When we began researching this week's topic, a female acquaintance dismissed the mystery of women cavorting over a table of appetizers. "It's just like a guy's night out," she said.
But men rarely gather in a large group to sip house Chardonnay, admire each other's footwear and snap countless shots of playful hugs--all while ignoring the flat screen. Outside of Christie's or other sports bars, few establishments readily welcome a pack of guys, anyway. Bouncers at Candle Room would bark, "We're full," then wave in a bachelorette party. Besides, when guys need to escape things at home, they simply grab a wingman and head out to test their luck.
Girls' night out is an entirely different institution serving sometimes contradictory purposes. Groups of women meet to catch up and complain, of course. As Linda, whom we encountered one happy hour at Old Monk, points out, the goal on some occasions is "to get rid of her cramps--oh, I mean the guy at home." This particular aspect of girls' night feeds a unique double standard. "For married girls, it's very necessary," says Leann, also killing brain cells at Old Monk. "They need to get away from husbands and look at cute guys they're not going home with." We suspect, however, should their husbands head out to flirt with high-maintenance babes at Medici, well, the guys would face serious couch time when they stumbled home.
Aside from the obvious, girls' night out also pulls together friends for support against the dangerous gusts of nightlife. "We like to go somewhere where there's music and we won't get hit on," says Dallas resident Sharon Adams. Bachelorette parties are particularly notorious for shunning the advances of men, although they welcome free drinks. One man recently shelled out several hundred bucks on shots for a bride and her friends at Dragonfly's poolside bar only to be abandoned when the tour left for their next stop. So despite Adams' assurances, many girls' night groups teeter between the exclusion of men and the admission that they are a focal point of the evening's activities. For instance, Celeste Langley, from somewhere in the mid-cities void, describes a typical event as "sharing stories over dinner" and "checking out the waiter's butt." The ever-evil Jennifer Moody (an old friend of the Burning Question crew, in that we've destroyed a number of her dates by warning off the guy), says "Perfection, for me, is a happening spot where there is good 'scenery.'"
Or, to put it more bluntly, we'll just transcribe the following, drawn from a group of women clustered at Cuba Libre one evening:
"We're not looking for sex."
"That's from the married one."
Yep, there's an untidy side to girls' night out, fueled by peer pressure and alcohol. "I think women get a little crazier when they run in packs," observes William Chappell, bar manager at Old Republic. "They want to outdo each other." Not only that, adds Shannon Branch of Dragonfly, they attract male attention and often reciprocate.
"They're always looking for something," he explains. "Not necessarily a guy to hook up with but a guy to buy them a drink."
The very venues suitable for a coven of female friends--comfortable but also offering high visibility--provide little sanctuary. "It's more about getting dressed up and showing off those nice shoes," says Matthew, poet laureate of Dallas nightlife. "Girls' night out occurs at the most chick-friendly places. And guys want to be where the girls are." We caught up with Matthew at Obar, a place with cool lounge seating and a good DJ lineup. It's both chick-friendly and a popular pickup joint.
Which brings up another, perhaps more burning, question: Is it possible for men to infiltrate a large group of women?
There are a couple schools of thought. "Those girls will eat you alive," Branch warns. "They'll pretend to like you so you buy their drinks." One of the women slugging house Chardonnay at Cuba Libre agrees. "Girls are scary in numbers," she says, noting that a table of men prefers to send out a scout, someone expendable, to test interest. "They'll send over a token guy--poor, poor bastard." Most guys attempt to lure one or two women from the pack, breaking up the herd. "When I become separated, that's when I get hit on," explains another of the Cuba Libre party. But a few stalwart opportunists see advantages in approaching a girls' night crew. Rather than selecting a victim at the bar and risking failure, these adventurous types calmly wade into the turmoil of a large party and start up a general conversation. It's a tactic similar to, say, lobbyists providing "fact-finding" tours of Bermuda to congressmen from both parties, a way of hedging one's bet.
Or, as Dan Freitas, bartender at Thomas Avenue Beverage Company puts it: "Throw the chum out, see if the catfish are biting."
No wonder women need to get away from us once in a while.
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