Sam Brooks goes to a ‘lads’ lunch’ expecting the worst – and somehow gets the advertised ‘good vibes’.
When I heard of Lads Who Lunch, my first response was, “Oh, like the Sondheim song?” This was my first hint that maybe I was not the intended audience for Lads Who Lunch. The events, started by Anna Jobsz of Little Empire PR as a companion series to Ladies Who Lunch, are dubbed ‘networking events for the modern man’.
As a journalist, there are two kinds of events you want to write about. There are the events that sit squarely within your field of interest – for me, that’s where I’m comfortably seated and watching people perform in front of me, be it on a stage or on a screen. Then there are the events where you’re so far out of your comfort zone that you can’t help but have a take on it. Like the time I went to a beer judging competition, despite not being a particular fan of beer.
A networking event, comprised solely of men*, is about as far out of my comfort zone as I can get. (*straight men, obviously. Come on.)
Even the name ‘Lads Who Lunch’ conjured up the worst kind of images for me. Not the lunch part, obviously – lunch knows no gender or politic. The lads part. When I think of a lad, or at least wildly generalise about a lad, I think of someone holding a pint glass full of DB, someone who doesn’t just know how many tries the All Blacks got last night, but how many points a try is, and someone who doesn’t have any female friends who he doesn’t want to sleep with. Your stereotypical Kiwi male, or every guy I went to my all-boys Catholic high school with.
I don’t get a chance to hang out with many lads, as you might expect. So half of my curiosity about the event was ‘what is the kind of lad who would attend a $75 networking event at Masu solely attended by other lads’ and half of my curiosity was, frankly, wanting to roast it. The very idea of a man-only lunch made my eyes roll harder than Linda Blair in The Exorcist, and I couldn’t wait to overhear mumbling about Jordan Peterson, cars, and test cricket. The event was sponsored by Azimut Yachts, for Christ’s sake. The closest I could get to a Azimut Yacht is bashing my fists on the keyboard and hoping it spells out that arrangement of letters.
So I badgered our food editor, got a ticket, and waited for the fateful day.
On the day of, I was ready to cosplay as a lad. I’d borrowed some brown khakis from my co-worker, I’d cut my hair short (serendipity of my six-week haircut schedule, but still counting it) and I was freshly shaven. I could be in a Speight’s ad! And not one of the new woke ones, I mean a 90s Speight’s ad!
I got out of my ride share, and walked into acclaimed restaurant Masu for the first time. I was given my cocktail, a Kabosu Moscow Mule, and took a spot at the bar. The bar area, fairly small, was wall-to-wall with guys in dress shirts and suits. Proper dress shirts and suits, we’re talking Barkers and above here. Not a Hallenstein to be seen.
As I stood at the bar, making sure to staunch up my shoulders and elbows as much as possible, I took out my mental woke check-list and did some ticking off. I was primed to catch some casual sexism being lobbed about, maybe a racial slur, or a drop of the f-word (the gay f-word).
And… I got nothing. It’s almost like going into something with the lowest, worst expectations isn’t a fruitful mindset.
The demographic? Pleasantly diverse, with a surprising amount of older men. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because I found out about the event through Facebook advertising, and nobody’s on Facebook more than people over 50 who have discovered a new place to air their opinions to their willing friends and unwilling family members.
The banter? Also pleasant, largely about how one’s wife is doing. At one point, I overheard someone say that they miss Top Gear, which I understand to be a programme where famous people drive cars around in circles.
The vibe? Lads lads lads, as advertised. In fact, it seemed to be less a networking event for the modern man and more a way for the modern man to catch up with a modern man he hasn’t seen for some time. That’s probably harder to express in a Facebook ad, though.
When I made my way to a table, it just so happened that I gravitated to what I assume were the only other gay guys there. Strength in numbers, evidently. A fourth, clearly straight, man joined our table; he was an advertising sales director at a magazine, and we all got to talking. And, you know what? It was, as the rest of the lunch had been, pleasant. I didn’t feel as though I needed to lad up (let’s be real, the closest I get to ‘masc’ is ‘masque’), and I could genuinely be myself.
Once we got eating – the entree was white fish sashimi with yuzu truffle dressing and pickled daikon salad – there were the requisite thank you speeches. Brooke Howard-Smith, as impromptu MC, said a few words about men’s health, and then Anna Jobsz spoke about the event and what it meant for her to do these events as a companion to Ladies Who Lunch. The irony of it taking a woman to organise a bunch of men getting together wasn’t lost on me, and kudos to her for being able to commercialise that kind of labour.
The laddiest moment of the entire lunch probably came when Masu owner Nic Watt introduced the main course – robata grilled chicken in a bag of spicy chilli miso – as ‘cock in a bag’. Despite being a little bit dry, it’s the ideal dish for this kind of event; the bag is shaken up and shared with whomever you happen to be sitting with, and you take your share of the chicken. Very cute!
When I looked around, I thought of my own friend demographic and how hard it is to get people in the same room as we get older. Friendships and friend groups fracture, and relationships become like joining the dots between events rather than a steadily drawn line through your life. If you don’t work with someone, or operate on the same schedule to them, maintaining an actual friendship can be hard. Sure, we’re in constant communication with each other and we stay peripherally involved in each other’s lives at the swipe of a thumb, but we also do the same with celebrities we’ve never met. To engage in reliable, meaningful, face-to-face interaction with people you love can, paradoxically, require a Google Calendar.
I walked away, my manicured hands clutching a goodie bag full of fragrances, adjacently branded Berocca and assorted cream, and realised that I’d… actually had a pretty good time? Good food, good cocktails, good company. I didn’t make any lifelong friends, but that’s more on me than on the event. Nobody seemed to be having a bad time, and I’d wager if you bought a ticket to the event wanting to actually engage with it, you know, rather than take notes and then write about it semi-humorously for a website, then you’d have a good time.
In that way, an event like Lads Who Lunch is a wholesome tonic for our hectic times. And honestly? If someone put on an event where I could pay a not exorbitant ($75~) fee to have a fancy lunch and cocktail with people I didn’t see all that often and wished I saw more of, and had a chance to maybe meet like-minded people if I felt so inclined, I would absolutely do it.
There’s probably less of a market for ‘People Like Sam Who Lunch’, though.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.