Relationships are brewing at New York's Drip cafe

Single folk migrate to this trendy coffeehouse to fill the void in their love lives without resorting to classified ads or tacky dating services.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Singletons, singletons everywhere, but not a date to meet.

That's how Nancy Slotnik felt not too long ago when she was swimming in the singles ocean in New York City. Convinced that there must be a better way to connect with potential suitors, Ms. Slotnik set out to build her own house of dates, Drip cafe on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Four years later, Slotnik is engaged, and 56 other couples owe their nuptials to Drip. Now Drip is percolating out to other cities.

"We consider ourselves an alternative to the typical singles bar, which is darker, louder, smokier, with a high percentage of drunk people," Slotnik says. "Especially for women but also for men, that's not an ideal situation to meet people."

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At first Drip looks like a regular cafe. Or at least what passes for regular in New York: the faade is splashed with Barney purple and the inside sports a mix of retro lounge furniture and shelves featuring boxes of Pop Tarts and Cracker Jack. But the clientele within seems a bit more preoccupied than normal. Half of the guests look like they're on first dates - which they are - and the others are checking out potential dates by flipping through binders or watching who's coming through the door.

While some visitors might come just for a Cap'n Crunch milkshake and to give the room a once-over, the cafe's secret is these binders, a homemade library of one-page profiles of 30,000 singles. There are no names, no photographs - only personal specs (age, education, occupation), musings on life (ideal weekend plans and vacation spots), and a couple of graphs (self-description, what you're looking for).

It's like point-and-click dating. When you see someone who interests you, Drip does the legwork. If both parties agree, a meeting is set up at the cafe. Phone numbers and names are kept locked in Drip's database unless dates agree to give them out.

"Our motto is 'Straight to the date,' " Slotnik says. "We try to get people right to that stage of the process."

Even at Drip, getting a date is still a process. Anyone can flip through the binders, which can provide a night's entertainment in themselves. To get to the people behind the profiles, however, requires a $10 registration fee and personal bio of your own. Then Drip, at $3 per request, will let targets know they've been tapped. All that will get you to square one.

"Going to a coffeehouse feels off-beat rather than going to a formal dating service, which seems so serious," says Diana Halperin, who recently made a first outing to Drip after discovering that friends of hers had met there. "Signing up for a formal service would feel like it's a job to get a husband - that's not my priority."

That seems to be the consensus among Drip patrons. They're not so fed up as to turn to a matchmaker, but some informal structure to their dating life is a welcome change from trolling the singles scene.

"It's a numbers game," says Ed Rumph, a Long Islander who has belonged to Drip for a year and a half and been on several dates that never went beyond that first meeting. "Coming in here and finding out a little bit about people is better than trying a club or a bar."

There's quite a cross-section to choose from, but overall, Slotnik says the Drip clientele is quite educated (most seem to have or are pursuing graduate degrees), thoughtful (filling out that questionnaire requires it), and more ready for a relationship (if they weren't, who would bother with all this?).

Some singles take the process very seriously, scrutinizing the binders one by one, making a list and checking it twice. Others, like Gene Holmstead, are more casual. "I'll be in Central Park for a run, come over here, flip through the books, pick out a few profiles and request them," he says. Recently he and two of his friends who are also signed up decided to meet every Tuesday evening in the cafe.

Going through the books with a friend is a popular pastime at Drip. "I'm sitting here, and this separating-the-wheat-from-the-chaff process is very amusing," Ms. Halperin says. Indeed, she and her friend are in stitches as they try to decipher the men in the binders, which are stacked up on an old school desk in front of them.

"He's a lawyer and likes golf - a clich," says Halperin's friend Joanna Pudil, who is married but came to help out.

" 'Fortyish but usually taken for early 30s,' " Halperin reads. "Is that what's going to happen to us? We'll be justifying our age?" She flips the page.

"Ooh, a chef!" Ms. Pudil chimes. "You can get good meals out of a chef." But "uh-oh," she sighs. "He wants a 'petite, fit woman.' How can you want a petite, fit woman if you're a chef?" Flip.

Settled into an orange vinyl wing-back chair around the corner from where Halperin and Pudil are dismissing gentlemen one by one, Mr. Rumph is deep in thought about his own profile. Since he revised it two months ago, he hasn't gotten any responses to his requests. "So I'm wondering if I'm being too detailed with what I have or too descriptive of what I'm looking for," he says.

As evening falls, men and women arriving solo are discreetly announcing themselves to a staff member standing behind the front counter. "I'm here for my 7:30," one says. The maitre d' checks a chart and nods. "Follow me, please." She is led to a table where her date awaits.

"What's the worst that can happen?" Halperin asks. "There's no response, or I meet someone and it doesn't work out. That's pretty painless. Much less painful than going to a party and nobody talks to you, or everyone else there is in couples."

Of course there was the woman who met her date, a puppeteer, who spoke to her only through puppets. "Obviously there have been bad dates," Slotnik concedes.

But overall, Drip finds itself in enough demand to be expanding to other cities via a Web site, Dripcafe.com. It works much like the binders, whose profiles are scanned and posted online for a $15 monthly charge, which includes date requests. Digital photos can be exchanged privately between two people, but not names or e-mails. The two parties check off their available dates on an electronic calendar and Drip coordinates them.

