We’ve been in the Bumble Hive for approximately 10 minutes when my friend turns to me and whispers, “I feel like we’re inside Taylor Swift’s brain.”
“It’s so shiny,” I whisper back.
We’re whispering because the Hive—a pop-up SoHo lounge that Bumble bills as an IRL meetup space where visitors can network and date—is hosting a talk on “Women in Entertainment.” The talk is in full swing, and the vibe is bright, cheerful, and unflinchingly strict.
When we entered I noticed that the vast majority of women in attendance were seated neatly, silent, with their hands in their laps. But I quickly discovered that nothing being said was remarkable in nature; these women weren’t mesmerized. They were politely waiting for the whole thing to end. There’s an open bar, but the bar won’t serve alcohol until the talk ends, which could by our estimates be never. In the meantime we are welcome to feast on unlimited ceviche, small slabs of beef on a bed of fancy greens, and complimentary mineral water, sparkling or flat.
It’s a fitting welcome to Bumble’s space—a world where the messaging is forever mixed. A plaque declares “No dick pics” and then in a finer parenthetical print “unless your name is Richard.” Beside it are numerous portraits of famous Richards—Pryor, Wright, and Nixon. One yellow wall screams “Make the first move” in an enormous, bold white font. A gold, backlit sign coos “bee yourself, honey.” Perhaps most alarming is a pair of digital honeycomb-shaped screens rotating messages of empowerment and consumerism. At one point, “I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin,” a quote from respected author Sandra Cisneros, appears beside “Rosé all day!”
“Ladies! You can have it all!” the Hive seems to shout. Just go and get it! But ask nicely and at the right times and don’t forget your four-inch heels.
The sensation that absolutely everything and nothing lies just at your fingertips is heightened by the talk on women in entertainment, which quickly devolves into a series of anecdotes that tell us more about how removed from the ordinary world the speakers are than it does about how to navigate or advance in the entertainment business.
The guests of the hour are the Foster sisters, Erin and Sara, daughters of music mogul David Foster. I had no idea who they were prior to the talk, and it would feel cruel to admit that if it weren’t their whole shtick. Their VH1 faux-reality show is titled Barely Famous, and they laugh repeatedly at their own irrelevance, while frequently reminding us that they belong to a world of celebrity and privilege. While most people haven’t heard of Sara or Erin Foster, they are very likely familiar with their distant step-sisters, Gigi and Bella Hadid, the supermodel daughters of Yolanda Foster, a former Real Housewife and the recent ex-wife of their very wealthy, very successful father.
I had imagined the unfamiliar names on the e-vite I received earlier in the week were young up and coming producers, or seasoned veterans whose names I simply didn’t know. Either way, I thought they’d be insightful and well-versed in the challenges women face in the workplace.
But every time the Foster sisters speak, I feel as if I’m listening to aliens deliver a message of peace. Clearly they mean no harm, but what are they saying exactly? I make out words, sounds, and symbols, but none of it feels relevant to my world. They’ve experienced rejection, they assure us, but they’ve also been handed limitless opportunities. At one point one of them insists that men in Hollywood really aren’t that bad, “It’s the women you have to watch out for.” My friend’s head whips in my direction: “Did she really just say that?”
“Are we in Taylor Swift’s brain?” I begin to wonder.
The women in charge at this event, Bumble CEO and talk moderator Whitney Wolfe included, seem to truly believe that they are participating in women’s empowerment, but the messaging is vague and muddied. Not to mention that the invite-only room is blindingly white, and not just because of the Target dressing room–style lighting.
That said, there are some brave allies in the crowd. One woman shouts “Open the bar!” This is prompted when one of the Foster sisters reflects that it’s 7:30 already and the time sure has passed quickly. Not for all of us it hasn’t. Not for all of us.
The sisters are kind enough to oblige. “Oh, open the bar! We don’t care!” they laugh as they raise their own never-ending glasses of rosé to the crowd. The bar opens, and a queue of thirsty women forms.
