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The Gibson Curse

By N.F.

For Valentine’s Day the Gibson ran a Love Story writing contest. For a bar that hosts so many dates, anniversaries, engagements, and wedding parties, we felt like there must be a wealth of rich experiences our guests wanted to share, and we weren’t disappointed.

This is the winning submission for the contest, a story about a string of bad dates.


Known for its romantic ambience, you would think bringing someone that you started dating to The Gibson would be a fun idea. I didn’t find that to be the case. Time after time, it became a turning point that led to the last scene of dating. It didn't matter if it was two weeks into dating or two months in, it was a curse. Maybe the combination of boozy cocktails being so-good-you-don't-realize-how-drunk-you’re-getting and the extremely dim lights concocted the perfect storm for my dates to magically divulge their deepest secrets about their past relationships. Something about this “speakeasy” made it a place to speak a little “too easily.” 

My first experience with The Gibson Curse was some years ago. I had been dating a guy for two months when I introduced him to The Gibson. At what seemed his big chance to whisper a sweet nothing to me, he leaned in closer across the bistro table to hold my hand, stare ever-so-deeply into my eyes, and tell me over the flickering tealight candle, "My ex-girlfriend was extremely jealous." Completely unprompted, he launched into a tale about one of her fits at a pool hall, really quite too boring to recall or retell here. His words crashed out waves of resentment, almost visible even in the dimly lit bar. I thought she was an ex of maybe a few months earlier. Not so much. Try closer to 4 years ago. 

“Hmmmm, do you maybe wanna talk to someone else to get over her?” “Is this what you consider romantic talk?” were two of the main questions I wanted to ask as soon as he took a breathe. When The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again” played in the background, the waiter approached us to see if we would like another round. “Yes, *pause* please, *deep sigh*” I responded. Two days later, he acknowledged it was weird, mea culpa-ing for another date. I agreed, but knew it was over before it began, ending things shortly thereafter. 

Two years later, another guy and another date at The Gibson. He seemed really uncomfortable halfway through cocktails. He started to talk about an ex, telling me where she worked, what she liked to drink, and so on. Was his ex here? I thought. Will she be joining us this evening? Why the rundown of her predilections? Was I supposed to take notes? 

The torch he carried for her could have illuminated the entire bar and the intersection of 14th and U Street. I was bored, older, and slightly wiser in addressing this sort of lecture-about-my-ex. To douse the dialogue I asked him, “Why are you talking about her so much?” With barely saying good night, he left - maybe he realized it was finished or perhaps to call her to profess his love. Either way, he raced out of the dimly lit hallway and out the unmarked door, the trail of his torch lingering wherever he sprinted. For his sake, I hoped its flames would eventually flicker out like the nearly-extinguished candle in front of me. The curse had struck again. 

Close guy friends confirmed these were "rookie moves” and that I was better off. I followed the mantra my sage friend shared, "Don't sweat someone who wears a fashion sweatshirt." Regardless, I stopped taking anyone I was dating to The Gibson for years. The curse seemed a little bit too real. I considered sending the bar a note asking them if they would kindly rename some of their drinks to “Red Flag.” Or, “Hold That Thought In Your Head.” Maybe, “Don’t Spill Your Guts So Soon.” 

After a bit of time passed, I thought to give The Gibson Date another chance. Who knows? Maybe the curse had eventually expired. But I was wrong. The Gibson Curse tapped me on the shoulder again, reminding me that I shouldn’t have gone back... 

We had been seeing each other for about a week before we went. An hour into our conversation, he tells me that his ex didn't want to have kids. “Ummmm, OK,” I conveyed with a tilted head and a raised eyebrow. Was hoping we’d maybe talk about something else, anything else. Perhaps he couldn’t see the why-in-the-world-are-you-telling-me-this reaction on my face because the bar was so dark. I kept the questions in the thought bubble over my head. Have I mentioned wanting kids? Or, did I ask why you two broke up? Perhaps this your way of not taking any responsibility for why the relationship ended? 

Naturally I was quite uncomfortable hearing all this intimate past relationship intel. Resisting the urge to tell him it’s never a good idea to talk about your ex’s life goals when you just meet someone, I filled in the air time nervously blabbering so he couldn't stick his foot in his mouth anymore. After our 2-hour reservation was over, I walked home and opened my online dating profile, needing a palette cleanser from The Gibson Curse. So I sent a message to a guy whose profile was short and sweet. All the while thinking that expression - less is more (more or less) - would surely be a good sign. 

*** Fast forwarding to last summer, my husband and I were taking a sunny Sunday stroll through Malcolm X Park. Drum circle drummers pulsated out the heartbeat of the park. Every spot of green grass was brimming with people savoring picnics, playing frisbee games or soccer matches. Slacklining sets were perched between trees. After circling the inner path, we took the peripheral more shaded, less crowded sidewalk. I noticed a small white sign delicately planted in the grass next to this somewhat hidden walkway. In a cursively swirled robin egg blue font, it announced, "Happily Ever After." A few steps later another one proclaimed, "Follow Your Heart!” Still another professed, "True Love." The sprinkling of signs ended with a pacing young man dressed in a pale blue suit that matched the font on these romantic clues. Pink rose petals surrounded his feet. He was slightly nervous, but more excited. 

We had accidentally waltzed in to a proposal about to happen. 

I asked the young man the obvious. "It's a surprise... she's here for an internship and doesn't know I'm here..." he said, radiating so much love. Wanting to bottle up this beautiful moment, I ask him if I could take his photo and instantly agreed. I considered posting it to social media, but never did and am not sure if I ever will. Couldn’t help but wonder how I would feel if a stranger posted a photo of my engagement? I’ll just say that if you saw his ear-to-ear smile in this snapshot, you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from grinning just as widely. 

I did say "my husband" earlier so you’re probably wondering - Did I ever take him to The Gibson while we were dating? I certainly did. Turned out that the person with the “less is more” profile would be “the one.” And that's when I realized there was never a Gibson Curse. It was the Gibson Test. The date who could handle the elixir atmosphere of The Gibson without boring me with tales of erstwhile exes, passed with flying colors. 

Guess where we celebrated with impromptu we-just-got-engaged-cocktails three summers ago? 

You got it. The Gibson. Didn't need to think twice about where to go.