The bar is an easy option for a casual first date, but too many happy hour beers will give any veteran dater a weary sense of déjà vu. And as meeting places, they’re often just as disappointing: either no alcohol = no chemistry, or that guy or gal didn’t look so hot under less forgiving lights.
Luckily, urbanites have a slew of non-bar options that make great date territory. Remove the margarita goggles and take (or meet!) your next first date at one of these activity-focused, booze-free venues.
1. A gallery or museum
Finally, something to look at besides each other! Museums are great places to just wander, and there’s always a conversation piece on hand for when you’re both out of job talk. I’ve had great first dates in MOMA with art buffs and naïves alike. For the less artfully inclined, a science or natural history museum is a playful, interactive date space that takes the pressure off making an impression.
2. A street or food cart fair
A cheaper, hipper alternative to your usual sit-down restaurant, a street or food cart fair is the perfect place to enjoy noms, and the outdoors, in a casual setting. Sample different vendors for appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts to get the most out of your experience. This also relieves you of the anxiety of picking a restaurant the other person might not like. Nothing’s worse than taking a vegetarian to a barbecue joint or a Celiac to a ramen shop!
3. A walk in a fun neighborhood
You could always go for a walk in the park or a nice outdoorsy setting, but it’s also fun to explore unfamiliar urban territory with someone new. Find a neighborhood coffee joint and take your cup of brew with you while you poke around bookstores, antique shops, ethnic grocery stores, bakeries… whatever there is to discover. Pet dogs on the sidewalk. Admire the architecture. Smell some roses. Hint: don’t be afraid to put on your Dora the Explorer cap (metaphorically, of course) and take the initiative— “Hey, this vintage store looks cool! Let’s go in!”
4. An open mic night
Poetry, music, comedy—open mics offer something for everyone, and in a laid-back setting that’s all about being open and receptive. Check out your city’s open mics (many are listed on Meetup) to find a popular event with a regular audience. With the right ratio of entertainment to talking time, you’ll get a chance to chat between acts while getting to know the other person’s tastes in an organic way.
5. Learn something new
Taking a class or lesson is a great way to break the ice with a new romantic prospect. From pottery to painting to DJ’ing to risotto making to GIF design, there are tons of classes—some that are even free—catering to couples or groups of friends. And if you and your date didn’t click, at least you got something out of it!
To find out what’s going on in your area, subscribe to a weekly newsletter (like NYC’s The Skint) or a daily deals site like pulsd. Your date will put you a cut above the rest when you come out with a creative suggestion for your first encounter!
I am an anonymous blogger currently running The Great New York Dating Experiment, a no-holds-barred, ovaries-to-the-wall plunge into the New York City dating scene, complete with incisive and usually snarky commentary. And many, many first dates.