The Hot New Thing in Dating? Actually Going on Dates.

Last Thursday night, 10 people were lined up for admission to Hair of the Dog, a sports bar on the Lower East Side that usually draws crowds for Sunday football viewing and day drinking. When they reached the bouncer, each was asked to provide documentation for entry: government-issued ID, proof of vaccination and a dating app profile, not that any of them were there to swipe.

Rather, a company called Thursday was hosting a singles’ mixer — an antidote to online dating fatigue. Attendees expressed all kinds of frustrations with modern romance: matches that seldom lead to more than small talk; the time-suck of parsing profiles for redeeming qualities and red flags; a documented pattern of racial discrimination on dating apps; and a general sense of hopelessness.

“Nobody matches with me,” Harrison Gottfried, 27, said shortly after entering the bar. When someone does come out of the woodwork on Tinder or Hinge, he said, they’re often not legit.

Thursday seeks to differentiate itself through artificial scarcity: The app is accessible only one day a week. (Bet you can’t guess which!) When the clock strikes midnight, users toggle an icon to indicate that they’re ready to date that day. Then, for 24 hours, they can swipe and chat as on other dating sites. When Thursday becomes Friday, however, their matches are wiped and the app locks. The implication is that there’s no time to waste with chitchat; making a date is now or never.

To encourage those IRL meetings, Thursday hosts events in London and New York, the two cities where it is up and running; the mixer at Hair of the Dog was its eighth in this city and drew a crowd of about 450.

Antoniy Fulmes, 24, heard about the event through a promotional email. Asked about his stance on online dating, he said: “I don’t want to meet the love of my life through a hookup app.” He added that “nobody on the apps wants to talk. Maybe it’s personal. Maybe I’m ugly.”

Even those who’d had more luck getting matches seemed to have soured on the apps. “Swiping a lot is not necessarily going to get you a date,” said Andrew Tchekalenkov, 31, a drug rehab therapist who has attended three mixers. “It might feel good, but it’s not substance.”

Matthew McNeill Love, the 31-year-old co-founder and chief operating officer of Thursday, wanted to create a product that would help people move beyond the initial “ego boost” of a match and toward a genuine connection. “Getting likes on Hinge is like getting likes on Instagram,” he said in a phone interview in mid-January.

“We realized that by limiting it to one day a week, people are forced to make a decision,” he said.

Mr. Love said that after its release in July 2021, Thursday’s app was downloaded 340,000 times before the company introduced its offline event series, called AfterParty. The first mixer took place at a bar in London three months ago.

“All we did was put it on the app,” Mr. Love said. “We didn’t advertise it, there’s no branding, there’s no reps there in pink shirts, there’s no icebreaker activities. It’s just a normal bar.”

Other dating apps have also leaned into the analog. Bumble, for instance, opened a cafe and wine bar in NoLIta this winter. Bumble Brew, as the establishment is called, “is not only designed for new connections to be built, but also for anyone to gather and interact,” Julia Smith-Caulfield, the company’s head of brand partnerships, wrote in an email, adding that “in-real-life events have long been a focus for us.”

Despite their growing distaste for digital dating, most attendees seemed to be using the same handful of apps. They described Tinder as a more casual hookup app and Hinge as a marketplace for relationship seekers. Hanna Choi, 28, said she uses Bumble “for talking to handsome men.”

A few guests said they exclusively use Thursday now, mainly for the singles events. Moses McFly, 39, has been to three of the events. “Every other app is available seven days a week,” he said, which can be overwhelming.

So how well are these mixers working for singles? “I’ve yet to be impressed, but it’s a good idea,” said Becky Kaploun, 24, an event planner who, when asked which dating apps she used, deadpanned, “all of them.” She was posted at a table with a friend, waiting to be approached by someone she was interested in. “This is the closest to meeting somebody normally in real life,” Ms. Kaploun said.

The mixer seems to be going well for Mr. Fulmes, who at one point yelled to his roommate: “I’ve talked to six girls already! You have to catch up.” Nearby, a man directed a woman through the crowd dancing to Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” and barked: “Let’s go in the corner. That’s where I can make out with you.”

Celeste Ortega, a 26-year-old industrial designer who was attending the event with Ms. Choi, said that “zero people” had approached them. “I’m between disappointed and ‘meh,’” she said of the crowd, whom she suggested were “desperate.”

When asked if she would attend another event, Ms. Ortega didn’t hesitate. “Oh my God,” she said. “Probably every single Thursday for the rest of my life.”

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