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Meat Market Inception Dates
May 31, 2011 1:31 PM   Subscribe

When did "nightlife" start becoming a pickup scene?

I'm looking for answers that relate to the modern western world and excluding times when a large portion of the crowd was getting paid or being paid for the interaction.

Were speakeasies and western saloons open to single people of both sexes? Or is this a relatively recent phenomenon related to the liberalization of the 1960s? Or is this how things have been forever and ever?

Disclaimer: I realize that many places of drink are not places where people go to pickup others of the opposite sex (i.e. meet friends, relax, listen to music, drink good beer), but I, along with my friends almost solely go to meat markets. Even if we are not single.
posted by sandmanwv to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
There have been a couple of pieces I've seen interviewing Allan Stillman, the guy who got TGI Fridays off the ground. It is largely credited as being the first "pick up" bar. You might start there and work you way back.
posted by goggie at 1:42 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


When did "nightlife" start becoming a pickup scene?

Shortly after the first human settlements had grown to the point (or travel became common enough) that you weren't likely to know every single person in the room. Call it 4000 BC at the absolute latest.

Seriously, people have been shagging like bunnies basically forever, bourgeois Victorian mores be damned.
posted by valkyryn at 1:42 PM on May 31, 2011


When did "nightlife" start becoming a pickup scene?

Shortly after the first human settlements had grown to the point (or travel became common enough) that you weren't likely to know every single person in the room. Call it 4000 BC at the absolute latest.


I think you need to define the terms a little better- I was thinking of this in terms of, "when did it become acceptable in mainstream society to go to a bar or club looking to meet people for sex/dating?"

In America prior to the '60s or even the '70s, I think a woman going to a bar by herself, or with a group of female friends, would have been considered extremely unusual and not something a "good girl" would do. Up until the "singles scene" of the '70s, I picture "nice," mainstream women going to drinking establishments either with a date or not at all.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:49 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call it 4000 BC at the absolute latest.

Well if we're not including prostitution, you probably have to go at least to a point where women weren't considered property of their husbands or families.
posted by empath at 1:52 PM on May 31, 2011


And also, 'nightlife', is probably going to have to largely fall after the invention of the light bulb.
posted by empath at 1:53 PM on May 31, 2011


Drjimmy11: Exactly, thanks for clarifying my question as well with an answer.
posted by sandmanwv at 1:53 PM on May 31, 2011


Valkyryn - not really, unless you're taking the absolute loosest sense of "nightlife" possible. For most of documented Western history, unaccompanied women were not welcome in most public spaces where they didn't have specific business. Especially after dark. For example, women were forbidden from patronizing coffeehouses in much of Europe before the 19th century. Women who were not prostitutes frequenting alcohol-drinking venues would have been absolutely unheard of until at least the Jazz Age.

I mean, I guess you could call tea gardens sort of an 18th century version of the singles' bar, though the etiquette surrounding them was extremely different from what the OP is probably envisioning.

Also, from watching lots of period British dramas of the Jane Austen variety, it seems like balls were a common matchmaking venue. So, again, if you're looking for a really loose interpretation of nightlife, maybe?
posted by Sara C. at 1:54 PM on May 31, 2011


The Royal Oak in San Francisco is supposedly one of the few remaining "fern bars" (article not so great, but plenty of possibilities in the links) that cropped up in the 70s as a way for newly-independent women to have a place to go outside the house and have a drink.
posted by rhizome at 1:55 PM on May 31, 2011


I think the article from this post from the Blue has something roughly to what you are looking for, at least from a first person point of view. It may not be exhaustive or encyclopedic, but it is an interesting ray of light on the topic.
posted by theartandsound at 1:55 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


In America prior to the '60s or even the '70s, I think a woman going to a bar by herself, or with a group of female friends, would have been considered extremely unusual and not something a "good girl" would do. Up until the "singles scene" of the '70s, I picture "nice," mainstream women going to drinking establishments either with a date or not at all.

Only in the minds of our grandfathers.
posted by gjc at 2:14 PM on May 31, 2011


My mum is 64 and is of a generation where women did not go to the pub on their own. (This is in the UK, in Liverpool.) I don't think it was The Done Thing to go with a group of female friends, either, unless you were there to meet someone - even now, she would be reluctant to go to the pub with me because it feels unnatural for her to be sat in a pub without being there with a man. However, dance clubs and milk bars were the places that women could go to with friends for a good time and probably meet a man at the same time.

