What does it take to have a good conversation with strangers in New York?
Apparently it’s not necessarily going to bars but getting the late-night pizza afterward.
After spending last Saturday night at a bar in Union Square, I sauntered outside with a couple of friends, John and Katherine. It was that critical point in the night when a decision must be made–get food or go home? As we walked down 14th Street we each silently weighed our options: Is there anything at all in the fridge? What about that gyro place next to my apartment…does it close at 3 or 4? Am I really that hungry or can I wait till tomorrow’s bacon egg and cheese?
We were all heading in our separate directions–me to Hell’s Kitchen, Katherine to the Upper East Side and John back to Hoboken, so a decision needed to be made soon.
John was the first to speak. “OK, it’s late, I’m going home.” Before I knew it he’d disappeared into the subway station.
Taking his cue, I said a quick good-bye to Katherine and continued west. But then my stomach starting growling, and the thought of actually having to prepare food when I got home settled in.
“WAIT!” I said to Katherine. “I’ll get pizza with you.”
She smiled, as if she’d known I would change my mind. “OK let’s do this,” she said.
And so we walked back the way we had come, returning to the only crowded pizza place on the block.
We each ordered a slice–Katherine basic pepperoni and me this onion/mushroom/garlic/pepperoni concoction that looked incredibly appetizing at that late hour (and really was delicious).
We dumped some parmesan and oregano on our slices, grabbed two seats at table, and began eating our pizza in total silence, the way two hungry and tired friends can do without feeling awkward.
But we weren’t silent for long, because two guys asked if they could grab the empty seats across the table.
“Sure!” we said. One of them in particular was pretty attractive.
After introducing themselves, they started asking us some questions that seemed a little too formulated for random conversation.
“So,” one asked. “Do you guys use apps to determine what bar you go to on the weekends?”
“Um, I use Yelp to find restaurants and sometimes bars,” I said.
“I use Yelp and Foursquare,” Katherine said.
“What if you could find out LIVE information about a place, before you even get there,” the guy said. “What if you could know how many people are in a bar, what the atmosphere is like, what the ratio of male to female is, before you even walk in the door.”
“Ummm…” We looked at each other. We both work in the media world and could sense what he was on to.
“Are you creating an app?” Katherine asked. ” I work in consumer insights, this is what I do for my job.”
“You caught us,” he responded.
They weren’t just two guys asking to sit down and chat with two girls. They were two guys pitching their product to girls in their target demographic, and getting to know us at the same time–which made the experience even cooler.
And so we discussed the merits of knowing too much versus too little information about a place. We talked about the limitations of such an app–if it didn’t immediately have hundreds or thousands of users, like Yelp and Foursquare do, how could we trust the opinions of a user base that may not be like us?
Katherine and I agreed that the only real way to determine atmosphere is to be there in person. Or maybe we’re just old.
I don’t know what time it was when I called quits on the conversation. Maybe 3:20, maybe 3:30, maybe 3:45. But it was late, and I had the sense these guys could go on for hours, or as long as we let them. (They were sober, and possibly caffeinated.)
I’m not an app creator and I need my sleep, but it was an awesome, intelligent conversation and an interesting experience. The kind of thing that I wanted, and expected, to happen when I moved to New York.
Lesson learned: ALWAYS say yes to pizza.