It was a sunny Spring evening in London and I found myself on a rare night with nothing to do. While I was staying with a friend in her cozy Fulham flat, she was on a romantic date with her boyfriend, leaving me solo. After days of socializing and packing all of London into my itinerary, I was looking forward to a romantic evening myself – a seduction with the tantalizing images and mesmerizing words in British Vogue over a crisp glass of wine. Seduction comes in all forms.
A cute gastropub down Old Bromptom Road had caught my eye and my grumbling belly ached for some traditional British fare. Grabbing my magazine and jacket, without so much as a comb lifted to my hair, I was off into South Kensington.
The pub was noisier than I had anticipated – two rowdy groups were holding court and drowning out the music. Despite this, I chose to stay hoping their boisterous festivities would die down soon. I pulled up to a bar stool and tenderly laid out my “date” on the worn wood counter.
There were no menus in sight minus the chalkboard of daily specials, and I couldn’t for the life of me get the barman to pay any attention to me. The minutes stacked up to ten before finally he glanced my way and dismissively slid a menu down the bar. Another ten minutes ticked by before he finally took my order with none of the personality I had seen him exhibit with other patrons. And the British call the French rude.
Well into my date, my quite delicious meal consumed, and my second glass of wine making my companion truly speak to me, someone came barreling into me causing me to almost fall from my perch.
As the world steadied itself again I brought my attacker into focus: floppy brown hair, clean shaven cheeks, brilliantly sparkling green eyes. My date just found itself upstaged. Apologizing, Floppy offered to buy me a glass of wine, which I gladly accepted, hoping he would dispel my now rude impression of South Ken. His personality charmed and we fell into an easy flirtatious rhythm. When he asked me to join his group of friends, I politely declined – my magazine still luring me away with its glossy pages. A riotous boys’ night was not what I had in mind.
I returned to my partner and Floppy returned to his friends. I had not flipped one page before I was interrupted again. One by one, members of the party came to chat me up. I politely conversed but itched to be on my lonesome again. It was one obnoxious man built like a rugby player, who broke my silence. He asked me the obligatory introductory questions – where I’m from, what I do, etc – before he surprised me with the bomb. “So, why are you sitting at the bar alone? Are you a prostitute?” he boldly asked. His tone bore not a hint of teasing, he was actually serious.
My steely eyes drilled into his. I wanted to brush off the query with a laugh but after the rejective manner of the bartender, I was ready to stick up for myself and looking for a fight. This Canadian girl was about to lose her passively polite stereotype. My argument began by bringing attention to my very casual wardrobe: jeans, plaid shirt, and Converse sneakers. Was it the teensy glimpse of my lacy bra that had sent out the alert? Or the chipped red nail polish? Secondly, I had not so much as glimpsed at any other man down the bar. No wink, no lip lick, no seductive gaze. It was just me and my magazine; I thought I was invisible.
Judging by the faint smile on his lips, Mr. Rugby hadn’t expected me to fight back but he wasn’t convinced, and asked how much I charged. In my books, this was the end of our debate. I told him he was pathetic and that his ignorance would one day leave him bruised, bloody and likely alone (yeah, I did), and turned my back to him.
I was stewing. Nothing could soothe me, not even the pretty pictures my date tried to placate me with. I asked for my bill from the still chilly bartender and gathered my belongings. Just as I stood, Floppy returned with a sheepish expression on his once handsome face, his association with Mr. Rugby removing any lingering appeal.
After listening to him apologize for his brutish friend, I asked if he shared his companion’s opinion. His pause said it all. He explained that women just don’t visit bars by themselves, and when they do they are usually hookers. This snippet of news just made me sigh. Had I at some point been transported to the Middle Ages? I consider my independence and comfort in myself to be one of my strengths, and had frequented quiet bars alone for years with nothing but a notebook or novel to keep me company.
Clearly the rude bartender shared this opinion as well as my mind flashed back to the sneer and terrible service he had directed towards me for most of the evening. The age old issue of gender inequality had reared its ugly head.
Solo visits by a woman to a bar = lady of the night.
Solo visits by a man to a bar = independence.
I was disgusted by their views. While I put on my jacket, Floppy quickly scrawled his number on a receipt and tried to convince me to join them the next night with my friends to dull the situation. I took the paper, turned on my heel towards the door, and with a flourish, dropped the paper in a ball on the floor. As I passed Mr. Rugby, he gruffly whispered, “How much for the night?”
Here are my Lessons From a Bar Stool:
For the Ladies:
1. Say “screw you” to society, and visit a bar solo. It’s liberating and independent. Who cares if men think you’re for sale? You know you’re not.
2. When someone offends you, don’t take it laying down. Speak up for yourself without stooping too close to their level.
3. Not all British men have the personalities of a character in a Hugh Grant movie.
For the Men:
1. If you have to ask a woman if she’s a prostitute, she isn’t. Don’t be an ass.
2. Inviting a girl who is clearly on her own to join you is a lovely move. Don’t push her boundaries if she declines.
3. Do buy a solo woman a drink but don’t expect it to get you anywhere
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