Pop Culture

The Smell of the Houston Single at Nouveau Antique Art Bar

The concept of a pheromone party seems simple enough. Singles wear clean, new white tees to bed for three nights in a row, sealing in their natural slumbering scent. The tees are frozen overnight to maintain the odor of the single, to be finally displayed at the party anonymously.

REWIND: Let Science (And Your Days-Old Clothes) Help You Get Laid!

The first of these parties was held in Houston on Friday night at Nouveau Antique Art Bar in Midtown, hosted by the Houston Social Source, a social group for Houstonians to get involved in and mingle with others in search of a companion, or at least a sense of belonging.

Bars, gyms, concerts and online dating sites are all popular with singles looking to couple, to hang or for a fling. Seems pretty straightforward, more so than exhibiting your stink for potential partners.

I tagged along with my friend Maggie -- who went through the shirt process on a lark -- to the gathering on Friday. I brought along no shirt, since I have a girlfriend and my stink is spoken for.

Maggie's interest in the pheromone soiree was more social experiment than part of a quest for a man. She didn't see the process working for her. She couldn't imagine herself opening a bag filled with a man's odorous undershirt and smelling her soul mate for the first time.

The scene and mood at Nouveau on Friday night was subdued, but that was par for the course for the bar. It's not a raging party haunt in the slightest, filled with fragile antique art and ornate lamps, but it is a beautiful date venue.

Upon arrival, contestants (?) signed in with a HSS attendant and their bags were tagged with gender-coded cards. The sacks of shirts were then separated on two tables, one for those under 40 and the other for those over 40.

Some prospective daters didn't want to find themselves accidentally attracted to the musk of someone the age of their father or mother. Go figure. Gina Gershon is my mother's age and it wouldn't bother me having her around.

The HSS singles scene skews a bit older, more sophisticated. A lot of the folks I met that brought in bags were divorced, some twice or thrice. The profiles ranged from silver foxes to guys pushing into their late '30s to women who looked to have probably partied serious in the '80s. Nervous tension abounded.

Some people smelled as if they got the memo wrong and instead wore the same street clothes for three days straight instead. Thank God for bourbon and a large room.

An announcement was made that the unveiling of the bags was imminent. Contestants -- those wishful whiffers -- made their way to their age-appropriate tables and began picking up bags.

If you liked what you smelled, a photographer took your picture while you held the bag and the pictures were then put into a slideshow being projected onto a wall in the bar. If you were into who smelled your clothes, you were free to go say hello, or, at best, snag a free drink.

A quick note: I asked the organizers if the event was open to gay and lesbian singles, and they did say yes, of course, though the official said the scientific angle gets confusing when it comes to same-sex pheromones. I am waiting on an e-mail follow-up to see what that meant. Searching the Internet on the topic led to many contradictions and dead ends. I ain't no science man.

Oh, and ABC's 20/20 and a few other local television news peeps were on the scene talking to the "crazies" while they were opening bag after bag of laundry. The women seemed more interested in the 20/20 guy and his fancy jeans than in the actual single men in the room.

I smelled inside a few of the bags with Maggie. Maybe my nose is broken, but all I smelled was food in the bags. Surely these people didn't eat in these shirts in the bed and fall asleep with a bag of jalapeño chips in their grasp. I mean, that sounds awesome, but right for finding a mate?

A few singles complained that the bags smelled of perfume and cologne and weren't total dank body funk. Getting to witness that mini-scandal was the highlight of my night.

It also made people reassess why they were there. What if they liked the way someone smelled but they were fucking idiots as a person? It seems to me that smell -- however important -- is still second, third or even fourth to good old-fashioned charm, physical attraction and, you know, money.

By the end, Maggie hadn't found anyone, or any smell, worth chasing, but we did get to see plenty of awkward flirting and hear tons of guarded conversations. Everyone seemed to have abandoned the sniffing for real, live chatting.

"I have always wanted to go sailing; I find the water majestic."

"My first wife had a temper to her, but now I only deal with her when someone dies."

"He looks and smells like a cab driver from a city built entirely of garlic."

One hopeful gentleman from Pearland in a hot-rod-themed silk shirt had picked out five bags looking to find a love connection. None of the women attached to the bags gave him the nod, but it did look like he did hit it off with another woman as the party wound down. Godspeed, sir.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty