Matthew Waylett has put down his cocktail to adjust the tilt of an Indiana Jones-esque fedora, admiring his reflection in the mirror set up at the bar.
It's Men's Night Out at the Manor Tavern, and Waylett has been lured to the shopping event, not so much by the chance to buy as the promise of cigars, free-flowing bourbon and a steak dinner.
"You won't catch me dead in a mall," says the Monkton man, back in his own John Deere cap. "But when you bring whiskey into the equation …"
With its first Men's Night Out, the Baltimore County tavern joins what's looking like a nationwide experiment in testosterone-fueled retail this holiday season. Recently, merchants hoping for sales crowded into an Oregon brew pub better known for selling pale ale, a central Pennsylvania mall attempted to bait men with beer and onion rings and a group of Atlanta-area antiques merchants hoped beer with pizza would make their cash registers hum.
In the shopping industry, it's an accepted truth that The Average Man is allergic to malls and finds holiday browsing about as appealing as dental work. It's also an accepted fact that in this economy, every sale counts.
So if men won't go to the malls, the vendors are coming to them — either that or doing everything to make their shops as tavern-like and man-friendly as possible.
"If it wasn't for a strong Christmas and men coming in and purchasing from the certain places, like the jewelry stores, I'm not so sure they'd be in business," says Nancy Hafford, executive director at Towson Chamber of Commerce and planner of the shopping district's men's event for Dec. 22. "They tend to buy larger gifts, they just do."
To attract the swaggering, Grillo & Co. jewelers on Allegheny Avenue will be pitching an outdoor tent for men's night where guys can puff on stogies and quaff wine, lest the diamonds and pearls start to sap anyone's virility.
"They smoke cigars, drink wine and the next thing you know, they're coming out with rocks," says Hafford, laughing. "It's a nice male bonding kind of thing."
Manor Tavern advertised its first attempt at men's night by pointing to bourbon, single malts and — the piece de resistance — manly one-pound slabs of prime rib. If there was a salad included, the tavern kept that to themselves.
It all came with the $25 price of admission — that along with the chance to shop.
Bill Irvin, one of the tavern's owners, was shocked to have more than 100 men show up for the event — about 60 of whom reserved spots ahead of time. "And guys," he marveled, "are the worst at making reservations."
The night of the event, men milled about in a couple of the tavern's back rooms. Some wore sports coats, others came in ball caps and work shirts. Everyone, it seemed, quickly found their way to the table where the bourbon was being poured.
Before long the air took on the bouquet of a potent cocktail, guffaws increased a few decibels, faces reddened. And the shopping?
Let's just say it's hard to overstate the popularity of the booze table.
Wendy Black, there to sell her photo notecards, stood around looking bored. "This is not the venue for me," she said. "I need Ladies Night. Ladies buy cards." She added, "I don't know if it wasn't for the liquor, if anyone would still be here."
The woman across the room selling Pampered Chef checked her smart phone. A lot.
One man finally strolled over to Jennifer Barry's jewelry table and with Rolling Rock in hand, gave the shiny objects a quick perusal. Then he leaned in and whispered to Barry, "My wife needs jewelry like she needs a hole in the head."
Skip Lehmann, who drove in from York, Pa., for the event, was among the few to quickly get out his credit card. He had spotted just the thing for his beloved wife — an engraved bottle of bourbon.