"With Wall Street crashing, it's hard to be a god digger these days. So what are the lovely ladies accustomed to bottle service at Bijoux, $500 dinners at Bouley and $8,000 shopping sprees at Bergdorf to do when the bankers who fueled their excess are suddenly out of work?"
I'd like to share with you a view of the sinking economy, from a different perspective. A very interesting read, by Joshua David Stein of the New York Post.
The white marble bar of the Meatpacking District hot spot Bistro Bagatelle is littered with $500 Louis Vuitton knockoff clutches—fakes, but nice fakes. Hovering over them are the anxious blonde women (fakes, but nice fakes too) to whom the bags belong. These are Manhattan's gold diggers—ladies of little means and big ambitions, who hope to use their looks to nab a rich man, better highlights and perhaps even a real Vuitton clutch. This bar is their mine. But in the middle of the worst financial crisis the city has faced since the Great Depression, there's little gold in "them thar hills."
The only thing missing on this Tuesday night in October is bankers. There are no scotches or whiskeys or hairy wrists wearing expensive watches resting on the bar. The few gents there are at Bagatelle are seated together, speaking in low, somber tones over plates of coquilles St. Jacques and bottles of Médoc. Three young Bulgarian women at the bar are getting restless. Sophie—23, blonde and a real estate broker—wears a cream cashmere sweater with a neckline that plunges like the Dow. Her friend Emilaya, 23, is a student at CUNY who resembles Scarlett Johansson. Their third friend, another beautiful Bulgarian, doesn't speak English. It doesn't matter. Three single Slavs, and still no one has approached them. Sophie sighs and sips her Pinot gris. "It's getting harder and harder to find a good man," she says. "Everyone is looking for handsome, rich and charming men but there are less and less of them to go around." Since the financial markets started collapsing back in March, wealthy Prince Charmings, already an endangered species on the nightlife scene, have become almost completely extinct. The handsome ones aren't charming, the charming ones aren't handsome and many of the rich ones are now poor.
There seemed to be a time during the most recent Wall Street bubble when natural selection and free market capitalism had achieved a perfect equilibrium. Men arrived in New York, equipped with degrees in finance or perhaps just a family friend's business card, to get rich. They came with different ranks—hedgies, traders, analysts, consultants—and together formed the infantry of a hungry Gordon Gekko–like army. As necessary as the Soho House membership or the weekend share in the Hamptons (south of the highway, thank you very much!) was a cute piece of arm candy. These were to be had, at the right price, by the dozen, any night of the week at hot spots like Bagatelle, 1Oak and Kiss & Fly. For a long time, the system worked. The more money that was paid, the more men that were laid, the more ladies that were made.
Well, it was good while it lasted. Since August, the Federal Reserve reports, Wall Street has lost 9,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of total employment. And it will only get worse. According to the report, "The city's finance sector stands on the verge of a significant multiyear downturn in employment and in real earnings." Up to 78,000 more jobs will likely be lost and many of those who remain employed will see their salaries slashed as bonuses disappear. What does this mean for Sophie? She adjusts her sweater downward and frowns. "There's much more competition," she says, anxiously eyeing the door.
With a supply of supple honeys outstripping demand, men are now choosier and even more fickle than usual. Ted Morgan, co-author of How to Marry a Multi-Millionaire: The Ultimate Guide to High Net Worth Dating, says, "There is an increased sense of desperation among women about dating, and men can sense this." Beggars, they figure, can't be choosers. Stacey Lalljee, a raven-haired IT engineer at AT&T, is single but shouldn't be. At any other time, in fact, she wouldn't be. The 31-year-old, who boasts of dating a well-known reality star and a slew of high-net-worth individuals, is accustomed to dinners at Ono and Markt, Nicolas Feuillatte champagne by the jeroboam and—if indeed she did end the night in her own home—being chauffeured there in a hired Town Car. But, she says, those Sex and the City salad days are over. She complains, "It sucks to be a single girl right now"—in large part because strapped Wall Street guys are spending less on dates. A typical night out during these troubled times may still be at Buddakan, but it will just as likely be for wine at the bar rather than a table laden with $44 Peking duck. According to one 29-year-old trader who lives in Murray Hill, "We don't have time or money to spend hundreds of dollars on a girl. If it's a drink and it doesn't go anywhere, well, at least I'm cutting back."
Today, women drinking paid-for saketinis are among the lucky few. Staceys and Sophies all over the city—women who six months ago subsisted on a steady diet of underwritten dinners followed by a night of bottle service at Marquee or Rose Bar—are waiting for their Sidekicks to vibrate. Sophie is broken up about a recently pink-slipped relationship with a Lehman brother. "I was dating this guy for a couple of weeks," she says, "and all of a sudden he just stopped calling me. For weeks, I waited. Finally he called. He had lost his job and was too ashamed to tell me."
And being unemployed is not hot. Real estate broker Sammy, a 37-year-old "single girl in the dating scene" (who would rather keep her real name private so that her boss doesn't know she's a gold digger), wrinkles her nose in disgust. "Will I knowingly date somebody who is in the sh--ter right now? Probably not." Sophie agrees, "I would never go out with someone who came up to me and said, 'I don't have a job.' " Emilaya shakes her head. "No, no, no." Even the non-English speaker shakes her head no. It's universal: No banking job, no service.
Back at Bagatelle, three young beautiful Turks smoke Camels outside in the cold. One is blonde, one is brunette and one is shivering in a T-shirt that reads "I Heart NY." Two appear to be models, or at least "models." (The other works in finance.) "When we go out there are usually four guys buying us drinks. Now there is only one," sighs the petite 24-year-old brunette. "Guys just aren't going out as much. Plus, men aren't buying bottle service so there are no tables to invite women back to." The other two nod ruefully.
But all downturns have their upsides. Just as the Wall Street apocalypse has been a boon to short sellers—those who bet against the stock market—so too has the scarcity of marketable men been a boon to, well, men. In some ways, the slowdown has created space for true love to flourish. Win Hornig, 25, a former analyst for the now defunct Bear Stearns who pens the blog Banker Gone Broke, isn't on the dating scene anymore. He met his girlfriend, a former Lehman Brothers analyst, through a mutual friend over a dinner at Country last month, when he still had a job but the market was cooling off. "If the market was busy, we would have never met. We both would have been at the office instead." Win's a winner, but today even losers can score. According to Ted, "You used to hear women say, 'I'd never date anyone who makes less than $1 million.' You don't hear that anymore. The number is getting lower and lower and lower." Stacey says now when she goes out on dates she asks herself, "Does this person have EP—earning potential? Even if he's a janitor, I'd give him a chance." But Stacey would do well to learn from the market. Trading in futures is risky business.