One of the most common complaints I hear about dating is “where are places that I can go to meet women that aren’t bars or clubs?” Over the years, meeting people at bars and nightclubs has taken on a distinct sheen of sleaze and ill repute, seemingly the sole province of Brohemians, pick-up artists, pushy, rowdy drunks and gaggles of attention-seeking women who will only deign to talk to the 1% Alpha Males with six-pack abs and seven figure incomes.
There are also some downsides.
Recently I started a thread on the Facebook page about just what it is people, my nerd brethren especially, dislike about trying to meet people at bars. It was interesting to say the least. The general consensus is that bars are loud, crowded, rowdy and full of drunks and jerks who have an attitude of “I’m going to get laid tonight and I don’t care with who or how,” and fair do’s: God knows I’ve been to plenty of bars like that.
That being said, however, I think people are too quick to write off bars as a valid place to meet other singles.
Back in my wilder days, I was a fixture on Austin’s bar and club scene, going out up to three or four nights a week before I burned out on the whole scene… and I have to admit: I learned over time that I hated trying to meet people in clubs. Just as everybody said on the thread: they’re absurdly loud, smokey, crowded and contain more dickholes than a urologist’s office after Mardi Gras. When the police shut down nearly half a dozen in the entertainment district for money laundering, drugs and weapon sales, I could have cared less.
But bars? Bars are a different story.
In fact, I would say that in many ways, by being quick to write off bars, people are cutting themselves off from a valid place to meet new people.
Not All Bars Are Created Equal
This is not to say that the complaints that I heard from my readers aren’t valid: there are a lot of sleazy dives out there where the walls are stained yellow with nicotine and failure and all the rats and cockroaches left in order to find a place more upmarket. There are bars that cater to the frat crowds, specializing in shotglasses filled with colored liquids that look like they had been brewed up in a mad scientist’s laboratory with the express intent of turning normal college students into raging douchebags.
There are the nightclubs in all but name, where the draw are the overpriced drink specials the women in absurdly tight and mindbogglingly expensive “going out” clothes and the DJ who WANTS YA’LL TO SCREAAAAAAM!
But then there are also the raucous but chummy Irish pubs with the impromptu jam sessions, the absurdly good fish and chips and the ManU game on the TV. The dive-y punk bars with there’s more metal in the faces than in the cars out front – that look intimidating but have the best jukebox in the city. The quiet wine bar with it’s amazing collection of Merlots and Malbecs. The self-consciously hip saloons that specialize in Prohibition era cocktails and bartenders who seem far too at ease with sporting old-timey handlebar mustaches and sleeve garters. The gastropubs with their craft beers and carefully curated menues. The beer specialists with the dark oak panelling and over 60 microbrews on tap. The casual sports bar, where everyone gathers to watch the latest UFC match out on the deck on a warm summer evening on the giant projection screen. The low-key lounges, more like old school gentlemen’s clubs than bars with deep leather chairs and a menu of single malt Scotch as long as your arm.
Then you get the odder, unique bars that could only exist in that one place. The ones where you can still play chicken-shit bingo or bet on turtle races. The bars that specialize in their hand-infused vodkas and tequilas.The ones that have old-fashioned shuffleboard tables complete with sawdust and varnish or vintage pinball machines. The bars adapted from train cars or old fire-stations or Victorian townhouses.
Now to be fair, I live in Austin, which already has more bars per capita than damn near any other city1, and an absurdly wide variety of them at that. when you live in a city that compares itself to Green Lantern and where the motto is “Keep Austin Weird”, you can expect the bars reflect the offbeat personalities of the locals. We have our share of “WOO HOOO SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS!” joints, but we also have the gloriously offbeat ones – steampunk bars, bars that double as arcades for adults, complete with free skee-ball, airplane themed bars, upscale bowling alleys and more… and the atmosphere and clientele at each of them could not be more different.
Just because some bars are indeed wretched hives of scum and villany doesn’t mean that all of them are sleazy, or that they’re full of drunk sadsacks and horny hipsters.
You Need To Go Where The Women Are
Some of us have types when it comes to women. Sometimes it’s a physical type – some folks like redheads, some like amazons, some like more zaftig women. Sometimes it’s a personality type or social archetype – you may be into tattooed alt-punks with their multi-hued hair and facial jewelry. You may be into the ambitious and driven white-collar women in their power suits and legal briefs2. You may be into sporty types, blue-collar workers, single moms or society belles… but in the end, no matter who or what you’re into, if you want to find them, you have to go where they congregate.
And lots of them? Hang out in bars.
As much as I dislike predatory metaphors when it comes to dating, sometimes they are apt: you can either spend all your time tracking them down across the savannah, or you can chill at their local watering hole and wait for an opportunity.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you just find a saloon smack dab in the financial district (or near the courthouses, or the factory or…) and start cruising it like a singles bar, taking the shotgun approach of hitting on any woman who wanders into your field of view; there are bars where this sort of behavior is expected and there are bars where acting like that is going to get you bounced out on your ass before you can say “Who lies more, men or women?” Hanging out at a bar, becoming a regular, is part of how one can gather what’s called social proof.
