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Monday, June 17, 2024

Missouri’s Bliss Restaurant Imposes Strict Age Restrictions

Florissant, Missouri, population 51, 506, is a mid-American idyll, founded in the 18th century by French traders, who originally named it Fleurissant (loosely translated as “blooming”), for the amazing fecundity of the alluvial soil in the Mississippi River valley. Over the last 280 years it has slowly been transformed into an internal suburb of that other, larger French frontier trading post, St. Louis. But the old town of Florissant has retained much of its character and today enjoys a tidy, settled affluence.   

Hoping to tap into that market, in May 2024 enterprising restaurateur Marvin Pate opened Bliss, whose menu is centered around upmarket Caribbean cuisine, where all the chefs are Jamaican.  Reportedly, Bliss does a splendid jerked lamb chop. It’s a generous room, with a mezzanine and a long, welcoming bar. In a word, kudos, nice watering hole. Stuck in St. Louis, we’re definitely dropping by for whatever beast of the field or the sea you have jerked for us when we get there.     

But Pate’s notion of social engineering his customer base toward a more affluent demographic was, at the same time, surprisingly stark: no men under 35 years of age, and no women under 30. Quaint, no? In practice, night-to-night, it’s not just an obscure rule that you can, in a crowd, hope to shimmy around. The policy is enforced. Bliss’s staff “cards” the customers in the classic 1950s sense, and they will ask you to leave if you’re not up and over the age hurdle.   

“It’s just something for the older people to come do and have a happy hour, come get some good food and not have to worry about some of the young folks who bring some of that drama,” Bliss’ assistant manager Erica Rhodes told KSDK, a local news outlet.

Quite soon after opening, Pate’s admittedly unusual door policy gained a soupçon of attention from a local television station, in friendly-enough, Better-Business-Bureau tones, along the lines of: “Well,  here’s something kind of quirky right here at home!”   

In other words, it was coverage that Pate could live with. He was robustly quoted on camera, and he doubled down. “I think Bliss is a home away from home,” the owner said. “You can come here and actually feel like you’re at a resort. People will feel like they’re on a vacation.” He added, “Of course, we have been getting a little backlash because of our policy, but that’s okay, we’re sticking to our code.”  

On May 26, Bliss posted on its Facebook account a statement of what we might call the restaurant’s cosmology, which read, in part: “To ensure a grown and sexy atmosphere, we require all guests to be 30 or older for women and 35 or older for men. This policy helps us maintain a sophisticated environment, uphold our standards, and support the sustainability of our unique ambiance.” 

Predictably, this post and its massive reverb blew up nationally within days. As predictably, the Today show quoted the unfortunate “grown and sexy” turn of phrase.   

In fairness, all restaurants, every single one on earth, from the bastion of haute cuisine such as Paris’ Le Taillevent to the simplest hawker of roast chicken in Singapore, broadcast some sort of demographic appeal, even if only with their cuisine. There are plenty of restaurants in which children are not welcome, and in London, there are clubs such as The Garrick that have only just, fitfully, kicking, and screaming, with the first quarter of the 21st century almost behind us, begun to admit women.   

All that noted, basing customer selection on calendar age and setting the bar far toward the high end of the 25-to-44 disposable-income demographic is more than just plain old garden-variety ageist, though it is also that. In today’s Silicon-Valley-inflected age of billionaires by 23, in drinks sales alone, it’s a restaurateur’s marketing equivalent of a logger cranking up a chainsaw and running it through one of his legs.       

One way to grasp this is to imagine who Bliss might let in, but a more direct way is to compose a shortlist of customers whom, mistakenly seated and then carded, the Bliss hosts would ask to leave.   

To the rogues’ gallery, then:  

With nine Grammys to her credit, Billie Eilish, now 22, and her brother Finneas O’Connell, for the moment 26, with seven Grammys and a couple of Oscars to boot, are currently suffering through an eight- and a nine-year-wait, respectively, for a table in Bliss. 

Should they ever have their private jet forced to divert to Florissant, Missouri, at dinnertime, couple-of-the-moment Timothée Chalamet, 28, and Kylie Jenner, 26, face a seven- and a four-year wait, respectively, for their jerked lamb chops, which is completely fine, since it will take at least that long for them to mature into Bliss’ definition of “grown and sexy” restaurant customers.  

Lil Nax X, let’s see, born in April 1999, sorry man, no table tonight, but you are welcome back to Bliss in ten years, okay? Patrick Mahomes! That last Super Bowl win with Kelce was really something!  Dude, on the down low, sorry about the table, but the seven years before we can book you into Bliss is gonna go by in a flash.

Notable for the combined $3.6 billion in funding they have raised in medicine, finance, the arts, and business, the entire Forbes Magazine 2024 “30 under 30” list of entrepreneurs, whose average age is 27 but whose youngest is 15, remain unwelcome.   

By all means, stop these people at the door. Nobody wants to have drinks or dinner with them.    

Perhaps the final irony to emerge from the dust-up is that Bliss’ owner, Marvin Pate, is 36.  A year and a bit back, even he would not have been able to get a table at his restaurant.  

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