Imagine 6,000 randy sailors set loose in New York City, with nothing to do but drink and hook up with locals. It’s a sure-fire recipe for, well, lots and lots of hooking up. In fact, no other annual ritual (with the possible exception of New Year’s Eve) brings as much opportunity for so much love with so little commitment.
New York women are used to the yearly phenomenon — it’s enough of an institution to have warranted its own “Sex and the City” episode, and there have even been guides written about how to snag a sailor for a night.
So when the Navy announced last month that federal budget cuts meant the cancellation of Fleet Week for the first time since the festival began in 1984, the sound of breaking hearts — or at least, foul tempers — echoed up and down the West Side of Manhattan. Now What Would Have Been Fleet Week is actually here (it would have officially begun this Thursday) the full impact on New York’s single women is really sinking in.
And it hurts. It really hurts.
“I never pick up guys at bars, but I make an exception during Fleet Week,” explains Jasmine, a 33-year-old actress. “The Marines are a heck of a lot of fun, and they are very clean, and always in shape.”
Amid the lamentations, Jasmine describes the things she’s learned from her overnight encounters with men in uniform – including details about their actual uniforms. “Shirt stays,” for example, are like suspenders inside the pants that keep a Marine’s dress shirt from coming untucked.
“It’s amazing how quickly they can take them off,” she says.
Bartenders are bracing themselves for the disgruntled patrons. “I’m sure customers are going to complain about the sailors not being around,” says Jasmine, a bartender at Social, one of NYC’s 7 Best Bars To Meet A Man In Uniform. “The sailors never buy their own drinks. There are always too many people around who want to buy drinks for them.”
“Even if you don’t want to take a sailor into bed, they are still a lot of fun to look at,” says Alina, 28, drinking in the backyard of a bar on Ninth Avenue. “It’s such a shame they cancelled it.”
A shame not just for New Yorkers who like to admire the young men and women in uniform, but also for hundreds of bars, restaurants and shops that share in the estimated $20 million of economic activity generated by Fleet Week.
Rudy’s, located just a few blocks away from the Hudson River berths that would have hosted the Naval ships, is licking its wounds. In the past, the bar has been packed with sailors every year, so much so that the bar owners even dress up their mascot pig in a sailor uniform.
“Back in the day I used to put on a sailor’s cap and come here during Fleet Week,” says Rae, 55, a Rudy’s regular. “The guys were always looking to meet a nice woman.” Asked if she ever took one of those guys back to her apartment around the corner, Rae just smiled into her drink.
Even for those not looking to take a sailor home, Fleet Week is a valuable cultural experience. After all, most civilians in New York City rarely interact with the military in any meaningful way, beyond images on the movie screen or TV news. Fleet Week humanizes men and women in uniform, and makes them real in a way that “Saving Private Ryan” never can.
Some Fleet Week devotees have suggested the city should consider an incentive program, similar to the one in place for film and TV production. Shows like “Girls” and “Blue Bloods” get 30% of all the money they spend refunded to them by the state. Why not offer the Navy a similar deal to offset the millions it usually spends on Fleet Week?
If not for the disappointed would-be lovers like Jasmine and Alina, then do it for the military personnel themselves. As Rudy’s regular Keely, 22, suggests, “I’m sure the sailors are far more disappointed about Fleet Week being cancelled then the girls in New York are.”
Back in the early days of the Iraq War, when anti-war demonstrations were in full swing, I met a few sailors in town for Fleet Week. I thought it would be interesting to take them to an underground warehouse party in Brooklyn, which was also an anti-war fundraiser, to see how the hipster crowd would react to the unexpected sight of guys in uniform.
My Navy friends were a hit. They were greeted with smiles and high-fives. People bought them nonstop rounds of drinks. Folks told me afterwards they were so glad I’d brought them.
With the cancellation of Fleet Week, that kind of opportunity is lost.
City officials say they hope Fleet Week will resume next year. Navy officials have suggest the same. In fact, it seems only one very small subset of New Yorkers is glad about the cancellation.
“I know some of my friends got really sad when they heard there won’t be a Fleet Week this year,” said Erin, 24, over a drink at Social. “The only one who wasn’t disappointed was my boyfriend.”