A facile reading of the Dallas bar scene might draw upon the primeval hunt as an appropriate metaphor. After all, the urge to pursue and capture is evident throughout American culture, from literature to cartoons to homeland security. Be the prey road runner, white whale, red baron or sloshed babe, the chase winds on--ever changing and never ending.
Yet the pickup bar milieu does not conform readily to comparisons of hunter and hunted. Establishments on this year's list range from intimate to massive, relaxing to ear splitting, homely to upscale. Few were created with the meat market tableau in mind. Indeed, explains Shawn Egerton of Candle Room, "it just happens naturally." Most draw a diverse clientele for whom the bar serves as an innocent space in which to gather: Dragonfly is a trendy restaurant, say, while Mick's occupies a narrow and unpretentious space, the very image of a dour neighborhood bar.
So we approached the one person most fluent in myriad impulses that shape a social arena: Matthew, poet laureate of Dallas nightlife and bartender at The Dralion. As an added bonus, he continues to work while musing on a topic, so Burning Question crew research excursions quickly devolve into drunken forays marked by regrettable incidents--make that "alleged incidents"--that, were it not for the groundbreaking work of Geraldo and Fox News, would test the limits of journalistic integrity.
That reminds us: After two weeks of research into this week's Burning Question, our third annual "where are the best places to go if you're looking to get laid?" column, we need a little help with our standard book of excuses ("How else can we determine if they're real?" "We're only doing this for the story," "Our editor will pay for the damage," etc.). For some reason, polling more than 400 people as to their pickup preferences, visiting each establishment and consuming enough vodka to make comrade Yeltsin sit up and shout, "O bozhe moi!" creates...um...consequences. In fact, we should take a moment and apologize to the doormen assisting our exits from various bars. Our "inverse proportion" remarks were downright insensitive.
Anyway, Matthew insists an establishment's popularity depends on potential--not necessarily for one-nighters, but rather the opportunity to interact with members of the opposite sex. Sordid closing-time encounters represent just a small part of the entire nightlife mosaic.
"You look to connect," agrees Adam Salazar, bartender at Nikita, Seven, Reservoir and Sneaky Pete's, "and then see what happens next."
By the way, if Matthew is the poet laureate, Salazar could very well be labeled the catalyst for all illicit sexual behavior in Dallas. Each of his employers appear on this year's list, and he routinely witnesses obscene public displays. Yet he, too, refers to most bars as "precursors," where people flirt, exchange phone numbers and only occasionally whip out the loaded love bazooka.
Sorry, we've been flipping through our editor's stash of Penthouse magazines.
What happens next? Well, at upscale clubs such as Sense, Candle Room, Dragonfly and Nikita, just about anything.
"Typically the success of a night can be judged by the number of cars left overnight at the valet," Egerton reports. Sense draws a diverse and well-dressed group. Candle Room pulls in a young and hip crowd. Dragonfly segregates the bar scene between a poolside area and a more staid indoor bar. Well, perhaps "staid" isn't quite the word: On two separate visits women invaded our personal space in quite an alarming manner. Farther west, the pretty people wander into Cool River in Las Colinas for bands, drink specials and...let's just say bartenders also see cars abandoned in the parking lot long after closing time.
On Tuesday, bar-hoppers end up at The Quarter. "I think people like this place because it's relatively dark," explains bartender Bill Foster. "We've caught people fucking, especially in that back room." He credits a drink special at Primo's for the midweek crowd. "Primo's is packed, so they all spill over here."
Ah, yes. Primo's. It's young casual, and popular on any night. Wednesday, however, is still a good night to visit The Reservoir in far North Dallas. On one visit there we fell into a lengthy conversation with several women, the gist of which rarely strayed from sex toys or pornographic films. Thursdays belong to Mick's on Greenville. "A lot of it is the type of music we play," says bartender Geoff Giordano. "We also promote topless dancers, and when hot girls come, guys stay."
Actually, we think he's got that backward.
The Loon, The Beagle, Duke's, Sherlock's and Memphis are worth a visit any weekend. Hell, Duke's draws a Monday-night crowd as well. And on a Wednesday-night drive-by, we saw inebriates loitering on the patio long after midnight. "Closing time is a mess," admits Mike Constantine, bartender at the Addison roadhouse. Management at Duke's consider food an important component of their bar scene. Over at The Loon, menu items also contribute to the pickup process. "It keeps people here and slows the rate of consumption," says Noe, a bartender at the dim spot across from the lights of West Village. The Beagle, on the other hand, is all about consumption. "It's a late-night crowd," bartender Brittany Romero points out. "People have been drinking at other places, and they come here and keep drinking."
Still, the numbing effect of alcohol does little to guarantee success, whether amorous or otherwise. Two people we met at the Lower Greenville hotspot one evening hinted at the incongruity, proposed by Matthew, between the bar as a meat market and the bar as a community. A woman slightly beyond the typical Lower Greenville demographic derided men as "pussies" for refusing the opportunity to "just dance." Meanwhile, a young man named Brandon bemoaned the acquisitive nature of Dallas women.
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"Unless you're 30 and have $100,000 in your bank account, you can't get game," he says.
Both, however, continued to circulate, playing out the endless chase, whether for companionship or for a quick encounter. The hunt, the dance, the nervous conversation: It continues night after night, at up-and-coming bars such as Suede; at traditional favorites such as Green Room, Whisky Bar and Carson's; at Sunday-afternoon hangouts, among them Sneaky Pete's. And when all else fails, at the boisterous after-hours club Seven.
"The illusion of hope and fantasy," Matthew reiterates, "is what keeps them going to bars or not going to bars."
Meanwhile, we'll keep going to the ones that still allow us to enter.