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 12 spots on this guide.
ITV is a dimly-lit wine bar in East Passyunk with candles on every table and string lights hung up over the bar, but there are also some aspects of this place that will give you plausible deniability if halfway through the second drink they mention a long-term relationship. There’s a pretty reliable Happy Hour crowd that stops by here most nights, and even after that ends, there are enough groups of friends just hanging out and sharing bottles of wine to pretend like that’s what you thought this was all along.
You’ve been friends since high school, and the first time you got drunk together on peach schnapps at a post-prom party, you promised each other that if you were 30 and still single you’d just marry each other. Well, 30 has passed, and now they’re back in town and want to grab dinner. You’re not sure if this is just a catch-up session or a prequel to a marriage proposal, so you should just see how the night goes at Cry Baby. It’s a casual but nice-looking place in Queen Village with reasonably-priced bowls of pasta and some of the better cocktails in the area. And if you sit at the bar, you can always duck out early when things get weird.
If you’re not sure whether this is a date or not, one of the smartest things you can do is plan it during the day, and make it somewhere you can sit outside if it’s nice out. That way, you’re likely surrounded by lots of other people who maybe-are-but-probably-aren’t on dates, and you aren’t wasting an entire night on something that might be going nowhere. Martha is a fantastic afternoon option because it has a huge outdoor patio with a bocce ball court and lots of dogs to pet, and most of the cocktails are under $12. If it goes well, you can always head inside for a full dinner of things like hoagie waffles and tomato pie.
You’ve had plans to go out for drinks with your co-worker for weeks, and you were pretty sure it was just to commiserate about how terrible your manager is. But then yesterday, before you left, they said “Excited for tomorrow!” and then you locked eyes for a sort of uncomfortable amount of time. Now, you’re entirely unsure what the deal is. Suggest you go sit at the bar at Abe Fisher. They have a great Happy Hour where most of their small plates are only $5, and the crowd is generally made up of a combination of people looking for a post-work drink with a buddy and couples grabbing a pre-theater cocktail. So whichever one of those categories you end up in, you’ll feel comfortable.
Even if this ends up not working out, you’re still excited to be going out with someone who - let’s face it - is far cooler than you, so you want to impress them either way. Irwin’s is one of those places that, despite being open for some time, still feels trendy and uniquely Philly. It’s in the Bok Building in South Philly, which used to be a vocational school and to get there you have to walk through the school’s halls and past a gymnasium to take an elevator to the top floor. The actual bar is huge, with graffitied walls and mismatched metal chairs and, aside from the great cocktail menu, they also have a full menu of mostly Mediterranean small and shared plates. Everything about this place is cool - so if something goes wrong, we hate to say it, but it’s probably you.
You definitely don’t think it’s a date, but after the last few texts they sent you - all of which ended in exclamation points - you’re not sure that they know that. Instead of taking any chances on them reading too far into this dinner, suggest you go for a burger at Kensington Quarters. The space has long, communal tables so that you’re not really alone, and you have to walk by a windowed butchers room with hanging meat carcasses to get there, which doesn’t exactly scream romance. You never know, though. After they make a super weird joke about being physically attracted to Thanos, you might just reconsider. If that’s the case, you can move out to the much more romantic back patio for your final drinks of the night.
Nothing screams “THIS IS A DATE” like a French wine bar. But even though that’s exactly what Fond is, it’s not the one you’re imagining, with dim lighting and couples making out in every corner. Fond is bright and attractive, with a small bar up front covered in plants and a menu that ranges from oysters to a seven-course tasting menu that you can come back for if things go really well this time around.
The two of you made out after your company holiday party last year, but that was a long time ago, and neither of you have acknowledged it ever since. Now you’ve been assigned to work on a project together and you’re going out for drinks to “brainstorm.” You’re pretty sure this isn’t a date, but you wouldn’t mind if it ended up being one. Suggest the two of you go to Mission Taqueria. It’s about as casual of a place as you’ll find, with long tables that you can set your computers up on and $5 Happy Hour margaritas to help the ideas flow. Then, once you’ve sufficiently come up with enough ideas, you can circle back to reminiscing about how fun that night was, and see what happens from there.
Whether or not this is a date, you still want to have a good time. Take your maybe-date to Barcelona Wine Bar in East Passyunk. It’s a tapas place, but unlike most other small plate spots in the city, it’s not intimate and quiet. It’s actually just about the opposite, with a ton of space filled with couples alongside huge groups of friends starting their nights with a few bottles of wine and a pan of paella. And if it goes well, you can always move to their outdoor patio or down the street to Townsend for one last drink.
Since first dates, or whatever this is, have somewhere around a 7% success rate, you’re not about to spend all your money on someone you’ll probably never see again. So the next time you’re taking someone to dinner to find out if there’s any so-called “spark,” head to Nunu, split a katsu sandwich and some wings, and attempt to connect while tipping back a few of their on-tap whiskey highballs. You won’t spend a ton, so even if you never see them again, you can just write the night off as research for your book on how miserable courtship is in the age of apps.
Your best friend’s brother that you always had a crush on just moved to Philly, and she’s asked if you can show him around the city. After you’ve taken him to Elfreth’s Alley and the Franklin Institute, wind your day down with some creative drinks and bar snacks like popcorn and whipped ricotta at R&D in Fishtown. The dark space is filled with two-tops, candles, and a lot of velvet, making it one of the more date-y cocktail bars in the area. But if it turns out that he can’t get over that time you tricked him into eating one of your Sriracha cupcakes as an eight-year-old, you can just tell him through a forced smile that you wanted to show him some good spots to take his future dates.
Somewhere around the second glass of wine, the mention of a long-time significant other is slipped ever so casually into the conversation. After excusing yourself to cry in the bathroom for a few minutes, return to the bar, order yourself a burger, and make it clear that if they want some, they’ll have to order their own. The burger is the best thing on the menu here, and while you stuck to oysters before the S.O. mention, you’re perfectly fine with diving headfirst into a messy burger now that you don’t have to impress anyone. Because, as has been made painfully clear, this is not a date.