The Bartender Shoe Search – Testing durable, comfortable shoes.

Which shoes can stand up to service industry hell?

Editor’s Note: Our Official Bartender, Michael Bowers, needs your help. He beats the snot out of shoes. We’ve launched this search to try and find the most comfortable, durable, yet still decent looking pair of lace-ups for him to wear. Add your suggestions & picks in the comments, and make a note of his criteria for his shoes at the bottom of the post.

Bartending is hard on shoes. Every shift my shoes are exposed to a 10-hour stretch of standing, walking, squatting down, and kicking fridge doors closed while both hands are full. And of course there is the occasional dousing with everything from lime juice to porter. In the first 9 months I tended bar, I destroyed three pairs of dress shoes. There were holes in the leather, holes in the soles, and with each pair the fusing between the upper and the sole gave way.

Michaels Eccos 1

So far, at $160, Eccos seem to hold up the best. This is after one year of every-other-day use.

Obviously, they weren’t the best quality shoes. Back then money was tight, and the thought of spending more than a $100 on a pair of shoes for work was hard to stomach. After seeing how well discount shoes held up to the abuse, though, I decided to try something the next level up. I took a recommendation from a sales rep at Macy’s and bought a pair of Ecco shoes for $160. They were comfortable, they looked decent enough for work, and they lasted nearly a year on the job.

Michaels Eccos the pair

Maybe not the most stylish, but they’re comfortable and can handle what’s thrown at them.

So I have kept buying them for years since, and they’ve all done about as well as the first pair. I get a year of use (alternating with another pair) before they begin to look too rough to keep wearing. Now that it’s time for a new pair of shoes, though, I’m ready to try something new. It’s not as though I love Ecco shoes. In fact, when it comes to style, I never find something I really like. It’s just that I know that the shoes I buy now will still be comfortable and functional after several months of abuse. I’ve been hesitant to buy a nicer (and probably more expensive) pair of shoes only to find that they’re not up to the task.

That’s why we’re going to run this experiment.  I alternate my shoes from day to day, so the pair that was just worn on Friday can get a rest on Saturday.  Once a month we’ll take a picture to document how they’re holding up, and once they’re no longer wearable I’ll make an assessment.   I’ll report back on which shoe has been more comfortable, which looks better, and finally which shoe–taking cost into the equation–I’d buy again.  But we need to pick the first couple of pairs, and I’m open to suggestions. Here’s a few parameters for what I’m looking for:

  • Comfort & Durability are key: I’m not felling trees in the wilderness, but I’m certainly not sitting at a desk either.  My new shoes have to be comfortable for long stretches and handle kicks, spills, etc…
  • But looks count too: I’d like something nicer looking than my Eccos.
  • Traction is a must: It can get slick behind the bar.
  • No boots: The bar has a patio, and in the summer it can get hot.  I’d prefer shoes.
  • Price: I love my job, but not many people get into bartending to make a fortune.
  • Sizing: I’m an 11D.  So no need for extreme sizes.

With that information in mind, I turn to you, the Dappered community.  Suggestions?

About our Bartender – Michael Bowers is the Head Bartender at the Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise, Idaho.  His patrons know him for the uncanny precision with which he tends his bar.  Michael’s cocktails have been noted by, among others, Food and Wine, Sunset Magazine, GQ, and the New York Times.  See more in The Drink archive.

Michaels shoe holes