one aren’t served or sold alcohol,” he clarified. “As long as they meet that criteria, there’s nothing in the statute that would prevent them from requiring patrons to be of an older age before they enter.”
Taylor, for her part, said she doesn’t dislike the under-thirty set. “I’m just making a business decision for my brand,” she said. There are some rare instances in which she might let a twentysomething through Horizons’ doors, she conceded. For example: say some guests in their thirties arrive at the bar with a lone 29-year-old in their midst—Taylor might let that group member in, but, she says, “I will strongly let them know: ‘This person is here because they are with your group, and you are held responsible.’ ”
It’s too early to say whether other bars will follow the age-exclusive lead of Bentley’s and Horizons. Porter said Bentley’s was the first and only bar he’d ever heard of that raised its age limit. Plus, it’s hard to imagine many bar owners willingly forgoing the easy money they can make off drinkers in their twenties. On the morning after my twenty-first birthday, for instance, I discovered that, in my vodka-lubricated largesse, I had spent over $250 on drinks for myself and others.
Still, Taylor says any lost profit is well worth it for avoiding the hassle that comes with hosting younger drinkers. “I don’t play when it comes to alcohol, because so much can happen,” she said. “You have to choose wisely when it comes to the places that you frequent. Because if a person doesn’t know how to consume their alcohol, or they don’t know how to carry themselves when alcohol is involved, you place yourself and others at risk.”
And past a certain age, if you’re going to drink a bunch of Red Bull–based cocktails and get messy, it’s probably best to just do that in the comfort of your own home.