Smile Politely

The Gentlemen’s Guide: A night out

The world needs more gentlemen. Plain and simple. It needs men who open doors, dress well, and know how to order a drink. Men who can carry on a conversation that isn’t about fantasy football and who will wait in line at the grocery store while proudly holding a box of tampons. It needs guys who listen. Who take care of themselves. And, for God’s sake, know when it’s time to get a haircut. It needs men who take just as much pride in wearing a well-fitting suit as they do in building a playhouse for their son or daughter. Men who aren’t ashamed that they prefer salad over french fries (or french fries over salad) and who are willing to admit that Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is their jam. The world needs these men. We need these men, probably now more than ever.

With media-driven ad campaigns highlighting what today’s men must be, the once timeless, redeeming qualities of being integrous and well-dressed have now been replaced with a never-back-down attitude and over-sized cargo shorts. Phrases like “suck it up” and “be a man” have inundated our everyday language to such an extent that boys are growing up more concerned with how many punches they can take rather than appreciating the courage and fortitude required to refrain from throwing them. That’s wrong. Being a man isn’t about landing one on the cheek. It’s about kissing your mother on hers when you say goodbye. That’s a true man. A gentleman.

In this series, I will give tips, tricks, and everyday advice on how to be a respectable gentleman in the 21st century. Thanks for reading.

Installment One: A night out

1. Get the special

A couple of Januaries ago, my friend and I asked each other about our New Year’s resolutions. I think mine was something cliche like getting into better shape or trying to smile more at strangers. When I asked him what his was, he said, “Get the special.” My expression most have suggested I wasn’t following. “You know? At restaurants? They always have a special?” I nodded. “Well, whenever I go out, I’m going to ask what the special is, and I’m going to get it.” My first instinct was to laugh, but I then realized what a genius idea that was. It was not only totally attainable (which is always a plus), but it also forced him to venture out of his normal routine of ordering a burger or steak at every place he went. I promptly amended my resolution and adopted this newer, better one.

Getting the special is gentlemanly because it shows you’re okay with change. With being different. You’ll be viewed as refined and adventurous, and the act of spontaneity might alter your mindset just enough that it changes how you view/handle an unexpected situation later on in the evening.

Big Grove Tavern’s “Date Night Monday” is the perfect option for stepping outside of your culinary comfort zone.  In addition to serving delicious daily lunch and dinner specials comprised of locally-grown ingredients, each Monday night, the restaurant offers diners a four course, Prix Fixe menu for two all for $50.00. For a sample menu, click here. Another fantastic place to go is Crane Alley in Urbana. They serve daily specials that include favorites like burgers and steaks with a touch a flair by adding ingredients like chipotle coulis and crimini mushrooms. Visit their website for current features.

2. Order whiskey

We’ve all heard about the major health benefits of red wine. Its potent mix of antioxidants can do anything from helping you lose weight to reducing your risk of diabetes, heart attack, and Alzheimer’s. What many people don’t know is that whiskey offers nearly all of those same perks, too (all in moderation, of course).

Now, when I say “whiskey,” I’m not referring to “Fireball” or the always-classy-Kid Rock-endorsed “Red Stag.” I’m talking about the good stuff. The stuff that Daniel Craig downs on a Grecian beach with a scorpion on his wrist. You may not be as ballsy — or as ruggedly handsome — as Craig in this famous Bond scene, but you’ll at least have a leg up on the guy at the bar who just ordered a tasteless light beer and the empty calories of a sugary, rum and Coke.

My go-tos? Bulleit Bourbon and Laphroaig Scotch. Bulleit is an incredibly drinkable whiskey with a ton of classic, bourbon flavors including a light orange zest on the front end, heavy vanillas and winter spices on the palate, and a warm, smooth, oaky finish. Laphroaig, on the other hand, is about as bold as you can get for a single malt scotch. From the second you open the bottle, it smells like someone just lit a pile of tar-covered tobacco leaves on fire (scotch drinkers call this smoky scent “peat”). You get pummeled with this peat once the scotch hits your palate, but more complex flavors emerge, too, and open up into heavy vanillas, oaks, and salts from ten years of briny, sea air seeping in through the barrel’s cracks.  Laphroaig isn’t for the faint of heart. But once you’ve had it, it’s hard ordering anything else. Oh, speaking of ordering. You’ll want to order both of these whiskeys — and all others — “neat.” That means no ice, water, soda, cola, etc. (And this should go without saying, but, for God’s sake, no shots.)

