Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
One of my pleasures in life is eating alone at bars in nice restaurants. In many ways, I prefer it to eating at a table with five of my closest academic colleagues. (Yes, academics, it’s ok to laugh.) I’d relish the opportunity when I wasn’t separated, and now even more so as I’m disentangling the strands of two lives. It makes me feel at home and part of the business end of a restaurant, while giving my business to them. And through this activity, I’ve really grown to love the people who put food and drink on our public tables.
When I sit at the bar, I can lazily watch the process, keep an eye on the kitchen, see the exasperated glances pass between servers, exchange pleasantries with the most important people in every restaurant, the ones who are literally running the show. Directly served by a bartender or two, I can ask about new specials and get recommendations and hear tidbits of news from the wine distributors who stop by. Time is less of an issue: I can eat at the bar at 4:30 because I haven’t had lunch, or 9:00 because that’s a much more reasonable dinner time. There’s always a bit of drama, a bit of sadness. Life pivots and spins on the fulcrum of the bar.
And there are plenty of people like me. Not just friends of the bartender or middle managers awaiting tables with their weary wives, but traveling businessmen, an occasional doctor, a former waitress who’s back for the weekend, a tattooed dude just in for a beer, an older lady who just wanted a glass of gris and a salad, a couple who just moved to town, an aging hipster chick reading a book. There’s usually a musician or an artist, and occasionally someone looking for a new friend. Sometimes you talk to these people, sometimes you don’t.
It’s a nice place. You’re inspired by the food and you let them take care of you, trust they’ll do you right. You don’t do anything stupid, like ask for vegan mayonnaise or no peppers or gluten-free fish and chips or a glass of ice for your lovely Provençal rosé that the proprietor just told you was his favorite of the season. You don’t announce what you don’t like or let your kid smear food all over the floor or undertip. In short, it’s a civilized island in a sea of everything else.
Which is exactly what dining alone is all about. The person who really made me think about my right and privilege to eat at a bar alone was Jeff Morgenthaler, while still at the late lamented Bel Ami. He told me once that his job was to make everyone feel comfortable at his bar, even the single woman reading a book. And he’s absolutely right in doing so. Single women shouldn’t have to feel like barflies or weirdos eating at the bar alone. And they shouldn’t be harassed or feel unsafe, but take pleasure in what is sadly still a radical feminist joy in not wanting the oppression of company, relations.
Sometimes I grade papers; sometimes I edit a paper; sometimes I focus too much on my iPhone; sometimes I talk with actual people. But there’s no real pressure in a hospitable bar. If you are single and not an asshole, you should try it some time. And if you see me, say hello.