Conversations and drinks are flowing—and about half of the bar’s patrons are wielding their smartphones.
I’m at Charlie’s Las Vegas on a Sunday night, and the gay country-western bar is packed with guys knocking back $2 Long Islands and staring into their screens. They’re not being anti-social—they’re just deciding who to socialize with.
As gay dating apps like Grindr, Growlr and Scruff become more popular, there’s been a serious shift in how men cruise LGBT hot spots. With thumbnail photos of the 100 or so nearest prospects (or prospects’ abs) at their fingertips, guys no longer have to barhop or buy a bunch of drinks to meet Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now.
“You can see orange screens everywhere,” says Charlie’s bartender James Valentine, referring to Grindr’s brightly hued background. He adds that while the recent technology hasn’t caught on with the “older crowd,” the 21- to 25-year olds are, for the most part, all on their iPhones and Androids.
“Nine times out of 10, they’re on their phone,” says Valentine, lamenting that some patrons opt to miss an entire drag show so they might connect with potential mates and dates online.
Wayne Kalani, a bartender at the Garage bar near UNLV, echoes Valentine’s sentiments.
“All of the gay social media [applications] are way popular here,” he says, pointing out the venue’s many electrical outlets (strategically placed at every booth) that patrons often use. Forgot your charger? The Garage even has a stash of iPhone and Android plug-ins behind the bar for you to borrow.
Kalani estimates that 50 percent of patrons are cruising via the Garage’s free WiFi. “They’re zero feet away,” he says. “People look around the bar.”
Valentine has seen customers cruise the guys right next to them—but with text messages and “woofs” instead of bedroom eyes and face-to-face introductions.
“I’ve definitely seen people talk on the phone, and then they’ll go over … It’s a rare occasion when the person will [initially] get up and go and talk to them.”
But while the turn toward technology is definitely a sign of the times, people can still connect the old-school way—if they want to.
Kalani points to a massive basket of cardstock. “We still have business cards and pens if people want to exchange numbers that way.”