sex & gender

The new dating app disrupter? The pub

Having written a book about the demise of dating at the hands of tech, I would never have dreamt that I would see the comeback of the singles bar. They had their heyday in the 1970s as a backdrop to the sexual revolution, wooing a female clientele with piña coladas, Bahama Mamas and wine spritzers. It wasn’t the internet, or even dreadful pick-up lines, that led to their decline; they became plagued by a seedy reputation with the rise of cocaine use in the 1980s, before being felled by the fear of Aids. (Gay bars continue to serve an important function in the LGBTQ community, although many have sadly closed in the past decade.)

Today, most singles-mingling isn’t seedy so much as cringe-making. The most excruciating event I’ve attended (and there is stiff competition for that title) was silent speed-dating, which advertised eye-gazing as a fast track to intimacy. I can’t say which was more awkward, the staring contest with strangers or the icebreakers(parlour games such as musical chairs), but when our evening’s MC shouted,“Cross the room if you’re wearing your favourite knickers!” I should have beat a hasty retreat.

But it seems the singles bar is back: from Brixton to Brooklyn, twenty- and thirtysomethings are lining up around the block to attend weekly singles’ events at cocktail bars. The meet-ups are aimed at people who are sick of fruitless scrolls through dating apps and online conversations that go nowhere; but, perhaps inevitably, they’re organised via a dating app, Thursday, which promotes in-person encounters. After making the “match, chat and meet” on the app more efficient by limiting user access to one day a week, it launched in-real-life events in a handful of UK cities and New York; the company plans to expand into 20 US cities soon.

Thursday’s pitch is old-school: “Just a bar. Like any other bar,” reads one invite to a drinks party in Notting Hill. What’s remarkable about its popularity (the app had nearly 86,000 downloads last month) is that the bars had been there all along; all that singles were missing was the courage to converse…

Read the full column online at the Financial Times

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