Living happily in New York City takes a certain degree of magical thinking and willful obliviousness to our fellow citizens. For a good portion of the day, we're mere feet, if not inches, away from from friends, colleagues and strangers alike, and do our best to maintain our composure. Someone's crotch or armpit in our face on the subway? Par for the course. Neighbors breaking (and making) up on the other side of the drywall? Crank up the Spotify. Open-plan deskmate sobbing? Time for a coffee run.
So, yes, New Yorkers drink. Eat, too—and for many of us, more often out in bars and restaurants than in our tiny kitchens. It's perhaps understandable (if not especially kind) that some people may, from time to time, forget that the person bussing their plates or stirring their Negroni is, ya know, a person. One who can hear every last word, has seen every last possible outcome of a date and probably knows better than you how your night is going to end.
New York servers and bartenders are pros, and a big part of the gig is hiding in plain sight, keeping customers fed and libated without comment. But, ohhhhh, do they have stories of customers who forget they're not actually swigging and macking in the comfort of their own living rooms.
They'll never tell you, but they're spilling to us. In this, our very first edition of Somebody's Watching You, two Tribeca bartenders share their thoughts on the state of dating from the other end of the shaker.
Qualifications: nine years in the industry (three behind the bar), currently head bartender at Bâtard
How much couple conversation do you hear, and how much do you pay attention?
Herold: Strangely, I've gotten pretty good at drowning people out even when they're having a conversation in front of me. Where some people might enjoy being a fly on the wall, I find it really awkward and often tedious to listen to people's personal conversations. One of the bars I work at is really small, so a lot of times it's difficult to avoid listening, especially when people are arguing. Side note: Don't argue at the bar. It's awkward for anyone within earshot.
Valetutti: Far more often than people would like to know! It depends how busy the bar is, but if things are slow there's a 90 percent chance I'm listening.
Can you tell how long a couple has been together by the way they interact?
Herold: I can't really tell how long couples have been together, although it's usually a lot more clear about how much they enjoy being together.
Valetutti: Absolutely! I can tell a lot by their body language. Also the subject of their conversation is telltale. The longer they've been together, the juicier their conversation might be. It could also be terribly boring, like talking about how much their kid ate at dinner before they left the house. It could go either way.
What's the most common first date screwup?
Herold: Too much talking, not enough listening, not taking an active interest in the other person. Also, put the phone away. Nothing says, "I'm not interested in listening to you" more than constantly checking your phone.
Valetutti: Getting too drunk! No one likes a sloppy date. Know your limit. And don't divulge too much information on the first date. It makes us all feel weird. I don't even like you, and I'm tired of hearing about how cute your dog is, and what he ate today, and where he pooped, followed by the endless photos of him on your Instagram feed. I'm bored and the phone is upside down. I love dogs, but seriously, put your phone down.
Do you ever get the urge to weigh in?
Herold: Not often, but sometimes. I try to only weigh in when I see something positive. For example, there was a couple [that was] very open about telling me it was a first date, and often included me in their conversation, so I felt comfortable telling them what I thought. They were so cute, and their interactions were so easy, I told them, and this is the truth: "I don't say this often, but I have a feeling you two are gonna make it!"
A year later, they were engaged, and made a special trip to the bar to tell me. It was one of the few first dates I saw happening and really thought that. So maybe my instincts are all right!
Valetutti: There used to be a gentleman who lived above where I worked. He would bring all his dates (which were many) to eat at the bar. He liked to show off and order nice wine, and I always played the game. When he would go to the restroom, I'd ask the ladies questions about how the date was going as if I had never met the guy. As soon as the lady would leave for the bathroom, he would ask my opinion. Often my honest opinion was "ditz," and I tried my best to convey that nicely. I would have a good laugh on Saturday mornings while working brunch—the windows faced his building door—waiting to see if his Friday-night date made the cut.
Often when couples fight at the bar, it's uncomfortable, because my space is so small and I can't escape! Recently there was a lady berating her boyfriend about getting engaged. She was all wound up, going on and on, and at one point, it sounded like she was breaking up with him. He was so angry and frustrated with her that he said, "Do you want to go to Zales right now and pick the f*ing ring out?!" Not a good way to start a marriage. Y'all should probably talk about this again, maybe minus alcohol.
Can you spot a cheater?
Herold: Oh, yes. The affairs. First off, people who are having (or about to have) an affair just exude sexual energy and frustration. It's palpable. But the main giveaway is if they can't keep their hands off each other during lunch. People in relationships don't tend to make out at the bar at noon, but "couples" who are trying to sneak in time during a work day? You'll see more stuff than you ever wanted to see before sundown.
Valetutti: Well, if they're silly enough to come with their wife and then come back with another woman, that makes things interesting. Not saying it hasn't happened.
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