When it comes to your romantic status, you’re one of two things. You’re ‘in a relationship’, which is can be defined as ‘an unavailable shell-shocked love veteran with the sound of awkward first-date exchanges still echoing through their head’, or you’re ‘single’, which is down in the dictionary as ‘clueless love grunt, walking blindly into an early-stage romance minefield and headfirst into an emotional maiming’. Yes, dear god yes, oh Christ yes, dating is horrifying.
Not for the sly spectator looking in on your romantic shit-show, though. Not for these guys.
Until we all somehow decide that the humble boozer isn’t the best place to try and light the fire of a potential relationship, bartenders will continue to be silently entertained by date-night schadenfreude. And they’ve seen things, man. They’ve seen it all: live-action couple swaps, daring escape attempts, drunken buffoonery, and even A-List sabotage.
How do we know? Because they told us, when we grilled a slew of London’s best bar pros for their most memorable date night horror stories. Prepare to shudder…
“They’d done a complete couple swap”
“We have two long communal tables at Carousel. We sat two separate first dates next to each other, and instantly you could tell both situations felt a bit awkward – there was total silence peppered with the odd word.
“Only by the time the third course arrived had they finally plucked the courage to start talking… but not with their respective dates. When the dessert came, they’d clearly done a complete couple swap. Annoyingly I had to see to another guest as they left, so I’ll never know who went home with who. But I’ve got a pretty good idea!”
- Matt Varona, bar manager at Carousel
“He got a tight hold of the beer pumps”
“At a bar I used to work at, a guy was pretty drunk and being rude to his date. It got to the point where one of the other bartenders asked him to stop.
“Unfortunately, the situation escalated, and security got involved. As he refused to leave they tried to escort him out, but he got a tight hold of the beer pumps and ended up suspended in the air horizontally. His date started crying and left. It was pretty dramatic.”
“She went home with a waiter”
“It was definitely a Tinder date, where the guy turned up first. He was so nervous and kept asking me if he looked OK. I had a nice chat with him, but he kept ordering shots. Lots of shots. He seemed to be getting more confident the more he drank – at one point he started bragging about how popular he was on Tinder – and eventually I had to refuse serving him. He seemed annoyed, paid the bill, ran to the bathroom and disappeared.
“No more than five minutes later the date arrived, and she looked amazing. She waited, then asked if her date was here. She looked so sad, like she knew what had happened, so I just told her he never showed. She stayed for a while, had a few drinks, and ended up getting an Uber… with one of our waiters.”
- Ercole V, bar manager at Evans & Peel
“They discovered they were cheating on each other”
“A few years ago I was working at a skyscraper bar next to London Bridge. As you can imagine, the views made it a destination for romantic dates. On a quiet Sunday night, one particular couple came in. Everything went smoothly, everything seemed normal, until another couple turned up, and immediately started a huge argument with them.
“The guy from the first couple was the boyfriend of the girl from the second. They were cheating on each other, and both picked the same place on that night.”
- Matyas Barta, bar manager at Aster
“She threw a tray of drinks in his face”
“A few months ago, at around 5.30pm a lady came into the bar to meet someone. She didn’t know for sure who, as she was using pictures on her phone to see if they were already there. The person hadn’t arrived, so we offered a table to her and she ordered a drink. Well, she waited and waited and waited. We asked if was everything okay, and she was just saying yes, she was going to wait.
“Ten minutes from the last orders – at 1.05am - her date arrived. That’s more than seven hours late. They ordered one drink each, and as I was about to serve them the lady stands up, grabs the drinks from the tray, throws them right into his face and walks out.”
- Tiago Serrao, bar manager at Galvin at Windows
“A Hollywood A-lister sat next to them”
“We had a lady at a table in the bar constantly checking her reflection the mirror, nervously but excitedly awaiting her gentlemen’s arrival. He turned up, and they started with one of those slightly awkward chats that you get with a first date. Anyway, her table was a sharing table that had also been reserved by another couple.
“They soon arrived, and one of them happened to be an incredibly famous and beautiful Hollwood A-list actress. I can’t think of anyone worse to sit across from when trying to get the attention from the man of your dreams.”
- Guy Mazuch, head bartender at Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell
“She begged to escape out the fire exit”
“I remember one Tinder date - he was already on his way to being drunk, and she didn’t seem so at all. He proceeded to knock over glasses and generally embarrass her with his behaviour. Eventually she appeared to head to the bathroom, but instead made her way to a member to staff and begged them to let her leave through the fire exit.
“Thing is, if we opened the fire exit, it would set off the alarm and make it really obvious she was sneaking out. Instead, she had to face the music and just tell him she was leaving. He didn’t take it well.”
- Robyn Wilkie, bar manager at The Lobby Bar at The London EDITION
“We’d sat her with the wrong blind date”
“It’s 2014, before Tinder got huge and when blind dates were still a thing. A man, let’s call him Simon, approached the bar to say he’d booked a table under his blind date’s name, who we’ll call Tracy. We found ‘Tracy’ in the bookings and took him over to the table. Soon Tracy arrived, and everything was going really well. Drinks, laughing, sparks flying. An hour later, the bar host came over in absolute panic. “I’ve sat him with the wrong Tracy,” he said. “And Tracy’s real date is waiting on table 44.”
“I was horrified, but also found it hilarious that the accidental blind date was going so well. But had no idea what to do. Eventually, I caught Tracy by herself and explained: “We’ve made a terrible mistake – the guy you’re supposed to meet is over there.” I pointed at Captain Lonely on 44, and she said, “Yeah, I noticed him earlier. Having seen him in the flesh, I might just stay here with Simon. Can you talk to him for me?”. I obliged. In hindsight, it wasn’t the most awful situation in the world, but I do wish it was someone else who had to deal with it.”
- Richard Wynne, owner of Callooh Callay
(Images: Tristan Cross/Getty)