Last week, an Atlantic Wire piece explained all about the beauty of eating at the bar when you’re alone. Not having to stare at the empty seat across from you reduces existential angst, it said. You enjoy better access to drinks and conversation via the bartender. You don’t feel rushed or guilty for taking up an entire table. All true, all pretty obvious. The more difficult claim—one the writer breezed right by—is that there is an equivalent beauty to eating at the bar when you’re on a date.
The greatness of this seating arrangement cannot be overstated: The two of you are looking at something besides each other, which can provide conversational fodder. (“That bartender sure has moves.” “Did you ever see the movie Cocktail?” “Ugh, what happened to Tom Cruise? He had so much promise!” And so on.) You are more likely to get away with having something stuck in your teeth, or quietly spilling water on yourself, or dropping your silverware, in the forgiving ambit of your date’s peripheral vision. The side-by-side posture is both equalizing and intimate—and if he’s a dud, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the game while pretending to “get to know him.” (Or he might do the same to you, in which case, eating at the bar is bullshit.) But the best part of perching with your date at the bar is that it allows you to circumvent the gender seating wars.
An unspoken Hammurabi’s Code seeks to dictate where men and women park themselves while dining together. (Same-sex couples, I’d imagine, are spared some of this aggravations, or maybe the ambiguity just compounds the problem.) As I understand it, the lady sits with her back to the wall, facing the room, while the gentleman gallantly takes the seat with the more limited view. This is supposedly chivalrous, because the room-facing seat is perceived as more desirable, based on an ancestral antipathy to being caught unawares in the savanna, with your back to the lion.
It is not (necessarily) chivalrous. Certainly the men (sometimes) mean well, but I would much rather feel free to get up and leave at any point, rather than being boxed in by a seating arrangement that has me wedged between the table and the wall. Other women will disagree, and that’s part of life, and dating—learning about another individual’s preferences, deciding whether you can accommodate them. But the rigidity of the Code makes it highly awkward, because I often want my date to sit where he’d prefer to sit anyway, and it’s weird to be constantly issuing disclaimers about how you truly don’t mind having your back to the room, especially if the guy is already pulling out your chair with a look of pained martyrdom on his face.
Enter the bar. The bar means parity, escape from the gender seating wars, an end to the passive-aggressive dance of “no, no, you pick.” Plus there are nuts.