The Q&A continues, meandering in and out of a Q&A format. At one point Sara, the married sister who reminds us frequently that she is the married one (and who bizarrely fixates on her “hot nanny”) urges single Erin to stand up to tell a “worst date” story. “Stand up! Stand and tell it!” I sit in horror as I realize it’s entirely possible that this may quickly become a standup set. But Erin does not oblige her sister, and I am deeply relieved when the moment passes.
The women linger on the idea of networking as the talk closes and the CEO makes a push for the “next phase” of Bumble, which apparently will involve more networking. Bumble BFF has done well, it seems, and now the app execs want to move forward with opportunities for people to find business partners and creative collaborators. The Foster sisters nod emphatically and Sara raises her glass to punctuate the moment. She cheerfully shouts, “Let’s go meet some dudes!” and with that, praise be, the talk ends.
I can swear I hear a collective sigh of relief as the room fills with noise. Freedom. We can speak openly! We can approach the open bar without slinking for fear of being noticed. But mostly I am full of gratitude that I brought friends to this strange yellow room because I can confirm the bizarre reality of what I have just witnessed. We get our free beverages and I confer with my two friends briefly, trying to make sense of what I’ve seen and heard. “What was that?” we ask. I wonder aloud if the talk wouldn’t have been more aptly titled “How to Have a Rich Dad.”
“And how to find a rich dad,” my friend adds. I look around the room. Are there eligible daddies present? Hardly. There are literally three men here and two of them are photographers. Another is a caricature of a preppy college kid, wearing a salmon colored hat and swiping furiously on his phone. I’m not close enough to tell, but if I had to guess, he’s on Tinder, not Bumble.
But then the dynamic swiftly changes. The space is no longer invite-only, and more bees enter the Hive. The newcomers are diverse, and they seem genuinely curious about the space and the people in it. At one point, we flag down a woman with a yellow bag for fear we’re missing out on freebies. She assures us it’s her cronuts from Dominique Ansel and gives us tips about the best times to procure them—Wednesday and Thursday mornings are slow, she says. I admire her C-3P0 ring, and our new friend introduces herself. Her name is Ursula, and she’s a self-described “nerd” but honestly, she seems cool as hell as she laughs and shares her favorite Princess Leia stories. Suddenly, I don’t hate it here after all.
The spell is broken briefly when a man interrupts our conversation.
“Excuse me,” he says, “but you all look so elegant sitting on these yellow steps. And you’re all wearing black.”
One of my friends winces. “That’s creepy,” she says. “Don’t be creepy.”
“No you look really, really elegant,” he insists in a thick Brooklyn accent. “Let me take your picture,” he offers, “so you can see.” My pals and I are uneasy, but Ursula smiles and indulges him. He snaps a few candids with her phone and one posed image. As we review the images we remark that they actually are quite nice. He sits back in his chair, puts on his sunglasses and smiles, pleased. “See?” he says. “I told you.”
Much to our delight, the man leaves it at that. He really did just want us to “see.”
More pleasant conversation with Ursula ensues, and we explore the booths that line one wall of the Hive. There’s a room with a pair of headphones and a splitter-jack for creating the Garden State moment of your dreams/nightmares, a Bumble “boutique” with a variety of “feminist-friendly” trinkets and books, and a GIF-making photo booth which we happily pop into before calling it a night.
As we make our way out of the Hive, a series of miniature puff pastries appear, and we stop to sample them. They’re sweet, frosted, and totally empty inside. They’re nothing I’d have paid for in a shop, and I certainly wouldn’t seek them out for a second taste in my daily life, but I leave the Hive happy I’ve tasted them, if only to see what they were all about.
The Bumble Hive is located at 158 Mercer St. in SoHo. It is currently open select hours through June 25: Thursdays and Fridays 8am–2pm, 4pm–10pm; Saturdays 10am–2pm, 4pm–10pm; and Sundays 10am–8pm.