“You ever poach someone’s date?” I placed an Old Tom Gin & Tonic down in front Keith and waited for his answer. A huge grin broke out over his face.
“Yeah! This couple came in and sat at the bar, you could tell it was a first date. Her body language was totally closed off, leaning away, arms crossed. I chatted them up a bit, just to make sure everything was cool. He got up and went to the bathroom and I was like, ‘Hey, you know you can leave if you want. You don’t have to stay if you’re not into him.’ She said she was fine and we kept chatting, somehow discovered that we had a mutual friend in a Broadway show. The dude came back from the bathroom and his date and I were having a great time. Eventually, he paid their tab and he left. She stayed and then we went out a few more times after that!” He raised his drink at me and winked.
I imagine Keith’s story could be sound reasoning for why some people would rather not sit at a bar while on a date: a server goes away, but the bartender could wind up being competition. Years ago, I went on a first date with a model who had asked me out at an event. I didn’t know if I was into him, but I also didn’t know if I’d ever be asked out by a model again in this lifetime and it seemed like a nice ego boost. I met him at a bar in Greenwich Village. He was already swigging vodka on the rocks when I arrived—I ordered a glass of Gewürztraminer. Within the first ten minutes, the bartender recognized me from my job at another bar and we began chatting nonstop. While my date and I had decent conversation, his copious vodka swilling and frequent trips to the bathroom (followed by noticeable energy boosts) had me a tad on edge. I remember more about my interaction with that bartender than I do with the model, whose name I actually can’t remember for the life of me. It didn’t end up in romance, but I was grateful someone had my back from behind the stick.
I initially started wondering about the success rates of date poaching after hearing rumors about how my friend Sam met his lady while bartending at a cozy craft beer and wine bar. From what everyone had led me to believe, Sam had hijacked a date. So I was more than a little surprised when I point blank asked him how he stole the girl and he replied:
“I didn’t. Because I’m a big dummy.”
“Sorry, what?” I had been picturing him swooping in, charming and bearded, and stealing the show with his beer knowledge or pouring it on thick with a hop-related pun or two.
“She was on a date at my bar eight years ago, I loved her voice. I still do. I’m obsessed with it. But I didn’t know it was a date, I thought they were married. There was flirting but you know, all us barfolk are kind of flirty so I didn’t think anything of it,” he recounted. “Looking back I guess I like to think I would’ve made a move if I’d realized, but I’m a big dummy.”
“So did you ask her out after that?”
“She hit me up on Facebook and asked me to lunch. I thought it was a big industry thing—she worked at a restaurant at the time—but when I showed up she was alone. I guess I could’ve figured it out then but, I asked her where everyone else was. And she looked at me with a face that I’ve come to know and love, a face that said, ‘You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me.’ We started dating after that; she would bring me dinner from her restaurant when I was closing the bar. We had that conversation couples have about how we were ‘just having fun.’ Seven years later there's a ring and a dog.”
“Do you ever see her date from that night?”
“We actually run into him and his wife occasionally! He’s nice guy, I think they still live in our neighborhood.”
Thinking about Sam’s fiancée making the first move reminded me of another love story spawned in a dark bar: I had performed in a few shows directed by Lola over the years; her motto of “If you can do anything, you can do it in heels” frequently flits into my brain when I attempt to look coordinated dancing or, hell, just walking in a pair of stilettos. I’d heard bits and pieces of how Lola and Johnny had come to be an item, and I knew there was more to it than her flipping her long black hair and batting her eyelashes at the man.
“I was on a date with a guy at a bar in the East Village, I think it was a second date. During the date, my friend walked in with a big group. He had been telling me about his friend Johnny for a while, he said we had a lot in common. I wasn’t interested because he said his friend was thirty and at the time I was twenty-four and thirty seemed ancient to me!” She started to laugh, “But when Johnny walked into the bar with his swagger, my eyes almost dropped out of my head. He was rugged, charming, he was drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. I introduced myself to him and then told him I’d be right back.”
“Wait, what did you do with your date?” Not that the poor schmuck ever stood half a chance with Johnny around; not only is the man rugged and handsome, he also plays rugged and handsome on TV from time to time. I could understand the appeal.
“I faked not feeling well and told my date I needed to go home. We left the bar together and he put me in a taxi. I told the driver to go around the block and bring me back to Anatomy. I walked back into the bar and Johnny goes, ‘Were you just on a date?’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s over now.’ And the rest is history. That was twelve years ago, now we’re married with a baby! I’m sure if he told you his side of the story it would mention my mini skirt…or maybe how we made out on the pool table.”
Not that I was fact checking, but more than one of my friends happened to be in that “big group” that night. They all corroborate the pool table hanky panky. Apparently it was more memorable than the mini skirt.
When I first started asking my friends about their bar related dating tales, I expected the tawdry coworker hookups and secret flings with the regulars. People + booze = making out on a pool table. What I hadn’t factored in, though, was that somehow in all this crazy, people fall in love, which is wonderful—even if it is, at times, at the expense of a former date.