Random Ephemera

A Night at 13 Celsius: Houston's Unofficial Tinder Bar

The bartenders at 13 Celsius call him “The Terroirizer.”

Every few weeks, the guy brings a new Tinder date for some wine and cheese at one of the few cozy Midtown bars that aren’t full of sweaty 22-year-olds, and every time, he orders a bottle of the same red, earthy terroir-style wine. “I’m always like, Should we say something to his date this time?” says a bartender named Hannah.

They don’t, though, because the bartenders would prefer to watch it all unfold. And to be sure, The Terroirizer, though his moniker is a little scary, is really not much different from all the rest. Yeah, the bartenders at 13 Celsius have watched so many awkward dates between couples who met on Tinder, a smartphone dating and messaging app, that they really wouldn’t argue if you ventured to call 13 Celsius Houston’s Unofficial Tinder Bar. They have eavesdropped on so many, in fact, that they think they should start their own TV show: Tinder Dates From the Perspective of Bartenders.

I sat at the bar for a few hours one Saturday night to try to figure out what exactly it was about this wine bar, located at 3000 Caroline Street, that made it Tinder Central — and frankly, that really was not hard to figure out. It’s got the dark mood lighting and candlelit tables — “the perfect date atmosphere,” says a bartender named Troy. It’s got an extensive menu full of rich, world-class wines and artisan cheeses you certainly have never heard of. It’s got a courtyard made for breezy 78-degree nights and couches inside made for second-date couples comfortable enough to sit that close. And the walls. The walls are unfinished and rustic in that old-chipped-paint kind of way that is somehow endearing, that makes you feel like you have found the spot, man.

So it’s just kind of obvious that you would meet a hot-looking total stranger on your smartphone and decide to take him or her here.

Here’s how those dates generally go, according to the bartenders: Someone always shows up first and chooses a two-person table, peeking back at the door frequently. “Then,” says Troy, “there’s that moment of recognition.” After playing “What wine do you want? I don’t know, how about you?” they always order it by the glass (unless they’re The Terroirizer). And no matter how many times Troy or Hannah or whoever circles past their table, there is always that interview-like quality to their conversations. “I’m telling you,” says Troy, “it’s about the rapport. They always seem uncomfortable.” Then he motions to the woman at the end of the bar, who looks up from her smartphone momentarily to nod at something her possible-date just said: “See?” Troy said. “I’ve never seen a girl look so bored.”

That night, I didn’t have to try very hard to hunt down a Tinder couple via awkward nosy intrusions, because one happened to sit down right next to me. Just as Troy told me it would happen, the woman showed up first. She told the bartender, who already knew what she was having, that she met the guy on Tinder. And while I’m not sure what prompted this comment, the guy joked to the woman about his previous Tinder history shortly after he sat down, saying, “I’ve been on some weird Tinder dates in the past. I knew within five minutes it wasn’t going to work out.”

So I waited until their date had gone on well over five minutes, when they didn’t seem uncomfortable at all, before I asked if they could tell me a little bit about their Tinder experience. And instead of rolling their eyes at me and thinking I was a total creep for listening in (as anticipated), they gladly did. For the guy, those five-minute deal breakers were when his date wouldn’t put down her phone, much like the woman at the end of the bar, or just threw it out there that she’s a pothead.

The woman said she prefers to do a little Googling beforehand, using nothing more than the information on the guy’s profile, to try to make sure that the person in the photos isn’t misrepresenting himself, or that she isn't about to meet a weirdo for dinner. Tinder profiles, she said, are like a “window into the person they think they are.”

I had never used Tinder before last week — a research assignment, you might call it. The idea of the app, the way your perception of someone is confined to these rather foggy smartphone-shaped windows, had always struck me as odd and limiting. I felt that way as I swiped through probably 100 Tinder profiles one night for the first time, and yeah, within about five minutes, I developed my own little shallow set of swiping criteria. It went something like: Guy wearing a fancy, expensive-looking suit holding a fancy, expensive-looking cocktail at a flashy-lights club? No thanks. Guy standing in the mirror flexing while trying really hard at making a sexy face? Ugh, no. Guy with long hair who plays guitar making a silly, kind of embarrassing face? All right, you can stay.

I deleted the app and its flame icon from my phone after a few days, simply not preferring to be digitally catcalled via late-night Tinder messaging. I’m sure not all of them are creepy that way, not even most that I casually messaged with a few times. And surely, many people have used it to find their SOs — Troy tells me that his friend even met his wife on the app. But still, something about Tinder rubbed Troy wrong, too. He stopped using it not long after he matched with a girl on Tinder who had…just left a Tinder date at 13 Celsius; Troy recognized her from that two-person table in the corner, having an interview with her date. They met up. Didn’t feel it. He never saw her again.

“The whole concept of the app is kind of nuts,” he said. “I see this picture, and that’s all I really have to go on. They could be a serial killer, but you say, ‘I think this person’s cute — we should meet up.’”

And if he’s betting, they’re probably coming to his bar.

Clarification 6:24 p.m. April 28, 2016: Hannah contacted us to say in any of her comments she wasn't talking about the Terroirizer but repeat daters in general. (We apologize for misunderstanding.) 
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn