All That Glitters Is Not Gold Champagne
The Social Contract
It’s Wednesday night at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California. The cocktails are strong, and the lobby bar fills up for happy hour with business people and tourists alike.
After one margarita and a night’s worth of writing to finish, I am done drinking for the night. I sit by my lonesome—quite comfortably, I might add—on the couch near the fireplace and pull out my notepad and pen.
Creativity strikes. Every few seconds, I scribble down notes and ideas. My mind is on fire, set ablaze at my doing. I’m on a roll. Nothing can stop me. Until a waiter places a glass of champagne on the table. Someone’s ordered it for you, he says. For my pride, I wish I do not know from who, but two faces come to mind. The ones wrinkled and arrogant and fixated on my chest. The waiter says, maybe it’s innocent. I answer that it never is.
I noticed these men as soon as I sat down. Aged like my father, the gray in their hair and clothes set them back decades. They sit tall, laugh loud. Command the room because they thrive on attention.
Typical boomer men, I think. Perhaps I’m too critical.
But then I see them gesturing at my neckline, and I reconsider my outfit choice. Is my blouse too low cut? I’m an A-cup—it’s not like I have cleavage. Really, it’s just a shallow valley of freckled skin set between my black blouse.
Even if between the blouse fabric bulged the Mt. Everest of breasts, these men had no permission to eye-frisk my body and joke without concession or care. As I said, they are wrinkled and arrogant.
Champagne is my favorite drink. But this glass bubbles less, sparkles none, warns against drinking because the payment is due once the gold is gone.
To most, the transaction is straightforward: Man likes woman. Man buys woman a drink. Woman sleeps with man. So the story goes.
Before touching the glass or acknowledging the men, I think about this social exchange. Perhaps I’m vain; the men saw a lonely woman in a crowded bar and wanted to make her feel special.
That’s not how the story goes.
The social connotations attached to this gesture indicate alternative motives.
I feel grimy. Dirty. In exchange for a glass of bubbles and a slight buzz, the social contract reminds me I owe the men sex, or a kiss, or a conversation, or simply my time. Why? Because they find me attractive?
Thanks, but no thanks.
I stare at them across the way. The scowl stuck on my face scares them from leering for too long. They nod and laugh and pull out a thick box of cigars, holding them beneath their noses, inspecting them for their worth.
Would three inches of cigar earn a free glass of champs? In their eyes, has my worth reduced to that of a product? Something that they can judge, buy, and flaunt to society once the negotiation ends?
I argue that this deal emulates a watered-down version of prostitution. No, the men did not fork up cold, hard cash for my body. Instead, they disguised their currency in alcohol—the expensive kind—and expected attention, whether sexual or an approving glance from across the bar.
The innate craving for acknowledgment from a prospective companion feels primal, akin to the mating dances of birds. Old-fashioned like the wooing charms of the Victorian Era.
These situations pose risks and rewards: on the one hand, the suitor risks embarrassment or shame if the suited bypasses the connection attempt. If the suited accepts, the suitor gains acceptance from a potential mate and gains respect from second-hand observers.
In drinking establishments, heterotopic elements manifest in which the outside world dissolves. All bets are off. Anything goes.
Michel Foucault termed heterotopias as cultural establishments considered other. Within heterotopic spaces, elements of discursion alter social behavior and perception. I argue bars emulate heterotopic characteristics, as seen in the phenomenon that Clare Gunby, Anna Carline, Stuart Taylor, and Helena Gosling name the Night-Time Economy, which directs gendered drinking habits and how women negotiate unsolicited attention while at bars.
The psyche behind bar culture reflects liberation from social norms, freeing inhibitions, and chances at promiscuous behavior hidden behind strong liquors. Long before a rich scotch has hit a person’s lips, expectations for the night have crossed their mind: will I meet somebody tonight? Will I hook up? Will I get into strange fun?
And so the Night-Time Economy thrives.
After asking fellow women about their experiences in navigating the Night-Time Economy, I received mixed responses. Many women laughed off their experiences, chuckling about how many free drinks they’ve received. Others acted with my same repulsion, sharing their frustrations and saying that no drink or free club admittance came for free. (As a social and urban anthropologist, I will specify that the women consulted were millennial-aged, of various ethnicities and economic statuses, and a hybrid of single women and women in relationships.)
Night-Time Economy Architecture
From an architectural design standpoint, the places of the Night-Time Economy intrigue me. Design choices facilitate the strange fun selected for that reason. In a bizarre way, human behavior subscribes to place construction. Architects understand that. No place is built without intention.
The supreme ruling location of the Night-Time Economy is the escapist human geography that is Las Vegas. Geographer Edward Relph highlights the sense of place of the Las Vegas strip, the mecca site for strange fun. From its inception, Las Vegas has served as an escape from global realities, a destination for the obscure and pursuit of suggestion. And that is how casinos, hotels, clubs, bars, etc., place-brand Las Vegas.
Likened to Las Vegas, drinking establishments aim to sell a product and a lifestyle. Purchasing fancy drinks equates to a higher chance of having sex, making loose decisions, an experience to brand a conquest or night-to-remember.
In accepting or declining drinks from men, every woman’s personal decision on the matter stands as the correct one. So long as it is her decision alone. As a partnered woman with no interest in engaging in the social drinking contract at the Town and Country, I left a full glass of champagne on the table by the fireplace.
Oh, how accurate this article depicts the intentions and habits of those who enter nighttime establishments. I know the territory, and the decisions women must make when presented with a drink from across the bar.
No matter what environment it serves, every building is built to encourage specific behavior.
Thank you, Jill! Yes, the relationship between architecture and sociality is fantastic to observe.