Tech Bars | Mobile Dating Apps | Night Issue

CULTURE | Tech Bars / LGBT

The Changing World of Gay Bars | Mobile Dating Apps

Stan Sarkisov

by Stan Sarkisov
Published November 2013 | The Night Issue

If Grindr were a gay bar in San Francisco, which bar would the M4M social network and GPS-based application be?

Grindr wouldn’t be a bar, according to one patron at historic Castro bar Twin Peaks Tavern. Grindr is old, he claims, and going out and talking to people is the new “thing.” But technology is a “thing” in San Francisco, and it has influenced nightlife.

In the mid-’90s, nightlife’s focus was on big nightclubs. Today, a cell phone is often the third wheel at happy hour. Technology Lyfts patrons to the bar, and a new app called Coaster lets drinkers order without having to wait in line or even talk to a bartender. Grindr, likewise, lets a bargoer be his own wingman; before you walk over to say hi, the ice is broken with a virtual visiting card. It’s the way European aristocrats did it before paying a visit “in real life”: If a suitor sent his visiting card to a prospect and didn’t get one in return, there was no soiree.

“An app like Grindr is an edited self,” says Grindr general counsel Ken Priore. “And people are more comfortable with their edited self.”

Priore acknowledges that the constant editing can make “real-life” interactions harder. But an app like Grindr is upgraded gaydar. For a gay man who is a stranger in the city, out on Polk Street (the first Castro), or spending a day in Oakland, “Grindr shows me who is gay around me,” Priore explains. It’s not just a hookup tool; it’s a connector. Over 7.5 million gay men are “connected” on Grindr, just one of myriad apps marketed to gay men, Priore proudly points out. But he isn’t blind to the negative implications of the overall trend.

“Technology can make people less present, and I don’t want to live in an online fantasy. I’d rather take the interaction offline, but I don’t blame technology; it is a trend right now,” Priore says.

Meanwhile, technology is getting more efficient. Before there were smartphone apps, there were computers. “People started staying in more when websites like Manhunt launched in the early 2000s,” says Joshua J, marketing director at Midnight Sun and Castro’s newest bar, Beaux. “So many guys were staying in on Friday and Saturday,” he recalls. But the going-out “dry hump” is over now.

“Fewer people don’t go out because of social network apps. The intention of going out has changed,” Joshua J explains as he sets up DJ equipment at Beaux. “Weekends are a boys’ night out. There is not a sense of urgency to go out and hook up anymore. You can hook up or chat at home, arrange a meeting or a date at a bar midweek, but weekends are now generally for going out with friends and your social group,” he explains.

At Beaux, most peoples’ phones are out of sight, but “it’s not a social faux pas to Grind at the bar,” Joshua J says. If anything, online sites and phone apps are “normal” today, agrees Priore. “But everyone makes their own etiquette. Just remember to be authentic and polite. What would nightlife be like if no one said hi?”

So what bar would Grindr be? “It’s a good mix of scenes and sexiness,” says Beaux bartender Sam. “Imagine Hi-Tops on a Thursday.” But Priore might disagree: “I’d say Toad Hall. It’s younger, good for tourists, and friendly.”

For other questions, ask Priore himself. His username is IGotYourBack, and he’s approximately 640 feet away.


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