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Bartending means countless hours on your feet, which can easily lead to foot, ankle, and arch problems if you don’t tread carefully. So, it's important to invest in a good pair of shoes like you would with the rest of your bartending tools. “Long hours standing on your feet can have long-term negative impacts,” says Arlene Roldan, co-owner of Los Angeles’ The Mermaid. “We need to take care of the ones we have!"
Jason Allmond, head bartender at Savannah’s Broughton Common, adds “Finding good shoes for behind the bar is very hard, but once you find something that works for you, you stick with it—I have friends and coworkers that swear by certain types of shoes, and I guess I am the same way.”
To help you find the best shoes for bartending, we've sourced recommendations from experts themselves.
Best Overall: Doc Martens 1460 Leather Boots
Hard to break in
“I found myself buying several pairs of work shoes a year, and I bit the bullet this year and bought something a little more expensive,” says Ellen Talbot, lead bartender at Nashville’s Fable Lounge. What she ended up with were Doc Martens’ ergonomic boots that boast air-cushioned soles and a GripTrax slip-resistant sole. “They’re waterproof and wipe clean after a shift, and they’re guaranteed through the life of the sole," she says. "Once broken in, they’re the best work shoes you’ll ever own—they’re worth every penny."
Marta Ess, of Toronto’s Chantecler and Le Phenix, as well as a finalist for Bombay’s Most Imaginative Bartender of 2019, seconds this. “I swear by Doc Martens; they're a little heavy, but ultimately provide the best support, and their tread can't be beaten." She adds, "They're timeless for a reason.”
Fit: True to size | Upper: Coated, full-grain leather | Weight: 1 lb 13 oz
Best Slip-On: Vans Made for the Makers Slip-On
Not as durable as other options
“These are comfortable, non-slip, resistant to a lot of things that tend to spill,” says Allmond, “and most importantly, I can wear them for long hours without any foot pain.” Part of Vans’ Made for the Makers line, these shoes are built for tough jobs, catering to artists, chefs, barbers, and other folks who spend long days on their feet. The slip-on features vulcanized lugged outsoles and 8-ounce canvas uppers designed to repel dirt and liquids (think splashed beers and spilled cocktails).
Even more, the molded drop-in UltraCush sock liners and padded collars are designed to keep feet comfy until the end of a shift. Allmond notes, “They tend to run a bit small and if you have a wider foot, I certainly suggest going up at least a half size."
Fit: Runs small | Upper: Vansguard canvas | Weight: 14 oz
Best Running Shoe: Under Armour SpeedForm Slingshot 2
“These are a very wonderful pair of running shoes that I've never worn running,” Allmond jokes. “As soon as I put them on, I knew they had become work shoes.” These minimalist Under Armour running shoes have a lightweight, sock-like fit, thanks to a breathable Threadborne knit upper. Construction molding wraps the foot without bulk for a tight, cozy feel. A durable sole made of high-abrasion rubber gives traction and enough bounce.
“One major drawback is that they are not slip resistant so if that is a concern, these likely won't work for you," explains Allmond. "But for me they are perfect: they move well, form to your feet quite well, and they look good.”
A women's version is available here.
Fit: True to size | Upper: Mesh | Weight: 7 - 9 oz
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Best for Durability: Dansko Walker Shoes
Not the most attractive
Westin Galleymore, spirits director for Houston’s Underbelly Hospitality, praises the Dansko Walker Shoes as "the best industry shoe I’ve ever worn." He adds, "They are a tad bit on the ugly side, but they are as durable as anything!” The sturdy, Oxford-style leather shoe offers exceptional support and stability, plus, it’s resistant to slips on wet or oily surfaces. A dense, removable footbed also gives arch support and shock absorption.
“Being on my feet and shuffling around behind the bar on the concrete can and does take a toll on my back and joints," Galleymore explains. "These shoes are my lower back and joint’s best friend. I have noticed a huge difference when I get home and take them off; there is no ‘ahhh’ moment where I need to lay back on the couch and wince a bit."
Fit: True to size | Upper: Leather | Weight: 1 lb 7 oz
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Best Boot: Blundstone 510
Blundstone’s weather-proof boots are a bartender favorite, and to no surprise: these boots offer a lifetime warranty and hiker-approved quality. When buying boots, “Comfort and support is everything,” says Roldan. “Boots are the best because they have the shell (either leather or synthetic leather) that are waterproof, rubber soles that are anti-slip, and protect and support your ankles.”
Australian-made Blundstones are constructed from soft, moisture-wicking leather with elastic slides to easily put on and take off the boots. The footbeds slip out for easy cleaning (useful for when they start to collect odors) and the oil-, fat-, and the acid-resistant sole is perfect for greasy kitchens and sticky bars. Better yet, a steel shank sole assists with stability.
Fit: True to size (will slightly stretch over time) | Upper: Leather | Weight: 3 lbs 1 oz
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Best Cowboy Boot: Laredo Cowboy Boots
Good quality-to-price ratio
Not for all outfits or styles
Katt Cavallo, bar manager at Portland’s Liquor Store Bar and Music Venue, has been wearing the same pair of boots for over 15 years. “I fully support wearing Laredo Cowboy Boots for tending bar: they have a solid sole and upper structure, and a metal tip that conveniently protects the leather uppers from getting crushed by kicking kegs, coolers, or CO2 compressors."
