Drinking Alone In St. Louis

When a certain ex-boyfriend told me in no uncertain terms that “women in St. Louis should not drink alone in public,” he scared me into submission for a good six months. His reasoning was every archaic excuse you can imagine—in sum, “it’s just not done. It gives the wrong idea.” But that was then, when I was fresh off of a one-way flight from New York City, where drinking alone in public is a lifestyle regardless of gender. This is now: the city is teeming with new restaurants and bars, but alas, my iCal isn’t exactly packed with dates. Rather than wait for the weekly girls’ night out, which tends to find us at the same bars anyway, I find myself at an impasse. To drink alone or not to drink alone, in public—that is the question.

In St. Louis, a lady perched at a bar, martini in hand, might raise eyebrows—or not. How would I know without trying? So in early January, I determined to break my usual New Year’s resolution of drying out until Memorial Day by treating myself to a cocktail 3 times that month—just me, myself and the bartender—and deciding once and for all if that ex-boyfriend and everyone I’ve polled since then were right.

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Night 1: Unseasonably warm temperatures beckoned me outside for an evening run, and as a reward, I finished my 5-K at the front door of Truffles, a steakhouse in Ladue best known for its clubby atmosphere and weekend dance parties. My nerves rattled as I entered in my sweat and drizzle-soaked Spandex, inquiring about a dress code. No dress code. And no matter: a few parties of four peppered the barroom, but otherwise Duke the bartender and I were alone.

And thank God for it! Had I invited a friend, Duke never would have told me about his family or his talent for strumming Hendrix covers with the restaurant’s band. I might not have eaten my Caesar salad as slowly and thoughtfully as I did, savoring every bite (it really was an exceptional Caesar). When I return, Duke will know who I am and what I’d like to drink (the Ramsay Cabernet; make it a double), and I’ll be glad for that. And no one blinked an eye to see me sidle up solo.

Night 2: Even Starbucks was closed on the day of the now-infamous ice storm that swept across much of the Midwest. By 4:30pm that Friday, I was stir-crazy enough to brave the rain and walk a mile into downtown Clayton, where only Pastaria and Sardella had kept the lights on for intrepid patrons.

Considering the weather, on this evening I was tired and itched for conversation; I sipped my white wine in total silence, concentrating on my dish of burrata and hot buttered toast as though buried beneath the soft white cheese lay the key to the kingdom of Heaven. Maybe it was the weather (or is Mercury still retrograde?), but nobody bothered me; nobody noticed me. The wait staff was polite, but not like Duke. I walked home feeling lonelier than ever.

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Night 3: My deadline for this essay had come and gone, so I dragged myself out on a gloomy Tuesday night for a liquid dinner consisting, once again, of red wine so rich and thick you could cut it with a knife. To contrast the previous Friday’s monastic solitude, I went to Fleming’s, a high-end chain in Frontenac with a bar scene that never disappoints.

Unlike Truffles—at which I had practically tried to look my worst—and Sardella—where my appearance was beside the point—Fleming’s required some forethought. I wore a black-knit dress, lipstick and heels. I imagined myself an old-timey femme fatale, Mata Hari in town for one night with a mission to seduce and kill. I ordered the vino and … watched TV. (I believe televisions have ruined barrooms, but that is for another time.) Every man attended to his date; every bartender to her drinks, and I, as single as a lost left sock, to the basketball game.

But why did I care who attended to me? It’s 2017! If a woman wants to enjoy a drink in the company of strangers, then how those strangers interact should be no roadblock to her contentment. If it’s company she seeks, there are better places to go than Fleming’s, too crowded on a Tuesday night to meet anyone special. If she aims to spur the rumor mill, there are more modern ways to do so now than to order alcohol in public. No one cares. Or if they do, they don’t let you know about it.

Invite them to drink with you anyway. I’ve learned that company makes booze taste so much sweeter.

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