How Tinder is affecting our bar culture

Jangling Jacks in Potts Point.
Jangling Jacks in Potts Point.  Photo: Christopher Pearce

In the face of a burgeoning dating app culture, are punters swiping left on traditional bar hookups? 

The commentators on New York Magazine's popular Sex Lifes podcast think so, likening an rendezvous with a fellow barfly to "hiring someone without seeing their resume".

Apps like Tinder have destroyed nightlife in New York, they recently said, labelling the good old bar embrace as "weird and rare". 

Time to face up: Does Tinder really work for women?
Time to face up: Does Tinder really work for women? Photo: Simon Schluter

"If you flirt with someone, it's like complete insanity, you're not supposed to do that," writer and comedian Phoebe Robinson said. "If they don't have someone to talk to, they call someone in [via an app]." 

In July last year, it was estimated that 15 per cent of Aussies use Tinder, verifying that the once-sleazy platform has turned mainstream. Now we have Happn (based on proximity), Bumble (the girl has to talk first) and Hinge (based on your social networks), among others. 

Before the digital dating revolution, hitting a bar was the pathway to passion for most singles, fuelled by the social lubricants of alcohol and supportive mates. 

Ramblin' Rascal Tavern bartender Charlie Lehmann believes old-fashioned two-drinks-in romance is alive and well.
Ramblin' Rascal Tavern bartender Charlie Lehmann believes old-fashioned two-drinks-in romance is alive and well. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Can we still fall in lust, without knowing if the potential philanderer is inclined to the odd gym selfie, or prefers cats to dogs? And, more importantly, are bars still the same good-time venues without the promise of swipe-free affection? 

Orlan Erin Raleigh, co-owner of Jangling Jacks in Sydney's Potts Point, thinks that it all comes down to the actual venue, but overall, dating apps have been a positive thing for small bars in particular. 

"Tinder forces people to go out and try new things, try new bars, and maybe suggest to the other person that they just give somewhere new a go," Raleigh said. 

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"You can 100 per cent tell when people are on a first date; there is usually one person waiting and other walks in, looks around nervously and goes 'hi, are you so-and-so?'. There's a booth at the front we call the 'kissing booth' because there's often a good make-out session there." 

In the pick-up stakes, there's one kind of bar that has a major advantage: those with limited reception. 

"We get no reception. It means that no phones ring in the bar, and people are usually looking around, interacting and listening to the music." 

That means at Jangling Jacks, and Sydney's slew of underground bars, such as the city's The Baxter Inn and Darlinghurst's Shady Pines, patrons who haven't scored a match before going out are forced to pick up at the old-fashioned way. 

Back above ground, not all hope is lost. At Ramblin' Rascal, in Sydney's CBD, old-fashioned two-drinks-in romance is alive and well, according to bartender Charlie Lehmann.

"It's a small space so you have to interact with the people around you. There's nowhere to run and hide. I was talking to two girls in here the other night, and group of guys came over and approached them," Lehmann said. 

"Australians tend to be more outgoing and welcoming that people in the states; what we do in hospitality is very different to London, New York or Tokyo. It's a very Australian thing to sit and talk to someone that you've never met before." 

Myffy Rigby, national Good Food Guides editor and creative director of Good Food Month, reckons that digital dating platforms can also create a fresh spate of IRL awkwardness far worse than the usual by-the-bar rejection.

"I was at the bar with some pals and a guy came up to me and said, 'I swiped right on you on Tinder', to which I said, 'Oh, that's nice, I'm flattered. I'm going over here with my friends now'." 

The wannabe Tinderella then quietly followed her to another bar, surprising her with a tap on the shoulder and a propensity to hover. 

"I wasn't sure what he expected to get out of it – it's a little bit creepy, like a double attack. But then I recognised a guy from a dating app in real life, but I got too shy to approach him, which I never normally would.

"There's a double whammy of creepiness, and then a double whammy of real rejection as well." 

As far as bar atmosphere goes, Rigby said that our reliance on phones is more damaging than the actual apps. 

"It's the addiction to being distracted that's ruining bars. I think dating apps like Tinder, Bumble or Happn are just distractions – how often do you actually people up with the people? It's just a game; it even says, 'Do you want to keep playing?'," she said. 

"Rather than talking to the person next to you, you're trying to order the McDonalds of people, looking for that elusive Big Mac, when it could be sitting right next to you. People aren't talking as much and that ruins the atmosphere of the bar."