I had this awkward moment on a date once. Bottle of wine finished, we both decided we should go somewhere else for a nightcap. Instead, we ended up on a fruitless walk around Trafalgar Square before finally agreeing to head to the Tube station and go our separate ways. Suffice to say, there was no second date.
But had I had a trusted friend on hand with a recommendation of which bar to hit up next—some sort of WhatsApp agony aunt for drinking establishments—who knows how my night might have ended. Not with a disappointing "OK, see ya" outside Leicester Square Underground station, I'm certain of that.
Clearly, there is a God and she has heard my cry. London nightlife website BarChick recently launched "Barchick Concierge," a 24-hour messaging service that promises to respond to texts at any hour, from any part of the city with bar recommendations. "BarChick's become your boozing PA," reads a recent blog post on the site. "It's simple, just message us to tell us what you're after and we'll get it sorted."
As promising as this sounds, any anonymous text messaging venture needs a trial run before being risked on an actual date. So I pick a quiet Tuesday night and let my phone take me out on a bar crawl.
At this point, it's probably worth making a distinction between a bar crawl and a pub crawl. While pub crawls are often lairy affairs involving the excessive and speedy downing of pints, on a bar crawl, someone has taken the time and effort to craft a drink specifically for you. Call me a tight-lipped Brit but it is not OK to down a cocktail. A bar crawl should be a languid exploration of low key places to drink Old Fashioneds.
Unsure of the exact etiquette when addressing a virtual concierge via text, I begin my conversation with BarChick in a business-like manner, outlining where I was planning to go and asking for recommendations. I wait for the reply.
So far, so automated.
In rapid succession, I soon receive several messages listing nearby bars and why they're worth checking out. At this point, I'm pretty convinced that the service is run entirely by bots picking up on keywords, similar to one of those hideous telephone banking conversations you end up having with a tape that constantly asks you, "Is that right?"
But when I text back to say that the recommendations look great, the reply proves me wrong.
"Wicked! Let us know if you want to be booked in. x"
A kiss? This is no robot—BarChick is definitely real. I immediately imagine her as a kind of sexy fairy godmother character, perched on a stool sipping Negronis in some exclusive London bar while being personally looked after by a gorgeous bartender. Her phone vibrates on the countertop. She picks it up, sees my text, and smiles. "I know just the place …" she mutters to herself before tapping out a reply.
The truth, it turns out, is a little less fantastical—but no less personal. BarChick actually has a whole team of fairy godmothers ready to give advice for a good night out, as well as a few advisors in New York covering the wee hours.
"Finding awesome spots, getting into bars, and planning parties sucks, but once you're at a great bar, the customer experience is phenomenal," BarChick founder Tatiana Mercer explains. "We wanted to make that easier for people to get at."
And so she made a concierge service you could carry in your pocket. We all have our favourite haunts and our go-to drinks, but if we asked an expert: "Where would you go?" and "What would you drink?" our nights could be entirely transformed.
Once I know BarChick is manned by an actual human, we chat away over text and get the first two bars of my bar-crawling night booked in. Like Cinderella with her coach and two horses, I am good to go.
I soon find myself on a magical treasure trail of bars I didn't even know existed. I drink cocktails in a train station I regularly travel through without ever having noticed the bar (a sultry mid-century basement on a dimly lit street corner) and even wander through the kitchen of a restaurant to find a tiny bar strung with fairy lights.
Three bars in and it's already late and a school night. BarChick's service may be 24/7 but if you think it's a guide in your pocket to aid and abet your heavy drinking, think again.
"Our tagline is to have the best time—being drunk is when you pass that point," says Mercer. "We obviously get people not making sense, asking for electro clubs at 3 AM on a Monday, but this is where humour is handy. We're most likely to reply: 'Perhaps it's time to go home' or 'Get an Uber Johanna.'"
It seems that while you can chat away with BarChick at any time of day or night, she's not really here to direct you on an all-night bender—rather for those times you find yourself lying awake planning the date of your dreams and need a little help.
Nevertheless, I chance my arm, just to see how all-night-long London actually is on a weekday. Turns out, not very.
"If we wanted to stay out all night," I text BarChick. "Could we do it?"
She does her best, offering some bars open til 2 AM in the centre of town. Sadly I have work the next day so my drinking is kept duly responsible.
Cocktail fairy godmother in your pocket or not, I guess no one wants to see me finishing a night shoeless and looking like a pumpkin.