Look around any bar in this city, and you’ll see it: two people, likely strangers, assessing each other’s romantic and sexual prospects. Maybe they retain a safe distance, knees locked beneath the well-trodden stools of the given noisy watering hole. Maybe, given the right chemistry, they inch closer. They probably met on an app. There to see it all are the oft-ignored bartenders, granted (if not willingly) a front-row seat to anxious first meetings, quickly escalating sexual tension, and the ever-present potential of awkward end-of-night encounters. To make some sense of the calculated, metricized, and downright addictive state of the Tinder date, we spoke to a host of the city’s bartenders. From Greenwich Village to Park Slope, their wise eyes have grown to quickly recognize the telltale signs of a good, or categorically bad, Tinder date. Many of them seem to agree that, chemistry aside, there is a palpable change in the dating scene — one that is alternatively sterile, less drunk, and, above all, a free-for-all. Binge dating, more than anything, they report, has been enabled by the endless faces provided by the app. “There’s no loyalty,” one bartender in Alphabet City told us. “There are no real love stories happening in front of me.” Herewith, the official dispatches from the front lines of New York’s frenetic digital dating scene, told by the people who provide the liquid courage.
DANE RISCH, King Tai, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Tinder is the machinery that keeps bar culture going. On weekends, you see people paired up, and you know they didn’t all meet at work. It seems like 8 out of 10 couples at the bar, at any given time, are on a Tinder date. It was sloppier before this Tinder paradigm shift. It was drunker. Some people had to be so drunk to talk to anyone. Now, there’s no element of cross pollination. No element of chance. Generally, a room full of people on Tinder dates is very boring. We’ve been here for 4 years, and we’ve watched it grow to become the main thing that happens in a bar.
BAYLEY BLAISDELL, Happy Fun Hideaway, Bushwick, Brooklyn
There are a lot of men being domineering to women, and I’m rude to them. But, sometimes it’s heartwarming. I watched one guy on a horrible Tinder date, but then he met someone else outside while smoking a cigarette. They ended up coming back to get more drinks, talking, drinking, going to the bathroom and having sex, which was obvious because they’d come back disheveled — one of her boobs was sticking out of her dress. She lost her phone in the bathroom at one point, and he came up to me saying “I love this woman.”
JAKE GARCIA, Drop Off Service, Alphabet City
It’s all about body language — you can tell if it’s going well when they’re facing each other, shoulders square on, perpendicular. If someone is leaning into the bar, elbows up, it’s not going well. There’s also lots of phone use. When it’s going really well, they start getting touchy, hands on the legs. If the girl crosses her legs toward the guy, they’ll probably end up going home together. Girls that flip their hair like crazy — that means they’re interested.
JESSE LARON, Congress Bar, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
One thing we see is the serial Tinder dater, someone who must live nearby. We’re always unsure if we should greet them in a familiar way, bring them their regular drink, or pretend like they aren’t here all the time for the sake of the date. Sometimes, I wonder how these people have time for their friends.
JOHNNY HAYES, Maiden Lane, Alphabet City
In the course of the night, we usually have about seven or eight dates come through. That chap over there [gestures toward a couple in the corner] — that guy always comes back. The girl is always different. He always sits at the same seat. I get anxiety watching it. Sometimes when a girl tells me she’s going on a date, I’ll have her take a shot with me. I’m like, “I’m not a part of this thing!”
As the night goes on, you can see everything in here. It’s like a goldfish bowl. Jesus, it’s cringey! Sometimes, a guy will go to the restroom and a girl will hand me her number, and you know there’s something peculiar going on. There’s no loyalty. Sometimes they’ll ask for my feedback — like, “oh, yeah, that line you used was good, do that again!” There are no real love stories happening in front of me.
GRACE BERGEN, The Spotted Owl, Alphabet City
There’s a woman in her forties who comes in for like 30 Tinder dates a week. She’s been divorced twice, so she’s over it. One night she had four different guys come in. They’d buy her drinks, she’d pretend she’s going home, and then come back with another guy.
BRENDAN BYRNES, The Commissioner, Park Slope, Brooklyn
You can always tell when it’s a Tinder date. Something about the way people are sizing each other up. Seventy-five percent of people will order a drink right away and they’ll get it down fast and order another before the date arrives. I’ve seen a woman on a date with a man who starts chatting with another guy at the bar and ditches the date. I’ve seen guys in here twice a week with a different woman each time. I’ll go up to the guy, asking if he wants another Fat Tire, and she will be like, “This guy really knows you.”
ADAM MINEGAR, Diamond Reef, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
There’s a certain posture people have when they’re on a Tinder date. They come in looking at each person, sitting and waiting, looking at their phone and at the door. I try to spot awkward pauses, and a trick for that is to put a menu in their hand right when you see it get weird. It can feel like babysitting. Whenever people are making out, it’s always a Tinder date. You can tell it’s the first time they’ve met.
LAINE PELKA, Owl Farm, South Slope, Brooklyn
We have one regular weirdo who we don’t like. We call him Casanova. He comes in before the date, always, and buys one $5 beer. Then he goes behind this one wall to sit in a partitioned off spot, even if the bar is empty. He’ll sip this one beer the whole night, even if the girl wants another. It always seems like they go home with him. Sometimes, he’ll come in on a Friday with one girl, and Saturday with another. It’s the creepiest thing to me. He will walk up with them when they want a drink, and then he’ll say, “Oh, I forgot my wallet.” Or “Oh it’s all the way over there behind that wall.” He never buys anyone a drink, and he never drinks anything interesting. I’ve seen him on probably 30 dates over the year, and he doesn’t want to know us. It’s like the anonymity is helpful for him.
STEVEN COLON, Bar Freud, Greenwich Village
There are two types of people: one who gets a drink, slams it and then orders another, and another one who gets a table, sips the drink slow, tries to be mannered.
The worst I ever saw was this dude who came in and ordered an Old Fashioned and waited. The girl was about 20 minutes late. They started talking, and when I came back to them a while later, they were arguing. They didn’t even acknowledge me. She gets up, intentionally knocks over her water, and walks out. The whole bar is watching as she storms out. He halfway pursues her, but then stops and puts his hands on his hips and turned to us, “Can I get another shot?”
SEBASTIAN ENRIQUE JARAMILLO YOUTS, Big Bar, East Village
I think there’s a generational gap. I see a lot of people in their 30s using apps, but I see a lot of people in their early 20s actually engaging with each other. There’s a bad luck table here. I won’t tell you which one it is, but all the bad dates happen there. There’s this one regular here who makes maps of the bar with his Tinder dates, like a little bonding exercise. But he does it with every one of them, drawing the bar and trying to figure out who else is on a Tinder date.
At another bar I worked at, I had a regular who started going on a lot of Tinder dates, getting real random with it. One night, she’s out on the back patio of the bar with her date, and they’re the only ones out there. I go out there to do something, and his head is between her legs. If the situation was reversed, I would’ve kicked him out, but I just walked away.