You know the situation: first date, don’t want to commit to dinner, but also don’t want to get accidentally wasted or end up in your apartment at 11pm still running on the fumes of your sad desk lunch. Most importantly, you need to impress. And we promise your jokes will seem funnier under the flattering light of the perfect first date spot.
Here are our ideas for (almost) every neighborhood. Don’t f*ck this up.
Even if “cool and casual” aren’t the exact words you think to yourself when picking out a first date spot, chances are that’s what you’re looking for. Dante has you covered on both fronts – it’s a very pleasant space that feels simultaneously laid-back and happening. The cocktails are great, and the small plates like prosciutto & figs or burrata are perfect to share.
You know how you tend to like people more when you’re with them in an attractive space? No? That’s just us? Superficiality aside, Alameda is an excellent cocktail bar - it’s just a big bonus that it’s a beautiful one as well. It’s hard for a date to go too wrong when you have a seat at the giant U-shaped bar, a perfectly-made cocktail in hand, and maybe a burger to split in front of you.
“Let’s meet somewhere in the East Village.” Raise your hand if your first thought is “OK, but not too far East in the East Village.” It’s a first date - you’re not ready to commit to a journey over and back from Avenue C. Enter Goodnight Sonny, an upbeat and not-overly-romantic cocktail bar located at the highly convenient intersection of 1st Avenue and 8th Street. And if you make it to a second or third date? The alphabet streets are waiting for you.
El Quinto Pino has two rooms to suit different kinds of first date needs – a bar where you can grab a glass of wine and sangria, and a dining room for more of a sit-down situation. The menu is made up of tapas – i.e. the ideal non-committal food. Nothing says “let’s take this slow” like a tiny plate of olives. If things look promising, you can move on to something more substantial (preferably the Uni Panini). Another huge plus? They take reservations.
Chelsea is home to many Spanish date spots, and Tía Pol has more of a bar vibe than something like El Quinto Pino. It can get loud and lively from time to time, and that might be a good thing depending on who you’re going out with.
Going out with someone whose passions include Japanese culture, craft cocktails, meticulous organization, and/or chicken wings? Then your first date soulmate venue is Bar Goto. It’s a really impressive operation, from the incredibly tasty drinks and Japanese-inspired small plates, to the cubbies for your personal items, to the excellent table service. You’re not going to want to make your trip to Bar Goto a quick one, so we’d suggest coming here with someone you at least have some inkling you’ll actually enjoy.
Conversation starters (and/or savers) are a required element of any first date situation. And at Donna, there are many of them, like the beautiful design that makes it feel like a cocktail church, or the fact that this place has been open for four years and still no one really knows about it. But you could really spend an entire date talking about the drink menu itself, which is a hieroglyphic representation of every cocktail on the menu (and there are many of them). We’ve yet to crack the symbols’ code - but if your date is going badly enough you can just sit in silence concentrating until you figure it out.
Epistrophy is a Nolita neighborhood hang above all, but it’s also a great first date spot. You can go the drinks and appetizers route, or easily have a more filling Italian meal, and there’s outdoor seating for the warmer months. You’ll also seem cool just because you know where all the cool people in Nolita hang out.
Il Posto Accanto is about as safe as a first date spot gets, mostly because meatballs are nature’s security blanket. This is first and foremost a wine bar, but the food is surprisingly good (get the meatballs).
Aria is a dark little room that was basically made for a certain kind of first date. One in which things escalate quickly. The wine flows easy, the food is good enough, and you probably won’t be the only ones getting handsy at the bar. This isn’t the first date spot for everyone, but if it’s the spot for you, congratulations.
On a first date, you want a place that’s a little bit impressive. Not impressive in the way where you feel like you’re definitely underdressed, but impressive in the way where you feel like, even if the date goes horribly wrong, at least you got to check out a cool spot. Eli’s Night Shift is such a place - particularly for the Upper East Side. It’s casual, but has a great vibe, good cocktails, and good comfort food small plates.
Hell’s Kitchen is a first date desert. There are plenty of mediocre restaurants, but if you’re looking for a spot where you can get a couple glasses of wine and some small things to share, Casellula is easily the best option in the area. This place is a “cheese and wine bar,” with an emphasis on the former – and with over sixty options, you at least know your conversation will last long enough to decide which ones to get. That being said, if you come here with someone that doesn’t touch the stuff (first red flag), there are other tasty things available too.
There are lots of bars in the East Village many of them are great for party time, others are good for coworker meetups, some are great for kicking back with a beer. But few are as perfect for a first date as Lois, a beautifully designed space serving draft wine exclusively (just go with it) and interesting snacks.
If steak tartare and whiskey drinks are up both of your alleys, Weather Up is where you want to be, and also you’re probably going to be together forever. This is a very good cocktail bar with a very good first-date atmosphere, and it’s close to the Financial District if that’s something you need to deal with.
When you walk into June, you immediately get the sense you’ve already made the first (and probably last) good decision of your night. DO NOT BRING UP MOM THIS TIME. The drink list consists of interesting, affordable wines and great cocktails, the menu is full of food that will do the job, and the service is good too. There’s a big bar, some booth seating, and even a back patio covered in twinkly lights. Twinkly lights that will hopefully distract from whatever awkward thing just came out of your mouth.
That whole “impressive” thing we were talking about earlier? The Sisters’ space 100% qualifies – and not just in the typical cool-Brooklyn-hang type way. (Look at that pretty bar). You could easily use it for a day date (the massive skylight is another great element here), or at night, when a DJ joins the party. The food is also pretty good, but for a truly awesome two-step date you would do yourself well to drink here while waiting for a table at Emily across the street.
Part cocktail bar, part ramen spot, part sushi restaurant, which is pretty much all you need in life. Maybe even more so than a human companion. Keep that in mind. The drinks at Suzume are also good, and food is great for sharing either at the bar or a small table.
Maison Premiere is still the best place for fancy drinks and oysters in Williamsburg, and maybe the entire city. If Williamsburg is an option, this is a tremendous first date move, partly because it’s fun, but also because absinthe.