My friend Snake (he specifically requested this pseudonym) is an English professor, a Tennyson scholar, and a rabid New England Patriots fan. In my experience he tends to favor dive bars that serve cheap booze. He grew up in Britain but does not care about English football: he much prefers the American game, the violence, the velocity. Snake has a black belt in, I think, karate, so maybe that’s part of the appeal of NFL football for him: bodies colliding and tumbling in space, over and over again, the choreography of hand-to-hand combat stretched across a hundred-yard field. At any rate, when I told him last weekend that I thought we should watch some football together, Snake suggested Hooters as the venue. I half-seriously requested my wife’s permission, and when my wife asked “Why Hooters?” I told her because of the large TV screens, and she shrugged Okay and continued fixing our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter a snack.

I went to Hooters.

By the time I arrived—the place is on 56th Street, several blocks north of Times Square, which I guess is where it belongs—my friend had already found a table for us and finished off a plate of Buffalo shrimp. I had never been to Hooters before. I brought a list of questions with me (sample question: What lines from Tennyson best describe Hooters?) but I saw pretty quickly that Hooters is not a hospitable environment for mystery. Instead, Hooters is a place to watch sports while surrounded by recent college graduates who have been asked to dress like extras from an old episode of Miami Vice.

Still, during the NFL playoffs, some sense of mystery always abides. Snake and I discussed, for instance, the very limited spectrum of emotions on Joe Flacco’s face. Flacco, the cocky but inconsistent quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, was sitting on the sidelines after throwing a touchdown, and as the TV screens at Hooters showed close-up views of Flacco in repose, we struggled to find the right word to describe his mien: was Flacco inscrutable? Was he nonplussed? What did nonplussed mean, exactly?

We didn’t come up with any satisfactory answers for those questions, but before the game was over I found tentative answers to a few other questions I’d brought to Hooters that day.


What is Hooters?

The servers at Hooters, who are all female, wear very short orange shorts. The color of their shorts, I noticed, was comparable to the shiny orange of the Denver Broncos’ uniforms, but not quite the same. Without exception the servers wore pantyhose as well, usually a shade darker than their skin, maybe because they wanted to feel more clothed. Their shirts were tight. The servers talked to each other and to the kitchen workers more than they talked to their customers. I felt somehow relieved by this.


What, if any, behaviors or topics are “out-of-bounds” at Hooters?

“Tom Brady pisses blood the day after every game,” Snake, the black belt/Patriots fan/Tennyson scholar, told me at one point.

Where had Snake heard this? How did Snake know this?

“Brady said it himself—he pisses blood every week. All the players probably do. Brady does, at least.”


How is the food at Hooters? 

The Hooters menu makes a big deal about spiciness, and there are fireball graphics and titles like “9-1-1” and “Three Mile Island” to describe the various levels of chicken-wing heat. But if you order mild wings, the server in her tight shirt tells you, “You probably want medium. Mild is 95-percent butter, it has no kick at all. Medium is like mild here.” And that encapsulates the Hooters experience, in an odd way: medium is like mild.


How is the service at Hooters?

A few tables away from us, a youngish father with a shaved head was feeding a bottle to his squirming baby son. The father was trying to find a comfortable baby-cradling position while keeping his eyes on the TV screen to see the Ravens-Broncos game. He was there with his wife and his (or maybe his wife’s) white-haired parents. Why was this family sitting at Hooters? Didn’t they have a home? A while later, I saw the new father approach a waitress. “These wings aren’t hot enough,” he huffed, holding the plate under her face. The young woman looked miserable as she took the plate from him and walked back to the kitchen.


 Why does Hooters exist?

At halftime, a teenager came in with his father; the boy was wearing a Hooters t-shirt. His shirt had already been inscribed with several different female signatures—I could see the name Lisa on his back in big letters, the “i” dotted with a green marker heart. Under the watchful, approving gaze of his father, the teenager asked every waitress who walked by to sign his shirt. The busy young women all obliged, bending and smiling and touching the boy with different-colored markers. At one point, I saw the father suggest a spot near his son’s left pectoral, so the waitress had to lean across the boy’s front. The father smiled. The son smiled. But, no, Teen Guy at Hooters. No safe fun fake ritual with your dad at a franchise restaurant is going to give you a sexual identity.


What lines from Tennyson best describe Hooters?

Music that gentlier on the spirit lies,
Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.

I would be happy to write that on a t-shirt for you. 

Brian Schwartz teaches writing at New York University. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in print publications on both coasts, and online at Ascent and Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. More from this author →