Cologne, body odor, clothes that smell of cigarettes. The music is a pleasant surprise: ’90s pop—certainly more infectious than the heart-pounding techno in the room adjacent.
Barely legal boys in underwear prance around with trays of shots, smiling at everyone but advancing sales only with those with whom they are familiar; attention to new buyers is reactionary.
Loners appear occasionally and they’re never still. They walk in endless loops, desperate for friends, expecting future besties to stop them mid-run.
Groups dominate and intra-clique diversity echoes in their glasses: they’re almost exclusively vodka drinkers. Gin drinkers are sparse and flower curiosity for preaching their poison’s gospel.
Affection is rare, premiering one hour before bar close and with Lion King fare; handshakes are rarer and rest on the unicorn-likely chance that someone meets a stranger and dares an official introduction. Friendly introductions aren’t altogether uncommon, but physical involvement at even the lowest level is uncomfortable. Acquaintanceship develops slowly and erratically and only through friends-of-friends or with girl-friendly buffers. Hardline introductions are too rejection-prone and obligatory.
Attire is casual: mostly mainstream and logo-laden, but runs the gamut to ill-fitted button downs, to the mainstream but logo-absent, to the city’s ultimate taboo: non-gender-conforming.
Patrons salivate over traditional—nay, chauvinistic—ideas of masculinity and force it onto themselves. The manliest looking among them opens his mouth and contradicts his appearance. This isn’t always the case, of course, and the man of true brute is known by the number of his congregants.
Boys in make-up are rampant and are unsurprisingly the most flamboyant. Their teeth are white, their skin is tan, their clothes are slim, their hair is flawless and of utmost concern. They wage war against weight gain and poverty: here, five pounds cost five friends and high credit scores signal missed opportunities.
Most interesting are the unpredictables—those who seem relaxed but not drunk, and the dark inexplicables who are alone but not lonely. These groups are judged harshest by high-grade peers. Their presence is cancerous: leaving oneself to his own devices risks irreverence; the idea is foreign and threatening.
“Hello, I’m Justin,” I say and take a seat next to a stranger waiting for a drink. He looks at me.
“Someone’s sitting there,” he says.
“Oh, sorry.” I stand.
The bartender passes us by, tending to other customers, and the air between my failed acquaintance and I grows uncomfortable. No one takes the seat next to him. I’ve just come from a fundraiser and I’m wearing a suit. I suppose my outfit has pushed him away.
I see from across the bar a man I slept with a few years ago. I think. Is he looking at me? I’m not wearing my glasses so I can’t tell. I wave just in case. The wave goes unreturned.
I catch a couple of boys in the corner staring at me. They blush and scramble to look away. Not far from them a man who calls me “bitch” in close enough proximity for me to hear but far enough away to chalk up to “I was talking about someone else” blows me a kiss.
My failed acquaintance pays for his drink and shoves past me. The guy standing beside him moves into his place and I’m relegated to either wait again or to take my chances with the “taken” seat beside him. I sit down.
I wave to someone who waves to me whom I can’t remember, who then gives me an awkward expression. I turn to see that he hadn’t waved to me at all, but to a girl behind me. I need to wear my glasses more often, I think, and I need a drink.
“Hey, I saw that,” says the guy who skipped me. He nudges me and smiles. He directs my attention back to my wav-ee, who now has his mouth to a friend’s ear and his eye in my direction, laughing. I wave again. They stop laughing.
“Oh snap,” says my neighbor. “Oh no you didn’t.”
I blush and extend my hand. He takes it. We talk over each other.
“Justin”/“Ben” we say at once, pause, do it again, and laugh.
“It’s okay, we’ll forget each other’s name in an hour or so,” he says.
“Cheers to that.”
We strike up a conversation that evolves from observations and complaints about bar life to memories of high school dances and embarrassing first dates. After many drinks, we sing an a cappella rendition of “My Little Pony.”