This month, Drip launched affiliations with existing cafes in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Next will be Los Angeles, Washington, Miami, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. Drip claims to be the only online dating service where the dates are set up and e-mail addresses remain confidential.

As for Slotnik, she had her own profile posted in a binder for more than three years before she met The One - while walking on the street. "We saw each other and started walking up the street together and started talking," she explains. But just how, one wonders, would they have met if a traffic light had turned red a step too soon or a bagel had beckoned from a deli window and their paths had not crossed?

It turned out that the day before they met, he had signed up at Drip. Cracker Jack. But the clientele within seems a bit more preoccupied than normal. Half of the guests look like they're on first dates - which they are - and the others are checking out potential dates by flipping through binders or watching who's coming through the door.

While some visitors might come just for a Cap'n Crunch milkshake and to give the room a once-over, the cafe's secret is these binders, a homemade library of one-page profiles of 30,000 singles. There are no names, no photographs - only personal specs (age, education, occupation), musings on life (ideal weekend plans and vacation spots), and a couple of graphs (self-description, what you're looking for).

It's like point-and-click dating. When you see someone who interests you, Drip does the legwork. If both parties agree, a meeting is set up at the cafe. Phone numbers and names are kept locked in Drip's database unless dates agree to give them out.

"Our motto is 'Straight to the date,' " Slotnik says. "We try to get people right to that stage of the process."

Even at Drip, getting a date is still a process. Anyone can flip through the binders, which can provide a night's entertainment in themselves. To get to the people behind the profiles, however, requires a $10 registration fee and personal bio of your own. Then Drip, at $3 per request, will let targets know they've been tapped. All that will get you to square one.

"Going to a coffeehouse feels off-beat rather than going to a formal dating service, which seems so serious," says Diana Halperin, who recently made a first outing to Drip after discovering that friends of hers had met there. "Signing up for a formal service would feel like it's a job to get a husband - that's not my priority."

That seems to be the consensus among Drip patrons. They're not so fed up as to turn to a matchmaker, but some informal structure to their dating life is a welcome change from trolling the singles scene.

"It's a numbers game," says Ed Rumph, a Long Islander who has belonged to Drip for a year and a half and been on several dates that never went beyond that first meeting. "Coming in here and finding out a little bit about people is better than trying a club or a bar."

There's quite a cross-section to choose from, but overall, Slotnik says the Drip clientele is quite educated (most seem to have or are pursuing graduate degrees), thoughtful (filling out that questionnaire requires it), and more ready for a relationship (if they weren't, who would bother with all this?).

Some singles take the process very seriously, scrutinizing the binders one by one, making a list and checking it twice. Others, like Gene Holmstead, are more casual. "I'll be in Central Park for a run, come over here, flip through the books, pick out a few profiles and request them," he says. Recently he and two of his friends who are also signed up decided to meet every Tuesday evening in the cafe.

Going through the books with a friend is a popular pastime at Drip. "I'm sitting here, and this separating-the-wheat-from-the-chaff process is very amusing," Ms. Halperin says. Indeed, she and her friend are in stitches as they try to decipher the men in the binders, which are stacked up on an old school desk in front of them.

"He's a lawyer and likes golf - a clich," says Halperin's friend Joanna Pudil, who is married but came to help out.

" 'Fortyish but usually taken for early 30s,' " Halperin reads. "Is that what's going to happen to us? We'll be justifying our age?" She flips the page.

"Ooh, a chef!" Ms. Pudil chimes. "You can get good meals out of a chef." But "uh-oh," she sighs. "He wants a 'petite, fit woman.' How can you want a petite, fit woman if you're a chef?" Flip.

Settled into an orange vinyl wing-back chair around the corner from where Halperin and Pudil are dismissing gentlemen one by one, Mr. Rumph is deep in thought about his own profile. Since he revised it two months ago, he hasn't gotten any responses to his requests. "So I'm wondering if I'm being too detailed with what I have or too descriptive of what I'm looking for," he says.

As evening falls, men and women arriving solo are discreetly announcing themselves to a staff member standing behind the front counter. "I'm here for my 7:30," one says. The maitre d' checks a chart and nods. "Follow me, please." She is led to a table where her date awaits.

"What's the worst that can happen?" Halperin asks. "There's no response, or I meet someone and it doesn't work out. That's pretty painless. Much less painful than going to a party and nobody talks to you, or everyone else there is in couples."

Of course there was the woman who met her date, a puppeteer, who spoke to her only through puppets. "Obviously there have been bad dates," Slotnik concedes.

But overall, Drip finds itself in enough demand to be expanding to other cities via a Web site, Dripcafe.com. It works much like the binders, whose profiles are scanned and posted online for a $15 monthly charge, which includes date requests. Digital photos can be exchanged privately between two people, but not names or e-mails. The two parties check off their available dates on an electronic calendar and Drip coordinates them.

This month, Drip launched affiliations with existing cafes in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Next will be Los Angeles, Washington, Miami, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. Drip claims to be the only online dating service where the dates are set up and e-mail addresses remain confidential.

As for Slotnik, she had her own profile posted in a binder for more than three years before she met The One - while walking on the street. "We saw each other and started walking up the street together and started talking," she explains. But just how, one wonders, would they have met if a traffic light had turned red a step too soon or a bagel had beckoned from a deli window and their paths had not crossed?

It turned out that the day before they met, he had signed up at Drip.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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