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22 May 2008, 8:07 pm 22 Comments

Sex: Getting Picked Up at a Bar: A Beginner’s Guide.


I am not a passive person. I think 90% of the world is waiting around for good things to come to them, and doesn’t realize the gains of proactivity. If I saw a cute guy at a bar, I would talk to him. If I didn’t have the balls for that, I would put him in my “oh well” folder and move on. But Michael’s Cheetahs and Gazelles post, which divided the world into those who choose their sexual partners, and those who are chosen, got me thinking. What if I didn’t make the first move?

When I was in New York this past weekend, I went out to East Village gay bar The Phoenix by myself to see how the other half lived. I was armed only with a “flirt away” text from my boyfriend (with an implicit PS of “don’t actually do anything”) and a set of self-imposed rules: No eye contact. No smiles. Most importantly, no speaking to anyone who hadn’t spoken to me first.

So I took a spot against the bar and waited. Here’s what happened:

1:10 am: Having ordered my first beer, I’m standing with my back to the bar and encountering some unfamiliar challenges. How does one appear approachable without looking desperate? Confident, but not aloof? My self-imposed eye contact ban causes me to enact my least favorite gay behavior, which is to quickly look away when someone catches me looking at them. It’s an awkward feeling and I try to counteract it by looking as nonchalant as possible. This, of course, just makes me self-conscious and results in discomfort.

1:25 am: My first bite! A short, snaggly toothed man with an unkempt houseplant of curly hair approaches me. If memory serves, he is also wearing a hawaiian shirt. Small talk ensues. He is perfectly nice, but clearly drunker than I am. After a minute or two I excuse myself to the bathroom. It occurs to me to me while peeing that he looked like someone famous. Dudley Moore comes closest, but is not quite right.

1:50 am: I break my own rule by asking the bartender about his tattoos, and in shame I retreat to the jukebox. I end up putting 13 songs on because it is so damn good. Deerhoof. Hot Chip. LCD Soundsystem. I have never seen these artists anywhere near a gay bar before, and probably won’t as long as I stay in D.C. My curly-haired buddy from ten minutes ago rejoins me to say that a group of strangers just called him Phil Spector, and I get relieved. He totally looks like Phil Spector. He walks away, and I move four feet to my left and lean against the “Space Invaders” arcade game.

2:15 am: A cute guy has been standing next to me at the Space Invaders for close to ten minutes, but my rules forbid me from saying anything to him. Or looking at him. I had to glean his appearance through a painful series of glances out of the corner of my eye. Finally, he turns to me and says “We have been standing next to each other for way to long. I’m Keith.” It turns out Keith lives nearby and is also at the bar alone. My excitement at being spoken to is interrupted when Keith is recognized by a casual friend, and pulled into an already existing nucleus of fags.

2:19 am: A man saunters over to me and asks “Excuse me, are you normal?” He looks like Ted from Queer as Folk, and explains to me that everyone else at the bar seems pretty crazy so he is now trying his luck with me. I silently curse Keith for leaving me alone, and discover another complication of passivity: It is really easy to end conversations that you have started, but hard to end conversations that someone else has started for you. Ted goes on to tell me that he is there with another friend who is also unable to find sane men. He also points out that his friend has really thick eyebrows, which is true. They look like wolfen index fingers. I again excuse myself to the bathroom.

2:24: I try to reclaim my spot at the Space Invaders, but Ted is still there. He gives me a dirty look for walking by him without saying anything, so I take a new perch by the stairs. Conveniently, this new perch faces the hot, tattooed bartender. I lose myself for a couple minutes, until:

2:30: Success! A guy next to me, after a couple minutes of silence, asks me what my name is. He is dorky-cute (the best kind of cute,) and about 5’6”, with sneakers, a nylon windbreaker and big glasses. And he’s awesome. I have the same name as his brother, which prompts him to call his straight-and-married bro a “total faggot.” We talk for an hour, bolstered by the fact that we randomly have a couple friends in common. He always suspected one of those friends was gay, and I was able to confirm this… personally. We had a lot to talk about. Finally, the bar closes and we walk out together. I give him a big hug on the street, (feeling guilty for not mentioning my boyfriend) and take a cab home, alone.

Final Thoughts: One reason I am uncomfortable with being picked up is the lack of control that it implies. I usually think that being approached leads to me not actually choosing the people that I sleep with, and having it left up to circumstance. It was nice to learn that one can take the inactive role and still be approached by cute, interesting people who are presumably interested in sex. And if those people look like Phil Spector? Just be polite and walk away.


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22 Comments »

  • Sam said:

    I came to terms with the fact that I will rarely, if ever, be approached at a bar. I have been informed by friends that this is because I am “intimidating,” which I think is moderately hilarious.

    As for ending a conversation, I have yet to figure out a good way to do so and still feel like a decent human being. If I were in your shoes, I probably would have been stuck fending off Phil Spector until closing time for lack of a way to gracefully exit the encounter.

    Funny, I think that may be how I ended up in my last relationship…

  • Parker said:

    i think you should not have had the eye contact rule. eye contact and a polite smile and nod does not mean “fuck me.” i love the phoenix (and also the “mixed” place down the street called heathers) so will gladly go up there with you sometime to try again.

  • Inspired2b said:

    Zack, very interesting article and brings to mind this thought that has been in my head for a very long time. Fear drives most people to not interact. What will the person say? Will I seem totally lame? Will he blow me off? (no pun intended)

    I find that if you have a reason, most people need reason, to make that conversation happen. Like the example in your story about a tattoo the bartender had, or the guy who could say, “You know, we have been standing next to each other…” Without a purpose – you have nothing.

