WASHINGTON — Vino Volo in Dulles Airport's Concourse C puts the hubba-hubba in hub.
The eight-year-old wine bar was recently named the second-best airport bar or restaurant in the country at which to have a date. The honor was bestowed by a dating website called MeetAtTheAirport.com, which works like this: If you know you'll have extra time before your flight, you provide details and match yourself with another member who also has time to kill.
"There's only so many times you can watch a plane take off and land," Steve Pasternack, the website's founder, told me when I called him. "Why not meet someone?"
Perhaps that person is from the city you're traveling to and can be an informal tour guide. Or maybe he or she will become a romantic partner.
I'm sure there's a cheap joke in there somewhere about a layover, but I'm not going to make it.
"People always tell you to meet in a public, safe place," Steve said. "What's safer than an airport? Security checks you for weapons and looks at your ID before you can talk to anyone."
Things were a little slow when I visited Vino Volo on a recent morning at Dulles, in Northern Virginia. The real crowds wouldn't start showing up till the afternoon. The space is small — just 26 seats — and gates outside fill with passengers waiting for the daily 5:15 p.m. United flight to Paris.
Many people start their Parisian vacations early, with a glass or three of wine. Because seating is limited, Vino Volo often asks strangers if they wouldn't mind sitting together. Conversation ensues.
"Who knows where that goes," said Pam Seaton, Vino Volo's regional general manager.
The No. 2 ranking from MeetAtTheAirport.com just confirms what the staff at Vino Volo already knew.
"In a way we're not surprised," said Natalie Dippenaar, the store's manager. "It's hard to go wrong with a glass of wine. People come in here so stressed."
At least one couple met there while waiting for a flight — he was from Los Angeles; she was from Paris — and later got engaged.
Steve said ideas such as MeetAtTheAirport.com just come to him. He's a former Wall Street trader who now lives in Miami. He also started a website called www.SugarDaddie.com, for older, affluent men who want to meet young, attractive women (and vice versa).
In 2008, Steve launched www.7orbetter.com. I asked if that was a site for people who rate as a 7 or higher in the Bo Derek-inspired 1-to-10-point scale.
No, he said. "It's just allowing women to know what a man has up front," Steve explained. "That he has a 7-inch penis or more."
Ah. I asked how he vetted members.
"Basically, we go on the honor system. If we get two or more complaints from members that someone is stretching the truth, they're removed from the website."
But getting back to the more seemly side of things: Only a bar in LAX called the Encounter rated more highly than Concourse C's Vino Volo, one of two at Dulles. (The other, in Concourse B, is larger and less intimate.) Apparently some singles are disappointed that the only way you can have a date there is by buying an airline ticket.
I asked Steve why people can't just bypass his website and make their own connections.
"When you were single, did you find it an easy thing to walk up to a strange woman and say: 'I find you attractive. I'd like to buy you a drink.'?" Steve asked. "It's not easy. Some people can do it. Some can't. You risk rejection. That's why so many people turn to Internet dating sites."
Said Steve: "I think if MeetAtTheAirport.com takes off — no pun intended — people will start looking at airports as the newest venue to safely date a person." He thinks more people will be on time for their flights, because they'll have arrived early for their date.
"Or maybe they might be late, because they don't want to leave their date," he said.