Remember bars? Remember the crowds? Remember the endless struggle to get a drink? Remember stupid pickup lines? Remember stupid hands that accidentally grabbed things they weren’t supposed to? Yeah, those were the good old days before dating apps when people actually had to put pants on and leave their apartments to find someone to hook up with. Do you know what was even worse? The even older days when “nice” women—that is, women who weren’t sex workers—weren’t allowed into bars at all.
Over at Inside Hook, Aaron Goldfarb has an entertaining history of the birth of the singles bar. It happened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan back in the mid-1960s, and it was the inspiration of a perfume salesman named Alan Stillman who decided to buy a First Avenue dive bar and transform it into a nice place where a lady could get a drink—which in his interpretation meant Tiffany glass lamps, baby-blue walls, a candy-striped awning, sugary drinks, real food, and potted ferns. Lots and lots of ferns. He called it T.G.I. Friday’s. And yes, that is the same TGI Fridays that today is the source of family-friendly fried combo meals (but still lots of sugary drinks). But back in 1965, Stillman’s genius was that if he made a bar where ladies would feel comfortable, the gents would bravely dodge the ferns in order to meet them (read: get laid).
And that is exactly what happened. So many people showed up, Stillman had to hold them back with a velvet rope.
Just one month later and one block away, Maxwell’s Plum, another female-friendly, elaborately decorated bar-with-food, opened up and soon became the most profitable restaurant in New York City. By summertime, the police would cordon off the block every Friday night so the singles could mingle without fear of being struck down by a stray taxicab. It was hetero paradise! (Or something.)
Goldfarb’s story has a lot more fun details—and also explanations about why people enjoyed this sort of thing and also why it died. Farewell, singles bar! Farewell, all bars! See you in the candy-striped, fern-laden future.