If you’re just getting into whiskey and don’t want to buy an entire bottle, talk to a bartender at Seven Saints during one of their “Whiskey Wednesdays.” They feature half-priced specials on Canadian and micro-American whiskeys, Irish and international whiskeys, bourbon and rye whiskeys, and, scotch, depending on the week. If you can’t make it over there, head to Derailed 57 on Thursdays for a dollar off (sometimes more) of their great whiskey selection.

3. Draw the right kind of attention

Attention-seeking behavior is normal. I mean, let’s be honest, the only reason most people post to social media is because they want some sort of recognition (either in the form of a retweet or an all-out comment thread battle between two people who will never be able to see where the other is “coming from”). Yes, receiving attention is good. But it needs to be of the right kind. It needs be desirable. Earned. Earned because of the incredibly well-cut sport coat you’re wearing. (Not wearing a sport coat? You should be. More on that in a later installment.) Earned because you address your waiter by name. Earned because of your abilities to communicate clearly, effectively, and with purpose. And earned because of the genuine smile and laugh that follows your date’s story about the out-of-touch coworker who said, “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of this ‘lord of the ring’ before.” What’s the wrong kind of attention? The guy who just won a singing contest by receiving the most applause for his inebriated rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” See the difference? There is one. So find a corner spot. Sit closely. Engage in meaningful conversation, talk when asked questions, and, above all, listen. There’s nothing more attractive than a man who listens.

For a truly intimate setting, try Radio Maria’s dining room or The Blind Pig Company’s confessional booths. Both will facilitate authentic interaction, and you’ll leave the bar with your voice intact. If you’re trying to steer clear of cacophonous noise, avoid big, open sound spaces like those at Quality Beer and Esquire Lounge (both fantastic places for darts or a game of pool, just not intimacy).

4. Talk to Grandma

When I teach my high school speech students about situational communication, we talk at great length about the various factors that influence the ways in which we talk with each other. When questioned, students generally think of things like volume, tone, inflection, and prosody as being the things that make up a person’s “voice.” While these factors do play a vital role in communication and do create the way someone sounds, they’re not the only things that affect how a person speaks. There are several other, outside influences that have a much larger, circumstantial impact on the overall meaning of a conversation. Things like the environment — where the communication is taking place and what each person is bringing with him/her to that interaction (ie. experiences, values, beliefs, ideals, etc.) – and the people with whom we are speaking govern much more of our everyday conversation than the sounds that come out of our mouths ever will.

When I say “talk to grandma,” I’m not suggesting that you go hit on some octogenarian at a nursing home and take her/him back to your place. What I’m trying to say is drown out the noise of a crowded restaurant or club and forget how many attractive women/men are around you. Don’t let an environment or certain people in it dictate your behavior or influence your “voice.” Your intention in any interaction – whether it’s in business, with a family member, or on a night out – should be to talk with that person again. There shouldn’t be an end goal. You’ll sound like you’re speaking “to” or “at” someone, rather than “with” them. If you can do the latter, your dialogue will feel more like an authentic, respectful conversation with grandma rather than a proposition to come home. And you’ll be better off for it.

If just the thought of approaching someone makes you uncomfortable, or if you’ve been holding on to classless pick-up lines, try reading this wonderfully poignant article – “How to Turn Small Talk into Smart Conversation” – by comedian, Rob Baedeker and journalist, Chris Colin. For a more fun, interactive party game, consider “Table Topics: Questions to Start Great Conversations.” With sixteen different editions and 135 questions per box, you’ll probably never have a boring conversation again. Purchase yours at Checkered Moon on Kirby Avenue in Champaign or at one of Dr. G’s Brainworks two locations – Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana and Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth.

5. Mix it up

I never have been a huge fan of Drake. Actually, I pretty much hate all of his music. His whiney, half singing/half rapping delivery makes it nearly impossible for me to want to listen to anything he has to say. There may be some well-crafted poetry in those lyrics, but I never listen long enough to find out.

