- TGI Fridays was one of the first singles bars in America.
- When it opened in 1965, the US was on the precipice of a sexual revolution: A birth-control pill had just been approved, Helen Gurley Brown published “Sex and the Single Girl,” and women were protesting to be allowed into men-only bars.
- TO HEAR THE FULL STORY, subscribe to Business Insider’s new podcast “Household Name” for free here.
It’s hard to imagine any single 20-something today getting dolled up for a night on the town at… TGI Fridays.
But half a century ago, that was the place to practice your pickup lines and find someone to spend the night – or longer – with.
“At the time, there was nothing like that for people in their 20s just getting out of college, there was no place really for them to hang out,” said Alan Stillman, the founder of TGI Fridays, in an interview with Business Insider for our new podcast “Household Name.“
Stillman was 28 years old when he opened the first TGI Fridays on New York City’s Upper East Side in 1965. Soon after, he told Business Insider, the bar “became more similar to what a mosh pit is. It was so crowded that you didn’t have to walk up to anybody to get a name or a telephone number. You bumped into them.”
TGI Fridays opened at exactly the right moment in time, at what Moira Weigel, author of a book about the history of dating, called the “precipice of the sexual revolution.”
Weigel told Business Insider about a number of social factors that conspired to make the mid-60s the perfect environment for a place like TGI Fridays.
For one thing, the FDA had recently approved the oral contraceptive pill Enovid. As TIME reported, by 1963, when Enovid had a reasonable price tag, 2.3 million women had seen their doctors about getting a prescription.
Meanwhile, Helen Gurley Brown, the one-time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, had just released her book “Sex and the Single Girl.”
The fact that TGI Fridays attracted young, single women in droves was no small thing. Weigel said that, in the 1960s, it was “sort of scandalous” for a woman to go to a bar unaccompanied by a man – especially if she was there to meet a man. In fact, the National Organization of Women held protests to allow women into bars that banned them.
TGI Fridays became enormously popular with young people – but it’s struggling today
TGI Fridays became so popular on the weekends that police had to close the street. News outlets called the area “The Body Exchange” and “The Fertile Crescent.”
Eventually, a TGI Fridays opened in Dallas, and then spread to the rest of the United States. Today, the chain has more of a family-friendly vibe – and like its competitors Applebee’s and Chili’s, it’s struggling to stay afloat.
“You don’t need a TGI Fridays bar scene to meet somebody” today, Stillman told Business Insider. “We’re back to all the electronics around here. It’s just not a necessity, whereas at the time, although I didn’t know it, we invented a necessity and we solved what was a really big problem.”
But are new-fangled technologies like Tinder really so revolutionary? Or are they simply the next step up from the 1960s version of TGI Fridays?
As Weigel put it, “a bar is a kind of 3D Tinder.”
To hear more about dating at TGI Fridays back when it was one of the first singles bars in America, subscribe to “Household Name,” a new podcast from Business Insider premiering July 25. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favorite app. Next week’s episode tells the story of how Donald Trump saved Pizza Hut’s stuffed-crust pizza, and how it saved The Donald, too.