When Is a Bar More than Just a Bar?: On Sharlene’s

Sharlene's

Sharlene’s is a place where people fall in love. Not because it’s special or romantic or impressive in any way—it’s none of those things. Not quite a dive, but definitely not fancy—Sharlene’s is one of those bars that’s just a bar. There’s none of the pretense that comes with either grit or class. It’s just one big darkly lighted room with medium priced beers, basic cocktails and hot pretzels for $3. People go there to chill, or to catch up, or to read. Most spend some amount of time staring at their phones.

Perhaps most importantly, people go there on dates. Admittedly, I have been to the place for everything: new job celebrations, birthday parties, “I’m leaving New York” blow outs. One time I was even dumped there. But while some of the things I’ve done at Sharlene’s are mine and mine alone, I’m far from the only person uses the bar as a go-to date spot. Many people I know (including myself) cite Sharlene’s as not only a favorite bar but also a place where they’ve fallen in love.

In a city full of concept establishments that seem to exist solely for wooing romantic interests, where dating is as much of a performance as a practice, going to Sharlene’s with a crush is an act of resistance. There’s no secret entrance to navigate through, no crazy decor to discuss. Just you, me, this whiskey. And maybe some Weezer playing in the background. The focus isn’t the artisanal jalapeño poppers, it’s the person you’re with.

On my most recent first date–the first in a long while to actually develop into a real relationship–we sat in the back corner for hours. Because it was a good one, I don’t remember about what; I just remember the feeling. At some point he told me he wanted to leave to go to another bar down the street. I was confused and kind of insulted. Why would anyone want to leave Sharlene’s? Who was this monster? I saw it as some kind of moral failing until we got outside and he stopped me on the street to smooch. “I was embarrassed to kiss inside the bar so I had to figure out a way to get you out,” he finally confessed after some prodding. (Maybe this is why people still smoke, I thought.)

But also: “This place was made for kissing,” I slurred in faux outrage. I quickly reassured him with  the bar’s reality: No one at Sharlene’s gives a shit what you are doing, probably because they’ve done it themselves. I’ve seen Tinder dates gone both awry and right, a drunkard make an advance on my mom, a group of friends so impassioned in debate they alienate everyone around them. One late fall night, a huge, boisterous wedding party showed up to close out their night. The bride wore a leather jacket over her wedding dress and gave zero fucks as she swayed side to side, inadvertently covering herself in booze. I remember thinking this is probably where she met her groom, or maybe where she first whispered “I really like you” into his ear, as I would to my date later that night. Sharlene’s—and the increasingly small number of bars like it—is a rare safe space for emoting hearts. Which is why sometimes, it’s also the perfect incubator for love.

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