On a recent frosty Tuesday night, taxi doors slammed as people piled out and streamed towards Pacha, a nightclub in the West 40’s. With lips pursed—the way lips can only do when speaking French—people called out to friends waiting in line or talked excitedly into their cell phones, hoping to reach the one person who’d save them the indignity of waiting behind velvet ropes.
Under the front door’s bright lights, three burly bouncers dwarfed a compact French man in a blue military cap, Pierre Battu, the 39-year-old expat from France and the mastermind behind French Tuesdays, a roving Francophile social club that meets every other Tuesday and has become a sort of dating buffet for New York’s single women.
Mr. Battu moved the crowd toward the door and greeted members as old friends: “ Salut!” “ Bonjour!” Lots of kisses on both cheeks—though not for three French men who arrived in jeans, not in accordance with the “business chic” dress code. Mr. Battu eventually allowed them in with a curt “But next time, you will not be let in.”
A humorless French doorman with an earpiece stood nearby with a laptop and asked for people’s ID’s, to check names against the membership list. Mr. Battu estimates that 85 percent of French Tuesdays’ 3,700 members are single, and a great majority are non-American. At the parties, over half the crowd appears to be French.
Inside, Pacha’s dance floor overflowed as seizure-inducing strobe lights pulsed through a fog of dry ice. Rumps bumped against groins, thighs nestled into crotches, and a three-person dance sandwich went at it. Women wore long stiletto boots and skirts stretched over taut butts. The men sported slightly grown-out hair, suits, small leather shoes and expensive watches. People on the edges of the dance floor sipped flutes of champagne and politely smiled at the three garish rent-a-trannies who made the rounds. One heard French, English, Spanish, Italian and German.
“I finally found what I was looking for: thousands of French men,” said a 35-year-old artist with big blue eyes named Liz. “French men are, in general, more relaxed. My guard is down; I don’t have to prove anything, unlike with New York men, where I feel like I have to give them my age, what I do for a living and my salary.”
French expats not involved with French Tuesdays have rolled their eyes at the mention of it, but this underground circuit seems to be something of an ego-soothing haven for single women in their late 30’s and 40’s who either want to rope in and hogtie themselves a real, live European man or just want to flirt with one.
As the throbbing bass notes to “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” by the French group Modjo pounded, ties were loosened, jackets got tossed aside, and faces turned shiny with sweat. Several members snatched up the straw cowboy hats that Mr. Battu had passed out as party favors and donned them proudly as they danced in earnest.
Pascal, a 35-year-old Parisian who’s been an investment banker in New York for seven years, was dressed in black cashmere with a chunky silver thumb ring. He busted flamenco-inspired moves on the floor.
“It’s the French paradigm that if you are older, you can still be sexy,” Pascal said later in lightly accented English. “America really is a youth-obsessed culture. Older women here might think, ‘Oh, I’m past my prime,’ but I find it interesting that they always have a great time at French Tuesdays. There are men who dress well, have manners, know how to have conversations and dance.”
Freshly bronzed from a West Indies cruise, Pascal said he was a bit taken aback by the enthusiasm from American women at French Tuesdays.
“I’m not saying I don’t like the attention, but sometimes it comes off as being really aggressive to me,” he said. Europeans, he claimed, are more relaxed about the opposite sex. “The word ‘dating’ is still a foreign concept to me,” he said. Whenever he has casually asked an American woman if she’d like to “get together,” he said, the response has been—he mimicked a nasal American accent—“You mean, like a date?”
Indeed, American women are somewhat of a mystery to Pascal.
“I argue a lot with some of my female colleagues,” he said. “I was showing pictures of my trip in the West Indies and, you know, I wear Speedos. They were so shocked. They were like, ‘Men are not supposed to wear those!’ I was like, ‘Leave me alone!’ I found myself almost being militant about it. There is a double standard with American women: They complain that American men are so boring, vanilla, not into their feminine side, but somehow if American men start making an effort in that way, the women start repressing them. Then don’t complain!”
With the sweaty sea of attractive foreign women who dance and drink away every other Tuesday, New York’s single men should be lining up. But so far, they aren’t. “We’re too Euro for American men; they can’t handle us,” shrugged Elsa, a French native with mod bangs who was wearing a stylish black turtleneck. “And men in New York work too much—they want to fit a woman into their little slot of free time. They can’t take care of us the way we like to be taken care of.”
“I don’t think I could date an American man; their knowledge about the rest of the world is limited,” said Lana, a Lebanese/Canadian beauty in tight jeans and blood-red silky top. “They only follow what happens in the U.S., as most of them have never left to begin with. It just makes it harder to have interesting conversations.” Then she started dancing on the stairway to a White Stripes song.
French Tuesdays’ headquarters is a fluorescent-lit office in the garment district. On a recent afternoon, Mr. Battu was sitting at his desk, patiently talking on the phone with a tech person about a glitch on the Web site. Strewn across the floor were U.P.S. boxes, bubble wrap, a military cap and three phone chargers. A worn white shirt, the cufflinks still on, hung on the back of the door; a knotted tie was drooped over a chair.
