Flavor of the Week: The Tester Bar

Written by Rachel Kleinman on . Posted in Posts.

Late one night, while checking my messages on OKCupid—the latest in a string of online dating sites I’ve used since moving to Manhattan in 2002— dr_spengler chatted me. We engaged in mindless banter about Scrabble strategies for less than three minutes before I announced my decision to sign off. Dr_spengler seemed cute and charming from his profile, but I was tired and, in my eight years of online dating, I’ve learned that chatting online is needlessly burdensome when what I need to know about a potential paramour can only be ascertained in person.

l8r_d8r: I don’t like to chat online with strangers.

dr_spengler: Me neither. What’s your number?

l8r_d8r: Ha! What would you do with my number?

dr_spengler: Decode your ATM pin… I’d call you.

l8r_d8r: I’ll tell you what. You can buy me a drink.

dr_spengler: Now? l8r_d8r: Not now. Tomorrow.

dr_spengler: Great. 8 pm, West Village?

l8r_d8r: 9:30, East Village.

dr_spengler: OK, what bar?

l8r_d8r: Give me your number; I’ll come up with something and text you tomorrow.

The next day at work, I looked for an appealing date spot Downtown but came up empty-handed. I texted dr_spengler, saying, “I can’t decide where we should go. Got someplace in mind?” “Barrow’s Pub,” he texted back promptly, “See you at 9:30.”

I immediately searched for Barrow’s Pub online and noticed that a reviewer used the word “tasteless” twice to describe the cash-only, West Village alehouse. Despite the implications of my Park Avenue address, however, I enjoy a light beer at a dive bar as much as the next law student, so I assured myself it couldn’t be that bad.

I rolled up to Barrow’s Pub at 9:20 p.m. to discover the most depressing bar in Manhattan: brightly lit, no music playing, a crowd of five fiftysomethings with varying degrees of toothlessness pounding canned beers on tattered, mismatched barstools. One of the regulars boasted to the heavyset bartendress about a pornographic image on his cell phone. I thought about leaving, but I ordered a Stella instead.

Then dr_spengler walked in.

Despite his hideous, ragged, quasibiker jacket, he wasn’t bad-looking. Tall and well-built, he had me laughing—not nervously, but legitimately amused— within seconds. I gave him a hard time about the dingy watering hole he’d selected. He seemed to enjoy my ballbusting quips.

Dr_spengler was smart: a banker with a master’s degree in physics. For 30 minutes, we regaled one another with stories about work and graduate school. “Is it OK to use my federal loans to pay for a cleaning lady?” I asked facetiously.

“I need to find a cleaning lady who won’t steal my shit,” he replied. Then, with at least three sips of beer remaining in my glass, he put $20 on the bar. I guess we’re not getting another drink, I thought. He started to put on his jacket, and I followed suit.

“Did someone in there offend you?” I asked him as we left the bar.

“No,” he smiled. “I thought I would take you someplace a little more civilized.”

Pleased, I figured it meant that Barrow’s Pub was his tester bar in case I was a dud. And I knew I was not a dud. The date was going well, so I was being upgraded to a cocktail lounge—or better. Maybe we were going to a romantic, candlelit bistro somewhere along the Hudson River that featured a live jazz trio and an impressive wine list. A girl can hope.

Our conversation flowed as I casually followed him around the neighborhood, oblivious of our ultimate destination. Eventually, I realized we were on the last block before the West Side Highway. While the block wasn’t desolate, neither was there a commercial establishment in sight.

“Where are you taking me? Are there even any bars on this block?” “It isn’t exactly a bar,” he confessed.

Confused, I cracked a joke about the abandoned-looking hotel at the end of the block. But before I could finish, dr_spengler turned and inserted a key into the door of a luxury apartment building. Shocked, I asked, “Is this where you live?” “Yes,” he explained. “I thought we could finish our conversation upstairs over a drink.”

Sure, if I were 22, I would almost certainly have followed him upstairs and wondered—postcoitus—whether he would call.

Now that I’m 30, however, I had a different reaction.

“I’m not going up to your apartment. That is not how this works.”

“OK,” he conceded, “then we can finish our conversation out here.”

Without skipping a beat, dr_spengler continued saying whatever he was saying before we had arrived at his front door. Flustered by the unexpected turn of events, I didn’t hear a word. All I could think was how I’d been duped like an amateur.

Plenty of men before him had capped off our cocktails with implicitly sexual propositions. How about a nightcap at my place? More than once, I’d complied. Never before had one of my dates led me to his apartment under the pretense of taking me to another bar, let alone a romantic bistro.

Two people emerged from under the awning of dr_spengler’s building, and I took it as my chance to interrupt his romantic rambling to say, “I bet one of your neighbors can recommend a cleaning lady for you. I’m gonna find a cab.”

“Can I call you?” he asked. “Sure,” I replied, uncertainly, as I headed east along Leroy Street, and hailed a taxi uptown. While sitting in the backseat alone, I realized my notion of the tester bar was all wrong. He wasn’t testing to see if I was a dud; this banker was banking on me wanting to leave that dump so badly, I’d follow him anywhere else. Dr_spengler should have invested in a less-experienced dater. The only thing he managed to test was my patience.