As Sara C says, balls were popular - in Scotland and Ireland celidhs had a similar function.
posted by mippy at 3:42 PM on May 31, 2011


Huh. No one's mentioned the flappers yet? The Jazz Age was remarkably modern, for something technically situated in the 1920's.
posted by galadriel at 3:44 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


i wish i remember where i read it - but recently i read a super fascinating piece on prohibition and how the rules about females were more relaxed in the speakeasies because everyone there was already breaking the law. i want to say it spent some time on the bathroom situation, that it's around this time you start seeing establishments build ladies' rooms.
posted by nadawi at 3:55 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oooh, Nadawi, that's an excellent point, about the Ladies' Rooms. In a lot of older bars in New York you can actually see where the establishment retro-fitted in a women's restroom at some point in the 70's, as it became customary for reputable women to patronize bars.

Unfortunately the only documentation I can find online is this somewhat anti-feminist article from 1971, but keep in mind that second wave feminists quite literally had to integrate several bars in New York.
posted by Sara C. at 4:07 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, I'm not sure I agree with all of the above at all. It's actually pretty easy to peg when men and women started to fraternize in bars: prohibition. Before that time, drinking was done in saloons, which were male dominated affairs. When the sauce trade was driven into underground speakeasies, it became common for men and women to drink and socialize together there. When the bars were reopened with the passing of the 21st amendment, the trend continued.

Now, that's different from the bar as hook-up scene, but the idea that women didn't start going to the bars at all until the 1970s is just absurd.

YMMV for countries that are not the USA.
posted by absalom at 5:14 PM on May 31, 2011


You are going to want to read Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York by Kathy Peiss. It's a fabulous examination of women's entry into public spaces and contains an entire part on rowdy balls in which single women met men.
posted by mynameisluka at 5:56 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Absalom, it is factually true that feminists integrated some NYC bars in the early 70's.

I'm not sure if every single bar in New York was male only, but several of the more upscale hotel bars did not allow women. This is a thing that actually happened, and in a few cases you can back it up by looking at the interior design of the space, because it's obvious that they didn't install a women's restroom until much later on.
posted by Sara C. at 6:59 PM on May 31, 2011


Wouldn't the Savoy Ballroom count? Opened in 1926, served beer and wine, the hottest bands, and plenty of dancing. Mondays were Ladies' Night (half price for Ladies), Thursdays were "Kitchen Mechanics’ Night" (for maids and cooks and the like). I suspect plenty of folk went there to meet partners for more than just dance.
posted by fings at 9:38 PM on May 31, 2011


Up until the "singles scene" of the '70s, I picture "nice," mainstream women going to drinking establishments either with a date or not at all.

That's just the thing: one wasn't considered a "'nice,' mainstream woman" unless one was middle class. Lower classes have been doing this sort of thing since the dawn of history.

Check Genesis 34. Kind of an unpleasant story, but commentators have long thought that going "out to see the women of the land" was "going out" in a "see and be seen" kind of way, with the typical approbation that such commentators would tend to attribute to that sort of thing. One can see pretty much exactly the same arguments being made there as are used to argue against meat markets today.

In essence, young people have been meeting in public places to hook up longer than we've been recording history. The fact that a lot of establishments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were single-gender and that it was considered "improper" at that time for a woman to go out unescorted is a testimony not to the historical baseline, but the triumph of Christian sexual mores in Western culture. If anything, it's the absence of a meat market that's unusual.
posted by valkyryn at 3:33 AM on June 1, 2011


Up until the "singles scene" of the '70s, I picture "nice," mainstream women going to drinking establishments either with a date or not at all.

That's just the thing: one wasn't considered a "'nice,' mainstream woman" unless one was middle class. Lower classes have been doing this sort of thing since the dawn of history.


My mother was also brought up near Liverpool and it wasn't just that 'nice girls' didn't go to pubs, it was that women on their own would not get served in many pubs and would be asked to leave. Which isn't to say it was the same all over, and she could go to see bands etc in all female parties.
posted by biffa at 4:02 AM on June 1, 2011


recently i read a super fascinating piece on prohibition and how the rules about females were more relaxed in the speakeasies because everyone there was already breaking the law.

And if you google-image-search for speakeasy prohibition you may note that they also relaxed the rule about men wearing hats indoors.
posted by K.P. at 6:28 AM on June 1, 2011


Then again, if you could get raided at any moment, you probably didn't want to check your coat and hat.
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on June 1, 2011


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