Except for this one time. There is a line (and it happens to be the only good one) from his song “Own It” that does find itself on the verge of epiphanic — When was the last time you did something for the first time? Now, I am in no way going to give Drake credit for coming up with this saying. I’m sure he found it on Taylor Swift’s Twitter feed and decided to “pin it” on his board titled “Dope Ass Quotes.” He does, however, bring up a pretty good point. Going outside of our comfort zone is how we grow.

Don’t get me wrong. I would go to my favorite bar every night of the week and order the exact same thing if I could. There is, after all, something to be said about a man who can sit atop a stool and have a “his drink” waiting for him when he arrives. While part of being a gentleman is having qualities and characteristics that make you “you,” it’s important not to become too predictable. You have to mix it up.

The great thing about Champaign-Urbana is that it gives you plenty of opportunities to do just that. Here is a list of three different entertainment categories – art, comedy, and games… and where you can go to experience each.

Art

 

The Pottery Place: The Pottery Place is a great stop if you’re wanting to explore your creativity. Here’s how it works. First, you select a piece of pottery from the large assortment of both functional (i.e. mugs, plates) and accessory items (i.e ornaments, figurines). Next, you choose your paint (there are hundreds of options) and create your design. Finally, one of the employees will take your piece and prepare for kilning. The studio fee — which includes supplies and one-on-one guidance from an employee — is $7 for adults. Pottery items range anywhere from $8-$40, and all materials used are of food-safe quality. When it’s all said and done, you can pick up your creation about four days later.

If you’re looking for another option, try one of Lola’s Paint and Wine Parties in Champaign. For more information on pricing, locations, and how to attend the next event, visit their website.

Comedy

The Abe Froman Project Presents: “Monday Night Improv”: One of the worst things about going to a comedy show is feeling obligated to laugh. It sucks and can often ruin the point of going in the first place. Luckily, this doesn’t happen when you go see The Abe Froman Project. Every Monday night at 8:30, the troupe performs upstairs at Mike N Molly’s in downtown Champaign. The room is tight, the air is a bit musty, and the “stage” looks more like a crime scene than anything else. But the comedy? Exceptional. The show lasts about an hour and a half and is divided into two “acts.” The first act is a short form where members will participate in one of their “mini games.” One of my favorites is called “PUNCH!” Abe Froman will ask a question to the audience like, What’s a present you got that you really didn’t want? and then turn someone’s creative response into mini skits that are closely (or loosely) related to the topic. They then take a short “get-a-drink” break and resume with their second, long form act — one of my favorites being “A Day in the Life.” One of the comedians will pull a member of the audience up on stage, sit them in a chair, and ask them to go through their daily routine. Once they’ve acquired enough information, Abe Froman will tell a thirty-minute long “A Day in the Life” of the chosen audience member. The results are absolutely hysterical. I can safely say that the hardest I’ve ever laughed is at Monday Night Improv. Oh, did I mention it’s free? (Tips are greatly welcomed and encouraged as all gentleman should tip when it’s appropriate.)

If you can’t make it out on Mondays, many members of The Abe Froman Project perform throughout the week all over Champaign. To find out when and where, visit the Champaign-Urbana Comedy page.

Games

Knowing stuff is cool. What’s even better? Knowing stuff while drinking a beer. The combination of the two just might be why Sunday Night Trivia at The Blind Pig Brewery is so popular. Not only do you get to answer questions and earn some gift certificates to the brewery ($10 if you win one round, $20 if you win the entire thing), you get to drink locally brewed, craft beer, too. So, get a team together, decide on a name, and join participant-turned-host Monty on Sunday nights at 7 p.m.

Other bars that do trivia include Cowboy Monkey on Sundays at 7:30 p.m., Murphy’s Pub on Sundays at 9 p.m., The Blind Pig Company on Mondays at 8 p.m., Memphis on Main on Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. Jupiter’s at the Crossing on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., and Mike N Molly’s on Wednesdays at 6 p.m.

If trivia isn’t really your thing, you could always head over to Quality Beer for a good, old-fashioned board game, darts, or pinball (I recommend Star Trek). Other options include billiards at Jupiter’s (downtown or at the crossing) or Esquire, and who could forget the high school dates of choice, mini golf and bowling? Take on both at Old Orchard Lanes and Links in Savoy.

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Kaleb Wachala is a speech communication educator at Rantoul Township High School, a personal style associate with custom men’s clothier J. Hilburn, a freelance copy editor, and an essayist. Get in touch with him at [email protected]

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