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The motivations of the trendy babes at the three B’s: Bonefish, Bravo! and Bar Louie.
Armed with Christmas gift cards, a group of friends and I made the trek to Bonefish Grill. We were mainly seeking something called Bang Bang Shrimp, which I’d heard would change my life, or at the very least make the cross-town drive worthwhile.
What we found was a 30-minute wait and the impression that we were extremely underdressed.
For a place owned by Outback Steakhouse with wooden fish-handled doors, this place looked surprisingly swanky on a recent Friday night. There were ladies — lots of them — and they were the fur-vested kind of trendy. Apparently Bang Bang Shrimp calls for heels and a blowout.
Bonefish isn’t the only chain managing to pull in a major ladies-night-out crowd.
Just across the parking lot, a similar crowd flocks to Bar Louie, another nation-wide chain — this one known not for exploding shrimp, but for bruschetta served in an inexplicably over-sized martini glass. Google-image search “Bar Louie bruschetta” and group photos of twenty-something women show up in the results. It’s madness.
At Bravo! off Chenal Parkway, groups of ladies can similarly be found sipping unnaturally-colored cocktails, but the traffic all depends on what movie is playing at the mega-plex down the sidewalk. I’m going to have to assume that the days of Magic Mike did particularly well.
Chain restaurants don’t immediately jump to mind as a see-and-be-seen nightspot, but for ladies in west Little Rock, that’s exactly what they are.
One host at Bar Louie divulged that ladies-night-out broods tend to arrive on Fridays, late or on Wednesdays for the by-the-bucket drink special. And these ladies are not shy about getting noticed.
“They’ll ask for a table in the center of the restaurant,” the host said. Subtle.
My partner-in-crime and I weren’t feeling the spotlight when we hit up Bar Louie for some recent Saturday night entertainment. Turns out the tall tables by the bar provide some of the best people watching anyway. To our right, a birthday party of four ladies complete with crowns. To our left, two women vying for the attention of one man who seemed, at best, conflicted about the situation. By 9 p.m., the entire restaurant and bar was packed with double-dates, birthday parties and plenty of women in plenty of eye makeup.
“We come here all the time!” squealed a girl named Mallory, clad in a yellow top and skinny jeans taking iPhone selfies in the bathroom. “The drinks are great and there’s good music and a crowd.”
She had to go rescue her friend at the bar — from what fate I’m not sure — before we could get too in-depth with why she would rather be here than a more traditional bar. But she does live nearby. So there’s that.
I decided to shove my way back through the wooden fish-handled doors at Bonefish Grill for more answers. Crowded near the bar area, looking expectantly toward the hostess stand and sipping wine were three women who looked more ready for dancing than ordering plates of fish. Luckily the outfits weren’t just for going out.
“Oh, we’re going out after this,” said Casey, the tallest of the group. “But we like to have dinner and drinks first.”
But don’t they feel a little over-dressed?
“We don’t really care … and there are lots of people here on dates who dress up anyway,” she said.
Back at Bar Louie, the night starts to shift around 10 p.m. The music gets louder. There’s more Big Sean and less Mumford & Sons. People start forgetting they have chairs and tables and gravitate toward the bar, standing in groups.
It’s about that point in the night that the girls-night-out have a decision to make: Steel yourself against the dudes at the bar working up the line they’re going to use when they walk up, or pick up your drink and talk to them first. There’s not much need to head to a bar after this. This is a bar. A get-some-numbers, look-your-best bar. This one just happens to come with martini glasses of bruschetta and exact replicas all across the U.S.
After a plate of bacon cheeseburger sliders, a bottle of wine and an over-priced lemony cocktail (when in Bar Louie ...), my friend and I were feeling positively at home at the place. That’s the thing about chains. They’re incredibly consistent. The food always tastes the same and so do the drinks. It’s not the sophisticated choice, but at least you know what you’re in for.
If you ladies in west Little Rock love that Bang Bang Shrimp and wine-by-the-bucket deals, then by all means throw on those heels and do what you want. That’s the point of a night out, after all.