Where To Go For A Very Casual Date
Cool, low-key, and all the other things you're pretending to be.
A casual date. The blurry middle ground between pretending to be effortless and making sure they know you really don’t want to be in the friend zone. Where do you go when you’re not allowed to admit that you scrolled all the way down their Instagram and noted that they’ve been obsessed with patatas bravas ever since their 2016 family holiday? Or that you zoomed in on their WhatsApp picture and figured out which coffee blend they like? Leave that with us. From a wine bar with a moody upstairs den, to a food market that’s bound to keep everyone happy, here are seven spots to go for a casual date.
photo credit: John Carey
The weekday-only Italian wine bar and shop on Leonard Street is a favourite with restaurant workers and Italian wine-lovers alike. Early evenings that start with a bottle here tend to end with, well, several more bottles here (as well as a metric tonne of charcuterie, bread, and one last glass for good luck). You can take your drinks out onto the street and nab a bench spot if possible then, later, head to the hush-hush upstairs bar if things turn less casual.
You’re not sure if you’d like to spend one hour or the next six months with this person. No worries, this Notting Hill cafe can help. Pop in for a hazelnut latte before committing to a spontaneous full-blown brunch situation. The lighting, exposed brick, and menu filled with things like a Turkish breakfast for two and Nutella-stuffed doughnuts all make for the perfect backdrop to a casual daytime date. And will give you time to decide whether you’d like to see them next Saturday, or block their number after a 45-minute coffee.
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This entirely casual meet-up isn’t about vying for affection or quietly crawling along on your mission of not dying alone. It’s about wine vending machines. What can you say, you’re just really passionate about the intersection between vino and technology. Yes, suggesting a casual hang at Vagabond in Fitzrovia with the person you’ve been relentlessly DMing for six months really just writes itself. No faff, zero stress, just a laid-back wine bar where you can select quality wines by the glass from snazzy electronic cases. Plus, each wine option has a very helpful cheat sheet so you can flirt via the medium of saying ‘oh, that one’s very…full-bodied’. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
Below Stone Nest
Heading to a bar in Soho doesn’t feel particularly casual but you know what does? An £8.50 negroni. The moody basement bar on Shaftesbury Avenue has a lot of things going for it. Namely, it's a massive, candlelit industrial space with groovy music that mixes groups of friends getting progressively (and more entertainingly) drunk, with lust-struck couples getting one more drink until the early hours of the morning. Best of all, you can’t book. So, take your chances or, even better, distract a bouncer and walk straight in.
Two Hundred Rye Lane
Nothing serious ever happened around a happy hour. Trust us, we’ve spent enough quality time with 2-4-1 margaritas to make that statement with absolute certainty. Two Hundred Rye Lane is a chilled little Peckham bar that has one of London’s most classy and cheerful happy hours, that completely enables you to act like the considerate lovechild of Cupid and Martin Lewis. You can carefully disguise your lust as a vague enthusiasm for affordable spagliatos, rye manhattans, and salted coconut espresso martinis. If the romantic flame sparks, you can transition to a round of nibbly small plates.
You don’t get more casual than this low-key restaurant inside Queensway Market. The food does all the talking at this excellent Malaysian spot, so bring someone that you can steal a crispy fried chicken wing from, whose expectations are Casual with a capital C, and who’ll be down to get another round of roti once they realise it’s the best in London.
photo credit: Rob Greig
Nothing says ‘no biggie’ like meeting at a no-reservations-needed food market. Mercato near Elephant and Castle is a great spot when you’re in the early stages and still don’t know that they’re obsessed with stilton and scared of mussels. And of course you can’t ask because that doesn’t match the “cool” and “effortless” facade you’re trying to keep up. Get a couple of craft beers and have a look around before you settle on one of the many street food stalls. There’s everything from tacos to Turkish kebabs, so you’ll be sure to find something to agree on.