Whether you’re hanging out one-on-one with a friend you usually only see in group settings, or an ex who recently liked six of your pictures on Instagram, you’re not completely certain whether this get-together is a date. But before you’re able to figure that out for sure, you’ll need to choose a place to meet.
You don’t want a French wine bar full of couples looking longingly into each other’s eyes, and you also don’t want a bright, quiet cafe that feels like your college library. It shouldn’t be expensive or very crowded, but you still want it to feel impressive, and you should be able to either leave after half a beer or order some food and hang out for a while.
Whether or not you want this to be a date, two things are for sure: first, you hope this person feels the same way you do. And second, you should go to one of the 14 spots on this guide.
Good Night Sonny
Right around the end of your first drink, the mention of a significant other will be casually slipped into conversation. Even though you may be alarmed at the feeling of something heavy sinking towards your stomach, it’s important to smile and maintain eye contact. When your face starts cramping and you need a break, you may have the impulse to drink something stronger than sauvignon blanc and eat something heavier than crudites. At this busy East Village cocktail bar, you can handle the disappointment with a really good martini and a roast beef sandwich dipped in jus with mozzarella and horseradish cream. It’s messy, but you won’t care. This isn’t a date.
The person you’re meeting up with has “read receipts” turned on, yet still takes hours to respond to your text messages. You’re not sure exactly what this means, but a few drinks at The Ten Bells should clear things up. This wine bar on the LES has an intimate feel, but is still the kind of place you could just hang out with a friend. Whatever the verdict on this person’s texting habits is, you can take advantage of $1 oysters every day until 7pm, shareable tapas that are mostly around $10, and very generous pours of natural wines from around the world.
Since making plans for drinks with this person, you’ve wished more than a few times that people still updated their relationship statuses on Facebook. But if you go to City Vineyard, a rooftop bar next to the Hudson River running path in Tribeca, you can always focus on affordable wines on tap, oysters, and sunset views when it turns out you’re just in for a multi-hour monologue about how intense the partner track is at some law firm with a long name.
You both work in FiDi and you’re second-degree connections on LinkedIn, but you’ve been texting rather than messaging on Bloomberg and neither of you sent a calendar invite for this get-together. Suggest a drink at The Dead Rabbit after work. The casual bar room on the ground floor is a good place to start, and once you’re confident that this isn’t just an elaborate way to get an introduction to your marketing team, move to a table in the darker lounge upstairs. Even if it comes to nothing more than a new first-degree connection on LinkedIn, at least you’ll drink some of the best cocktails in the city.
In the morning, this spot in the Standard East Village tends to be full of European tourists staying at the hotel having espresso and biscotti, and in the afternoon, the crowd tends to be a mix of models wearing sunglasses inside and people passing papers back and forth over casual business lunches. At night, though, the lights go down and the music goes up, and this becomes a fun spot to sit at a little table with someone and drink spicy mezcal cocktails. This place is never empty, so your questions about roommates and travel plans won’t echo off the walls, and if your attempts at small talk just turn into a series of accidental interruptions and awkward silences, at least you can distract yourself with some high-quality people watching.
You’ve poured each other glasses of sangria while day drinking with a group, and you’ve had watered-down vodka sodas together at a mutual friend’s birthday, but this will be the first time it’s just the two of you. Rather than recommending a really date-y spot like Hotel Delmano or Maison Premiere, keep things casual with drinks at The Hive. This spot a block from the water in Williamsburg feels like a pretty normal bar, with a TV playing sports and a menu with a bunch of different types of burgers. But it’s not at all divey, and the cocktails, like one with tequila and bell pepper puree, are very good (and all $13).
Ward III is a dark cocktail bar in Tribeca with candlelit tables and drinks that have ingredients like scotch and orange marmalade, but there are also aspects of this place that’ll give you plausible deniability in case it turns out that this definitely isn’t a date. There’s live music, a long bar full of after-work crowds, and a bunch of open space in case a couch or small table feels awkward - plus drink deals, like $10 shot and beer combos, during Happy Hour (until 7pm every day except Saturday).
Porchlight is a huge cocktail bar in Chelsea that’s just as good for dates as it is for work drinks or birthdays, which makes it a useful option when you’re not sure which type of situation to plan for. You can usually get your own table, but the dark, cavernous space also has some communal seating and a huge bar area where you can stand and drink really good cocktails. There’s also an area in the back where you can play Jenga in what looks like the game room of a bed and breakfast in the Adirondacks.
If the person you’re meeting up with is turned off by the fact that there’s a huge fish tank in the middle of Dive 75, then you might stop wondering if it’s a date, and start asking yourself if you should even be hanging out at all. This place isn’t as divey as the name suggests - it’s mostly just a big, casual spot on the Upper West Side where you can get some good beers and inexpensive well drinks when you don’t want to deal with stray beer pong balls at a place on Amsterdam Avenue.
You’re already friends - not in the sense that you text each other descriptions of things you’re seeing on the subway while on your way to meet, but at least in the sense that you’re looking forward to spending a couple of hours together. It remains to be seen if this casual friendship will become something more, but in the meantime, you’ll be happy meeting up at The Winslow. This slightly upscale bar near Union Square doesn’t have live music or amazing people-watching, but it does have lots of seating, excellent gin and tonics ($7 during Happy Hour), and a convenient location to get to from pretty much anywhere.
Few types of places say “date” like French wine bars. But even though that’s exactly what Amelie is, this Greenwich Village spot isn’t like Aria or St Tropez or any of the other places where you’re likely to see couples making out over a plate of half-eaten scallops. It’s bright and casual, especially during Happy Hour, when you can try half-glasses of any three wines on the menu for $12.
The Upper East Side has plenty of options for fancy dates, like Bemelmans Bar or The Auction House, and it also has lots of choices if you’re really trying to keep things platonic, like any of the sports bars on 2nd Avenue. But for something in between, go to Eli’s Night Shift. This place is a cafe during the day, but at 5pm, it turns into a fun bar that’s one of our favorite spots uptown for after-work beers (they have a great, constantly rotating draft list), pre-dinner cocktails, and high-quality bar food.
Whether or not this is a date, you wouldn’t mind impressing this person. Suggest meeting at Donna, a cocktail bar in Williamsburg, and you’ll be well on your way. It’s a big, beautiful, white-walled space that looks kind of like a church in the southwest, but it doesn’t get as busy as other spots in the neighborhood because of its location south of the bridge. The mezcal and tequila drinks that come in various styles - mixed, frozen, draft, and large-format - are excellent, and they’re also discounted during Happy Hour (until 8pm on weekdays).