Mr. Battu has a degree from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP) and several years of experience at a French paper company and textile business. Now he’s crunching numbers he never quite envisioned for himself, running French Tuesdays with business partner Gilles Amsallem. “In New York, 70 percent of people 25 to 40 are single,” he said. “We were the first ones to offer something high-end for 30-to-40-year-olds, since the typical nightclub industry is based on anorexic models. We do have young people, but we also have people who are in their 70’s.”
Mr. Battu’s first party—financed out of his own pocket for 50 friends, mostly French—was at the Dream Hotel during the height of French-bashing in 2003. He threw the party primarily to boost his own ailing social life, but it has since steadily gained momentum, drawing an average of 1,500 people per party.
To become a member, two existing members must sponsor the applicant, who then fills out a form with questions regarding profession, age, income and country of origin. Membership is free, and for an additional $30 per year you can obtain a white card that allows you to jump the line and bring extra guests.
Non-members are welcome at each party, provided they’re appropriately dressed and pay a cover charge of $20. There is no dress code for women, because, Mr. Battu believes, “Women, you know, can be extremely stylish wearing nuzzing.” There is currently a French Tuesdays party circuit in Miami, and this spring there will be one in Los Angeles.
On a recent evening at Duvet, the bed-centric club with horizontal lounging surfaces surrounded by sheer white curtains, the French Tuesdays crowd had just applauded a dance show of scantily clad women and bare-chested men. Jazzed by the Middle Eastern raï music, people swung their hips on the dance floor or danced barefoot on the white beds.
Three clean-cut young men in sports coats took advantage of the reduced-rate champagne at the bar. Nicholas, a 32-year-engineer from Quebec, looked around and described the atmosphere, triumphantly, as “Euro-classy.” With the disclaimer of “I’ve got a girlfriend,” Christophe, a 27-year-old Parisian investment banker who had been in New York three months, said, “There are a lot of hot American girls who make eye contact here. Not the French girls.” He pulled the corners of his mouth down and added, “By law, French girls are like this.” Olivier, a 31-year-old in the shipping business, said American women have a weakness for French men because of their good manners, openness to new things, “and, of course, because we are good lovers—great lovers.”
“If I had the thick French accent—and if I were French French instead of just French-descended—I’d get more bang for the buck,” said Stéphane, a 38-year-old lawyer with no accent, originally from Montreal. “But American women looking for French men is not really a market I work on anyway.”
A 38-year-old American woman named Theresa said she’d been a French Tuesdays regular for several years. Surrounded by French men at the bar, she called out, “I love anything French!” She was wearing a crisp white shirt and small fur jacket, with a matching fur scrunchie holding back her blond hair. She leaned over and half-whispered, “And you feel really naughty going to work Wednesday morning, because you’ve had a wild night.” She excused herself: “I have my eye on those two beautiful men right there.” Generic club music melded into old Michael Jackson.
“I don’t want to be banned from the place—I’m having a good time—but the music sucks here as bad as it does in France,” said James, a 41-year-old attorney, one of many suited-up men who reclined awkwardly on one of the cushions scattered throughout the club. “I’m here for the Asian crowd—I prefer Asia as my focus,” he added. “I was into European women, food and travel, but now I’m into Asian women, food, travel.”
The house photographer snapped his shutter while women did sultry dances pointing into his lens. A young man in a sweaty, untucked oxford shirt played the air guitar while others pogoed. A hired bald saxophone player dodged in and out of the crowd.
“I meet cute girls here,” said a 32-year-old Frenchman of the blond Pepé Le Pew variety named Cedric. He said he can spot an American woman immediately. “She’s dressy—perfect hair, perfect nails, everything is too perfect. French women are more natural, classy, smart.”
There are two categories of women in New York who like French men according to Mr. Battu. “One is just an adventurer who has fun,” he said. “The other is in her mid-30’s, has been concentrating on her career and is now facing the challenge of finding somebody. She’s trying her luck with other cultures, and that woman can get extremely disappointed. She thinks she has met the right guy—he must be very wealthy, very single—and the guy has a girlfriend or is even married in France. I know a bunch of serial French daters that do it all the time.
“Our culture is much more about—I mean, the good part is about poetry, the bad part is about bullshit,” he continued. “Here, you can play your stupid little trick: the accent, the references to the culture, the flowers, the poetry, the food—all the clichés that are actually fun. But with a Frenchwoman, it would never work. She’d say, ‘All right—you just want to get laid.’”
Mr. Battu does have a girlfriend, Russian-born and raised in America. “I love her,” he said, “but to be in a culturally mixed couple, no matter how close you are to the country, is extremely difficult. So the bad thing is that you only understand 60 percent, and the good thing is that you only understand 60 percent.”
It was a cultural gap that he also experienced with an American woman before he met his current paramour. He and the American had been dating for two weeks. One night, she invited him over for dinner. “I came with my toothbrush and briefs; I assumed I was to stay over,” he said. “We were 36, 37—come on, we’re grown-ups.” According to Mr. Battu, the woman was shocked by his presumptuousness: “Apparently, for an American man, it would be extremely rude to come over with a toothbrush and briefs.”
Follow Nina Roberts via RSS.