In the age of swiping right and sliding into DMs, going on a date with someone you’ve never actually met before is no longer a novelty. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right way to do it. If you're scheduling a rendezvous with a person who's saved in your phone as "Hinge," you should pick a casual spot that's at least a little bit cool, and it's usually nice to have the option of small plates as well. Here are some places that get the job done.
A "queer space for all," Oddly Enough is a good time all around. The space has plenty of seating, it never feels too crowded, and you'll probably hear some loud funk or disco when you stop by. This Bed-Stuy bar is a great place to share a few small plates and a bottle of wine with a stranger who might be willing to hold your hand one day. Try the whipped ricotta with a side of a focaccia, and grab a seat on the sidewalk patio if you want to feel a breeze.
Rolo’s is a lively Ridgewood spot in a large space with tables that are spread pretty far apart to give you a sense of privacy. This place has tons of shareable small plates, with a menu that includes hamachi crudo, a great cheeseburger, and plates of coppa and mortadella. If you make it all the way to dessert, the homemade ice cream is the perfect way to cap off a successful first date.
Alma Negra is a Mexican spot in Park Slope that could have been the setting for a meet cute in a '90s Nora Ephron flick (except that this place was around back then). Low-key and stylish, it’s perfect for a first date, and the menu has some real standouts like a fish taco that’s satisfyingly crunchy. Another thing we love: The mocktails are just as exciting as the cocktails.
photo credit: Eric Medsker
Dear Irving on Hudson
Dear Irving on Hudson is a perfect place to get to know someone who might become more than a friend one day. The views are great, the cocktails are well-made, and there are little "seating stations" (made for two) that will make you feel like you're in your own little bubble as you try to figure out what the day's colors on the Empire State Building mean. Snack on some lobster rolls and macarons, and request a bartender's choice if none of the house cocktails sound appealing.
Sweet Afton in Astoria is much nicer than your average drinking spot, and there’s a full dinner menu for when you and your date both need to dig into why you're both tired of living in NYC, yet you can't think of anywhere else you'd rather live. The space has exposed brick walls and leather banquettes, and at night there are little candles on the tables. They make a good burger, as well some other things like a couple of salads and a falafel sandwich.
Epistrophy is a Nolita neighborhood spot that's great for any kind of hang—especially one with someone who suspiciously has a completely different hair color than their online photo. You can go the drinks-and-appetizers route, or you can have a more filling meal involving pasta, hanger steak, and burrata. Grab a little table outside if the weather's nice.
Your dog’s vet told you that you’re going to hit it off with her son, but all she knows about you is that you’re not great at brushing Bruno’s teeth. So you really have no idea what you’re in for. Recommend meeting at Ainslie, which has two bars inside, as well as another on the open-air rooftop. You can share very good wood-fired pizza or some spaghetti pomodoro at a table, or you can stand close to the DJ booth if you get tired of hearing about how cats are people too.
If you’re open to the possibility of staying out until 2am while sharing cocktails and stories about the first time you got “drunk drunk,” go to Mister Paradise. This East Village bar a good early-evening place to drink some great cocktails, and when you both decide not to respond to prearranged SOS texts from your friends, you can move to a booth or the all-red room in the back before it gets too crowded.
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you don’t want a shoulder-to-shoulder bar where you have to shout about how your roommates are fine but you can’t wait to get your own place. St Tropez is a little French spot in the West Village where you get your own table and order small plates as you go, making a quick exit that much easier.
The Uptown Garrison
The Uptown Garrison in Washington Heights works just as well for cocktails on a Friday night as it does for an 8am coffee date when you don’t feel like committing the good hours of the day to someone you don’t know. This spot, a block from the A-train at 181st Street, serves coffee and sandwiches during the day, and then turns into a dark, constantly-packed cocktail bar with very good pizzas and bar food at night.
Park Slope isn’t just populated by married couples who’d like their four-year-olds’ finger paintings to be graded on a curve. It also has single people and a surprising number of bars. Blueprint is one of our favorite cocktail spota in the neighborhood, with excellent drinks and a secret back patio that you can count on to impress someone for at least two minutes.
Meet for a drink in the backyard at LaLou, and if you make it past initial pleasantries without ranking your top 10 black-and-white horror films, move to a table inside for dinner. Or, if things don’t go quite so well, say goodbye to your date, pretend to walk home, then return to the bar for a dinner by yourself. Either way, ask the friendly staff for recommendations from the natural wine list.
If you or your date has an interest in wine beyond rosé at the beach and having seen Sideways, share some wine flights and steak tartare at Terroir in Tribeca. The massive wine list is annotated with quotes and facts, and it should keep you entertained during lulls in your discussion about your childhood golden retrievers.
Porchlight is a huge cocktail bar in Chelsea that always seems to be just the right amount of crowded. You can usually get your own table, but the dark space also has some communal seating and a huge bar area. This place makes very good cocktails, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s a room in the back where people play Jenga and eat Southern-influenced bar food like hush puppies and smoked cheddar biscuits.
L’Accolade is a wine bar in the West Village that’s ideal for first dates for a few key reasons. They take reservations, have lots of seating, and offer Happy Hour every day. But most importantly, they serve natural wine. Whatever your feelings are towards this style of winemaking, it’s something interesting to talk about when you get tired of explaining how you like your job but also want to quit.
Bar Goto is a small, dark Japanese-inspired bar with some of the best drinks on the Lower East Side. Have a sake and gin martini with cherry blossom in it, and impress your date with the kind of chicken wings you'd never expect to find in a fancy cocktail bar like this. You need at least one order—although two would be more impressive.
La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
It’s not socially acceptable (or advisable) to invite a first date to your living room. But it is more than acceptable to tell them to meet you at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a Soho wine bar that feels like a very nice living room filled with tasteful wallpaper and velvet chairs. Share a few small plates at the bar or at one of the small candlelit tables.
photo credit: David Lee
Regardless of whether you ever intend to see this person again, at least you know that meeting them at Leyenda won’t be a waste of your time. All of the mezcal and rum drinks at this dark Carroll Gardens cocktail bar are great, and if you lose interest in whoever’s sitting across from you, you can focus on the pan-Latin small plates in front of you.
You could stick around Amelie for a full dinner, but we prefer it for Happy Hour, when you can have several wine flights for $13 each. Whether you get seats at the long bar or a high-top, servers will bring you tastes of various wines and offer curated wine that you should definitely accept. You can share some mussels and crab tartine if your date passes your rigorous initial screening criteria.