On days when deadlines are light, when I’m tired of sitting at my desk, in my house, even with a fridge full of good beer in the basement, I often get a little nudge. It’s a gentle prodding, encouraging me to be indulgent. It feels scandalous. But sometimes I give in, get up, and go.

There’s something to be said for solo day-drinking. And yes, there is a difference between drinking for pleasure and the drinking I do for work. That’s why day-drinking feels like a luxury. It’s an escape from the ordinary.

There’s also a difference between day-drinking at a bar with friends and opening a few beers during daylight hours while quarantined at home (even if you do pull up a chair on the patio). A bar is a social destination where you can still be alone. Proper day-drinking can’t be about boredom, or we’d do it too often. It shouldn’t have a regularly scheduled time either. It should be spontaneous, and therefore indulgent.

The most important thing to know about day-drinking is when to walk out of the bar and back into the sunshine. Find the right moment and burn off a few calories. But perhaps keep that free-spirit thing going and take a left instead of your usual right. Explore. Inspired by a few drinks and the break in your routine, do something that’s new, that feels like playing hooky.

Amid the very real hardships happening around the world, and the very real concerns related to the aftermath of the first several COVID-19 waves, my mind has been wandering more and more to walking through the front door to head to a pub with the sun still high and bright.

Here, then, are my ingredients for the perfect day-drinking experience:

  1. Picking the right bar is important. You don’t want a place that’s too dark where the regulars are firmly affixed to their stools; day-in and day-out guys who seem to have a loop of Springsteen “what could have been” songs playing in their heads. You want a bar that’s cozy, but lets the daylight in. One that’s often packed at happy hour but is sparse during the afternoon. 
  2. You want a knowledgeable and attentive bartender who fills your glass but otherwise leaves you alone with your thoughts. 
  3. Music is key to this experience. But try to avoid the top 40. You want songs that take you back in time, or that expand your horizons forward. While you’re there, listen to the lyrics. There’s no need to sing along. Listen to the inflection of tone, how the words string together. Appreciate the artistry, not just its toe-tapping quality. 
  4. Keep your phone in your pocket. Bring a book or a magazine. Feel the pages in your hand and absorb someone else’s words. Look up often and take in the scene. 
  5. Leave before it gets sad. It’s great to feel indulgent, but gluttonous is less fun. That’s why drinking at home during the pandemic was never as satisfying as some had thought early on. There’s little reason to stop and nowhere else to go.

A few hours spent outside of a normal routine is good for the soul. It can recharge the internal batteries, bring on some calm, and might even offer a fresh perspective. And it’s all accomplished before most people have clocked out of work for the day.

A version of this essay first appeared on Reporter’s Notebook, the blog administered by the North American Guild of Beer Writers.