    Just last night, I found myself at TNG mixer (awesome btw), desiring to introduce myself to a couple of guys but didn’t because well, I didn’t have that reason – other than hey your cute! – and I want to get to know you. Yes, you can probably say I am lame with no game, but I find that having a forward personality to be able to just initiate conversation helps a lot.

    At the end of the day, it is about being able to truly be confident and creative enough to have something of substance to chat about once you say, hi.

  • Josh said:

    One Saturday night about a year ago, the Phoenix was the site of the official Lamest Opening Line ever used on me:
    I was wearing a white ringer t-shirt with navy blue bands around the sleeves. I think every guy in America has a shirt something like this. This kinda creepy guy walks up to me and says, “hey, I have a shirt just like that!….(I don’t say anything, because all I can think of is “oh”) and then he says, “it’s a good look!”
    And you know, as lame as it was, if he were cute it would have worked. Hey, I have no pride.

  • Dave said:

    How to end a conversation you didn’t start:
    Say “well, it was nice talking to you, I’m going to go walk around a little.” And then do it.
    Kind of awkward, but the alternative is spending the entire night with someone you’re not at all interested in… which isn’t really doing them any favors either.

  • dBen said:

    Whether cheetah or gazelle you’ll get nowhere fast unless you’re alone…and not an asshole. That’s the big secret hiding in plain sight.

    1) Guys coagulating in groups are quickly regarded and passed over. Who wants to approach 3-7 guys in a drunken co-dependent (yes…you are) huddle?

    2) A guy who appears approachable and nice will get traction. A guy affecting contempt and/or boredom will be forgotten amidst the sea of similarly posed and contorted fags.

    Given most (if not all) Gays in DC feign anger and ennui simultaneously you will need a great deal of stamina.

  • Hans Nelson said:

    I would like to appear approachable, but I’m not sure how given that when I’m alone in a bar I’m usually terrified, trying to force myself to sip my drink instead of chug and flee, thinking those people in groups who keep looking at me must be talking about how ugly/poorly dressed/pathetic I look. Advice?

  • Marc said:

    This brings up an interesting idea I’m surprised people don’t talk about more: if you go out with a bunch of friends, you’re not going to meet anyone. That hot guy in the corner is not going to approach a pack of strangers, it’s just too intimidating. Guys, if you always go out with a group of friends, and then you complain about never meeting anyone, do the math!

  • adam isn't here said:

    god i played a wicked game of ms pacman at the phoenix once. seriously, like top 5 ms pacman games ever. and that jukebox is awesome. and i’ve been hit on lots everytime i’ve been there. so, yeah, the phoenix.

  • adam isn't here said:

    god i played a wicked game of ms pacman at the phoenix once. seriously, like top 5 ms pacman games ever. and that jukebox is awesome. and i’ve been hit on lots everytime i’ve been there. so, yeah, the phoenix.

  • adam isn't here said:

    god i played a wicked game of ms pacman at the phoenix once. seriously, like top 5 ms pacman games ever. and that jukebox is awesome. and i’ve been hit on lots everytime i’ve been there. so, yeah, the phoenix.

  • adam isn't here said:

    god i played a wicked game of ms pacman at the phoenix once. seriously, like top 5 ms pacman games ever. and that jukebox is awesome. and i’ve been hit on lots everytime i’ve been there. so, yeah, the phoenix.

  • adam isn't here said:

    god i played a wicked game of ms pacman at the phoenix once. seriously, like top 5 ms pacman games ever. and that jukebox is awesome. and i’ve been hit on lots everytime i’ve been there. so, yeah, the phoenix.

  • adam isn't here said:

    god i played a wicked game of ms pacman at the phoenix once. seriously, like top 5 ms pacman games ever. and that jukebox is awesome. and i’ve been hit on lots everytime i’ve been there. so, yeah, the phoenix.

  • adam isn't here said:

    oh, and it took me a while to piece it together (mostly because of disbelieve that anyone could make such an error) but the phoenix doesn’t have a space invaders game. that’s galaga zack. galaga.

  • adam isn't here said:

    oh, and it took me a while to piece it together (mostly because of disbelieve that anyone could make such an error) but the phoenix doesn’t have a space invaders game. that’s galaga zack. galaga.

  • adam isn't here said:

    oh, and it took me a while to piece it together (mostly because of disbelieve that anyone could make such an error) but the phoenix doesn’t have a space invaders game. that’s galaga zack. galaga.

  • adam isn't here said:

    oh, and it took me a while to piece it together (mostly because of disbelieve that anyone could make such an error) but the phoenix doesn’t have a space invaders game. that’s galaga zack. galaga.

  • adam isn't here said:

    oh, and it took me a while to piece it together (mostly because of disbelieve that anyone could make such an error) but the phoenix doesn’t have a space invaders game. that’s galaga zack. galaga.

  • adam isn't here said:

    oh, and it took me a while to piece it together (mostly because of disbelieve that anyone could make such an error) but the phoenix doesn’t have a space invaders game. that’s galaga zack. galaga.

  • Kirk said:

    God, it took you more than an hour to be approached by someone you like?

    I don’t have the patience to wait for an approach.

    However, I disagree a bit with the idea that friends at the bar are a hindrance. Going the bar with a few friends helps keep you comfortable, and allows people to see how approachable you can be.

    Plus, having a wingman is always helpful.

    The problem comes when your friends won’t leave your side. If they are attached to your hip, your game will go nowhere.

  • suzanne said:

    So lovely to hear you have problems with the ‘right’ way to go about pick ups too – do you go with friends or not, can you approach someone (what do you say?!)

    Anyway – good luck, and remember, he who dares… gets laid (or finds that special someone) :) x

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