Bartender-approved picks for protecting feet.
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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
“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.”
Best Slip-On: Vans Made for the Makers Slip-On
“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."
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.
Best for Durability: Dansko Walker Shoes
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."
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 acid-resistant sole is perfect for greasy kitchens and sticky bars. Better yet, a steel shank sole assists with stability.
Best Cowboy Boot: Laredo Cowboy Boots
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.”
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.
Best Budget: Vans Sk8-Hi Slim
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.
Best Splurge: Red Wings Round Toe Lace-Up Boot
"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.