Now that you know what a “third place” is, how do you go about finding the right one for you? Just because a place meets all the criteria for being someone’s third place doesn’t make it right for you. Some guys like Coke and other guys like Pepsi. If you’re a Coke guy in a Pepsi spot, you’re never going to get what you need out of a third place.
Once you find the right third place for you, you’re going to have to work to make it your own. For the most part, making a third place your own is just about doing what you’d be doing anyway — hanging out, making friends and having fun. But I’m going to give you some pointers to make the transition go smoothly. When done the right way, the “work” you put into finding and fitting into a third place is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying undertakings you can ever enter into.
What should you look for in a third place?
A third place candidate doesn’t need to have each and every criteria for a third place generally, but it should have about 80 percent. That’s the first hurdle to overcome. Once a place passes that bar, you need to drill down and see if it’s right for you.
First, you need to be comfortable. I don’t just mean physically comfortable — that’s a given. What I mean is you need to be emotionally, psychically, spiritually, personally comfortable. If you’re a t-shirt-and-jeans guy who likes burgers and beer, a tapas bar known for its experimental cocktails where everyone is decked out in business suits isn’t a place you’re ever going to feel comfortable. It doesn’t matter if the bartender is the girl of your dreams, they have your favorite jukebox in town and your favorite beer on tap. It might be a good date night spot, but it’s not going to be a good third place.
But comfort goes deeper. It means being able to be yourself without fear of judgment. This kind of comfort is an absolutely non-negotiable feature of your third place. Without it you can’t cut loose, be yourself and talk to new people. You’re not going to make the kind of friends a third place should connect you to with your guard up. If you feel like you have to hide yourself in any way, you’re not in your third place.
Next, look at the clientele. What are they like? Are they the kind of people you’d want to spend time with, both at your third place and potentially outside of it? You’ll want to find a crowd you have something in common with. You might like the overall atmosphere and ambiance of a spot, but still be lukewarm on the people hanging out there. You’ll probably have to visit a handful of times before you really get a feel for what the crowd is like and if you fit in. Remember, it takes a bit of time to become a regular. If a particular third place is calling your name, don’t give up after one or two visits.
Most third places are going to have some kind of music. That can be live music or on a jukebox or just sort of playing in the background. Even a lot of sports bars have music playing for audio rather than commentary from the game. Do you like the music? Is it at a good volume so you can still talk to other patrons? Usually in a third place, music exists in the background and isn’t the main reason for being there, which is hanging out and chatting with other people. So don’t try and make your third place in a spot that’s always loud. It’s just not going to work.
Finally, no third place is right if it’s not in the right part of town. If your favorite spot is half an hour away by car, it might not be the right spot for you. Remember, you want to be able to get in and out with ease. Going to a third place should never be a project or an undertaking. So look in an area that’s either near your home or easily accessible via public transportation.
How do you create a third place?
Ultimately, a third place isn’t just sitting there, waiting for you to walk in. You need to actively participate and bring something into the experience — that’s part of what makes this space so meaningful. It’s not solely up to the third place or its denizens to integrate you. You’re going to have to do some work to make someone else’s third place your own as well.
Start by heading down on an off night. Talk to the staff. Introduce yourself, pay in cash and tip well. There’s no better way to make a first impression than by winning the staff over and getting them on your side.
A lot of people who work in the service industry have other jobs or aspirations. This is especially true in really big cities like New York, LA and Chicago. But it’s also true in smaller “creative” cities like Asheville, Portland and Austin. This makes servers, bartenders and similar professions some of the best people to meet in the city. They’re not just working in your third place — they’re hanging out there too, on their off nights. And remember, one of the reasons to have a third place is to know what’s going on in other spots around the city. The servers will know what’s up, especially if they’re creative types who act or are in bands. You might just be talking to your favorite new local comedian, musician, actor or writer.
Overtipping your first few nights out is a must. Think of it as an investment. At a lot of places, overtipping means your third round or so might be on the house. Remember, you’re trying to make an impression when you first show up at a third place. So bring a little extra cash with you for heavy tipping and buying a couple of rounds. At the same time, avoid overdoing it both with tipping and getting rounds. A couple extra bucks and one or two “let me get this round” is sufficient. You’re not buying friends. You’re making a good first impression.
After the staff, the best people you can meet are the regulars. But remember, this was their third place before it was yours. Approach confidently but cautiously. Give them room. They might need to get used to your presence there, especially if it’s a close-knit group in your new third place. Third places are open to new regulars, but the old regulars still might need some time to get acclimated to the new guy. So don’t force your presence or a connection. Do, however, be outgoing, give value, and, when in doubt, defer to the people who have been going there forever.
Busy nights aren’t the best night to make your grand entrance to a third place. The upside is that you can easily blend in and meet lots of people, but the downside is that you’re just one of many in a big crowd. Regulars at a third place tend to go there on the off nights as well as the on. So when you’re first wading into the pool, try to meet all the right people by going on one of those off nights. You’ll get a more quality level of interaction, too. The servers and the regulars will have more time and space to chat and banter.
Bringing other people along with can’t hurt, provided that they’re the right kind of people. But just because someone is your friend doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be looking for the same kind of atmosphere or environment as you in a third place. But if you have a friend who you think will be into your new spot, bring them along. You’re adding value to the venue by involving new people who are just as cool as you.
If you can’t get anyone to head out with you, don’t be afraid to go it alone. Remember, when you get down to it, a good third place will be welcoming. Lots of people will be down there on their own. Why not you? Once you get situated, you’re going to have friends in your third place. So start making them on the very first night.
Making a solo entrance can make you feel a little awkward, but it’s not to hard. You just walk in with your head held high, sit down somewhere, order a drink and give a cheers to the closest person. If you feel weird, that’s ok, but realize that it’s all in your head. A good third place is all about meeting people and making new friends. It exists specifically for this purpose. Keep your energy level high, put on a big smile, have a drink and let yourself loosen up. Add value wherever you can and keep your spirits high.
Fitting into a good third place won’t take that long, even if you feel a little intimidated at first. It won’t be long until you’re a regular yourself. Remember what it feels like to be new there and try to be welcoming to new people as they come in.
Now you have a home away from home. A third place is a great spot to meet new people, but once you make it your own you can start bringing people there. Just think how much value you can give yourself when you bring a girl by your third place for a quick drink before or after your date — or anyone else for that matter.
When you’ve got a third place, let us know about it. What made you pick that place as opposed another? How did you manage to fit in? How is it making a difference in your life? Your experiences with your third place can help other men to find theirs.