These Western-style boots feature high-quality leather, a slight heel, and a snip toe. Beyond the Southern aesthetics, though, these boots are built for working long days. “I’ve certainly tried many different brands of shoes and boots that others have recommended over the years, and I always come back to these," says Cavallo. "The final selling point for me is they look great with just about everything, from jeans to skirts to short shorts—they compliment all.”
Fit: True to size | Upper: Leather | Weight: Varies
Most Stylish: Adidas Originals NMD_R1
“My favorite shoes to wear while bartending are Adidas NMDs,” explains Nate Fishman, brand ambassador for Santera Tequila and bartender at Liquor Lab. “I have worn non-slip and waterproof work shoes before, but I find that a lighter, more comfortable shoe is best when in the rush of a busy shift." He adds, "Lower quality work shoes are heavier and usually wear down faster than a decent sneaker would." These fashion-conscious sneakers boast the Adidas boost midsole, a durable rubber outsole, and a stretchy mesh upper for a super-comfy feel. Plus, the 3-D printed sole and a responsive cushioned midsole keep feet comfortable through long hours.
Fit: True to size | Upper: Mesh | Weight: 1 lb 12 oz
Best Budget: Vans Sk8-Hi Slim
Not fully waterproof
Not as much support as other options
James Papastavros, head bartender at Toronto’s bartender-beloved Montauk, gravitates towards these classic, high-top style shoes from Vans. “They’re comfy, stylish, and provide enough ankle support to make it ‘til closing.” The skater shoe is made with a durable canvas and suede exterior to weather the bumps, scrapes, scratches, and falls of skateboarding—which can also be translated into the hustle and bustle of bartending. The shoes' slim profile makes them a flattering pick, too.
Fit: True to size/runs small | Upper: Canvas and suede | Weight: 12 oz
Best Splurge: Red Wings Round Toe Lace-Up Boot
Molding foot bed (customized insole)
"Red Wings require upkeep,” says Alison Hillard, bartender at D.C.’s Dram and Grain, “But if cared for properly they will last you five-plus years, in some cases a lifetime.” The rugged boot is made of durable, oil-tanned leathers that are water-, stain-, and perspiration-resistant. The leather lining is breathable and reduces sweat.
“They require bi-weekly cleaning and conditioning but I’ve never had boots that allowed me to be so agile while providing incredible ankle support (which prevents a lot of my back problems from flaming up anywhere near as often),” explains Hillard. As you get used to the boot, the all-leather footbed will mold to your feet to create an insole customized to your arch.
Fit: Runs large | Upper: Leather | Weight: 1 lb 5 oz
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Above all, seeking out comfort and structure is key. The Doc Martens are definitely our best overall pick, though we absolutely would not recommend working in them prior to being broken in. Wear outside of work first to test the waters, then give it a go (view at Walmart). Sneakers are affordable and stylish, though they tend to not hold up as well (or as long) as other shoes on this list. Just behind the Docs, we’d say that our picks for the Dansko (see it the brand's site) and Blundstone (view it at Amazon) are the next best options here, thanks to their support, removable soles and (in the case of Blundstone) lifetime guarantee.
Do I need specific shoes for bartending?
Most establishments don’t require a specific shoe for bartending, though there are certainly exceptions. If your bar does not require a certain shoe, we recommend seeking out comfort, structure and design above all else first (when choosing your preferred brand), then looking at materials and style second. Although regular shoes will work in a pinch (there’s no need to call out if you happen to forget your shoes one night), we certainly don’t recommend using just any shoe as a daily solution.
Are running shoes good for bartending?
Running shoes certainly provide comfort and structure, making them better than other forms of everyday footwear. However, most of them will not offer the support that the well-made shoes listed above will. Additionally, most running shoes tend to not be as waterproof as other options and have less durability, meaning they will likely need to be replaced more often. In short, we’d pick running shoes over flats, heels or other everyday footwear, though we certainly don’t see them as interchangeable with the options above.
What to Look for in Bartender Shoes
Above all, when it comes to shopping for bartender shoes, comfort reigns king. Long hours standing on your feet can be detrimental to your back, ankles and beyond, so placing comfort and structure above all else is key. That said, we recommend seeking out something that offers support without sacrificing comfort. Other potentially important factors will certainly depend on your exact work environment. In addition to comfort and avoiding long-term injury, safety is of utmost importance. If your bar tends to get sticky and slippery, be sure to add non-slip soles to the top of your list of what to look out for.
Materials are likely less important, though they do somewhat go hand in hand with structure. Seek out materials that not only mesh to your body and feet well but will also keep your feet dry—and be easy to clean when the inevitable spills happen. Lastly, while style is important, we’d say this is probably lowest on the totem pole. As much as we want to figuratively feel good in our own shoes, feeling physically good is definitely more important here.
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Kate Dingwall is an experienced spirits writer and glassware collector. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for six years, including extensive coverage of glassware. She owns almost 200 vintage glasses, from art deco Karl Palda decanters to 1800s-era crystal coupes, and she’s happy to wax poetic about all of them. Her partner thinks she should consider downsizing.
This roundup was updated by Vicki Denig. Vicki is a wine and travel journalist who splits her time between New York and Paris. Her work regularly appears in major industry publications, and she is also the content creator and social media manager for a list of prestigious clients, including Sopexa, Paris Wine Company, Becky Wasserman, Volcanic Selections, Le Du’s Wines, Windmill Wine & Spirits and Corkbuzz. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine.
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