WASHINGTON — "This is a single 27-year-old heterosexual male," Sean Keller hollered to a crowd of 200 people at the bar Franklin Hall on Friday night.
That heterosexual male was Chris Gillespie, who stood near his friend's PowerPoint presentation, a wide smile plastered on his face. Gillespie figured the speech would be good, but he was oblivious to what was coming. He didn't expect the photo of himself in a halfway buttoned-up shirt ("Chris isn't afraid of a low V") or the screenshot from his hacked Facebook account ("He's so cultured that his hacked account got a job in Cairo").
"He's an outdoorsy dude with a sense of humor, down-to-earth and educated," Keller continued.
The flattery went on and on, drawing casual laughs. But the goal wasn't comedy. It was to get Gillespie a date (or dates) by the end of the night. His friends carefully curated each slide of their three-minute presentation, hoping someone in the crowd would find Gillespie attractive.
The speech was part of Franklin Hall's first Pitch a Friend night, which enlisted 12 on-the-market locals to be hawked by their friends - as the bar's Facebook page noted, it was like "Shark Tank" for singles. Finding dates via PowerPoint sounded suitable for Washington, a city in which "everyone is Type A," said bar co-owner Peter Bayne.
Tinder and similar dating apps have more matchmaking power than ever, as relationships are increasingly initiated online. But these apps can be overwhelming. Profiles are filled with poorly lit selfies, basic quips from "The Office" and photos with Joe Biden. How can a person be reduced to a 500-character bio?
Daters are now asking their more-than-willing friends for help. Ship, a dating app launched in January, lets users invite friends to swipe through profiles and chat on their behalf. In Facebook groups like Subtle Asian Dating, users can tout their friends by posting flattering photos, personality descriptions and links to their social media accounts. Pitch a Friend night was just one more example of how eager friends are to play the role of wingman for the Tinder era.
Daters have always utilized their social circle, according to Jordana Abraham, co-founder of Ship. It's natural for people to be more comfortable meeting someone who is approved, or at least vetted, by another person. As recently as 2009, that was the most common way to date, research shows. In D.C., people used to bring their friends to a matchmaking party to speed date through FriendSwap, which was founded in 2002 and ran for a decade.
"For most people, their ideal way to meet is in person - at a bar, a function or doing something they enjoy," Abraham said.
Gillespie, who is on the dating apps, agrees - but meeting in person requires charisma. "It's hard to approach women at a bar because they might have plans for the night," he said. "And I don't want to intrude on that."
Friday night at Franklin Hall, beer in hand, Gillespie didn't have to extend much effort. Five different women approached him within five minutes of the presentation, striking up conversations about the memorable bits. And yes, it helped that his friends had passed around a flier with tear-off strips with his phone number, conveniently leaving the last digit blank. "Chris has a pen if you're interested," one of the presenters yelled before slipping offstage.
Olivia Duggan, a frequent patron at Franklin Hall, emailed Bayne the idea for the event months ago. She was inspired by DateMyFriend.ppt, a similar pitch night her friends had attended in Boston.
"There's nothing like a good friend who can reveal your idiosyncrasies," Duggan said. "It makes the stakes in dating seem lower."
During the presentations, she was seated on one of the bar's long communal benches, eyeing the clock and commanding the air horn, promptly tooting it after three minutes of frenetic friend-pitching.
Alex Waddell pitched his friend Julian Cowell, in the format of a civil court case with "Julian is a good person" as his closing argument. "You're only eight simple letters from the best decision of your entire life," proclaimed Jacob Comer, switching to a slide that showed his friend Matthew Gruber's Instagram handle.
"It's like entertainment," said Shivangi Jain, an attendee who had just heard of the event that day and didn't appear to be shopping for a date. "It seems very casual, and I just came to watch the presentations."
An hour into the pitches, it became impossible to speak without yelling. People flocked to the bar, drink tickets in hand, to knock back beers. Even after hearing the pitches, some preferred to chat within their circles.
Colleen Moore, one of the first people to be pitched, ended her night in the far-left corner of the hall, intently watching a baseball game on the large television.
"I would've been watching the game if they hadn't told me to come out for this," she said, gesturing to her friends in conversation nearby. A few guys did approach her as she wandered the bar, Moore said, but her priority was still the game.
Because really, in the age of online dating, who really wants to have an in-person conversation at a bar - even after PowerPoints break the ice?
"I mean, if you don't meet anyone here, it's a joke," muttered one patron to his friend about the event. "If you do, you can say it was something serious."