Meeting new people is potentially dangerous, especially for women. Being a regular at a bar where you both hang out, getting to know the bar staff and other patrons, becoming a known quantity… all of these are good ways of establishing that you’re a genuinely cool dude. It’s one thing to tell her you’re awesome; it’s another when other people, especially people she knows and trusts vouches for you.
In addition, becoming a regular at the hangouts frequented by the type of women you like is a way of proving that you do want what you think you want.One of the ways we all gauge potential relationship partners is how they would fit into our world, and how we would fit into theirs; you may like the idea of dating a punk princess, but the reality of the matter is likely rather starkly different than the Some Kind of Wonderful-esque visions you have dancing in your head. Meanwhile, she may not be so keen this stranger, who may well be someone dipping his toes into her life like a tourist out for a walk on the wild side.
There’s More To Bars Than Booze
Now to be sure: bars exist to provide us with sweet, sweet oblivion in bottles, casks, pints and on the rocks. Er… I mean alcohol. But while there are bars whose sole purpose is depleting the blood levels in your alcohol system and providing the lubricant with which to separate people from both their money and their underwear, drinking isn’t the only attraction bars offer.
Many bars also double as music venues, featuring local and touring bands; if you’re a fan of live music and are looking to bond with other music lovers, you may well want to spend some time with your local alt-weekly and seeing who is playing over the weekend. In fact, if you’re more of a performer than a listener, many bars have karaoke nights. Some, in fact, regularly host karoke with live bands backing you up. It’s one thing when it’s just you, the DJ and a rickety karaoke machine that’s more duct tape than music. It’s another entirely when you’re rocking out in front of a screaming audience with a band shredding behind you.
Many bars, especially those that pattern style themselves after English or Irish pubs will host trivia nights. I’ve recommended pub quizes such as those hosted by Geeks Who Drink as excellent first dates, but they can also serve as ice breakers and openers to conversations with people as well. Whether you’re offering to team up with other singletons or comparing answers afterwards, pub quizzes give you plenty of opportunities to initiate conversation with new people.
Now, I hate to keep bragging on Austin3 but a number of our bars here are just plain awesome. The Kung-Fu Saloon and Recess are both arcades for adults, with classic video games to go with the beers and shots. The High Ball on the other hand is a cocktail lounge with karaoke rooms and a goddamn bowling alley as well as regular events such as swing nights, dance classes, Fantastic Arcade and Adult Prom. The booze is almost secondary.
Worth noting: just because you don’t drink doesn’t mean that you’re somehow excluded from going to bars. Nobody is going to throw you out for having a Diet Coke instead of a shot of Jack and a Lone Star chaser. If you’re feeling especially self-conscious, you can always Bruce Wayne it: get a tonic water with lime and let people assume you’re having G&Ts.
Avoid the Feeding Frenzy
The biggest stigma surrounding trying to meet people at bars comes from the meat market atmosphere – when bars are filled with would be players and letches who’ve been gearing up for the weekend and are headed out like hunters into the Serengeti, determined to bag themselves a one-night stand or die trying. As the night wears on, the bars are louder and rowdier and every woman in the place has endured the unending stream of jackasses with a little liquid courage in their veins trying to ply them with drinks and bad pick-up lines. Small wonder that bars take on the reputations they do.
It gets even worse at the end of the night when bars turn into what I like to call “The Wounded Gazelle Game”; the last of the bros determined to take someone, anyone home as last call roles around turn into hyenas, hoping to pick off a drunk woman or two who wandered away from her friends like a gazelle that wandered too far from the herd.
The best time to meet someone at a bar isn’t when the crowds start to filter in at 10, 11 PM on Friday night; it’s during Happy Hour, between 7 and 9 when people have just gotten off work and are starting to unwind. A woman at a bar in the early evening is more likely to be receptive to someone approaching her in a friendly, low-key way… especially if he signals early that he’s going to be making an exit sooner rather than later. Meeting someone earlier in the evening – before the hordes of jerks descend upon the bars like locusts unto Egypt – means that you’re meeting someone whose excitement for the evening is ramping up, rather than being worn down by the constant pick up attempts. You’ll be in a better position to have a fun conversation, show just how cool and charming you actually are… and then bow out after getting her number. Giving her an easy out – “I can only stay a little bit, I have to meet my friends” means that not only are you not going to be a social burden on her by overstaying your welcome, but you’re considerate of her comfort. You’re more likely to leave on a high-note… and she’ll be far more likely to actually pick up when you call than if she gave you her number as a means to get you to leave already.
Meeting someone cool earlier in the day also takes the pressure off of you for the rest of the evening; you won’t be spending the night cruising around like a shark looking for easy prey. Instead you can spend your evening on camaraderie and having fun with your friends.
Which is, after all, the best reason to go to a bar.