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Here's the deal. I'm going on a first date with this girl that I met last week. Here's the catch — I met her in real life, at a bar, NOT on the internet. Her Facebook page is private. We have no mutual friends. And other than a little text message banter, I know next-to-nothing about her seeing as last week's conversation is a little...blurry. What's a safe first date spot that won't scare her off, and has an easy out for either/both of us if things take a turn towards weird?
Dating in Real Life
Dear Dating in Real Life,
An old school, drunken connection — cute! I dig. But I get that your inability to access her tastes/preferences/friends to grill has you feeling a little nervous. Two words: Drinks date. Coffee is way too "let's network"-like and dinner is too big a commitment. And, by sussing out her drink of choice, you'll learn all kinds of things about this mystery girl. I'd present her with three choices and let her pick one (based on preference/convenience. Do you really not even know where she lives? What startup she works for? Dude, take notes next time). Bars with food options, or food nearby, is a plus, should things go well/you find yourself getting a little too verbose. Here's how to break it down:
photo credit: MandeePhoto
I slightly resent the stereotype that a beer-lovin' gal is hard to come by — most women I know (self included) are as into beer as the boys. Regardless, a beer bar can be a great way to learn more about each other, if that's her (and your) thing.
Into big, hoppy high-proof brews? Rare Belgian sours? Bud Light? Much can be sussed from a first date beer order. Personal anecdote: I went on my first date with my now-boyfriend at Toronado. This is an aggressive choice, as not everyone likes surly bartenders, smelly bathrooms, and loud-ass metal music (why, I couldn't tell you), but I think it's a killer pick for a few reasons. One, it's anti-romantic in terms of vibe, so if you two are feeling each other, it's all on your real-life chemistry. Two, Rosamunde is next door if you want to segue into dinner.
Some other, safer beer-centric options include Mikkeller Bar — it's spacious, sleek, and has a fantastic selection of brews, and great food. City Beer Store is a little more laid back, and smaller, with a nice (if smaller) draft selection, and all kinds of bottles on offer. I've recently raved about Church Key up in North Beach — if she lives nearby or works in the Financial District, that could be a great place to meet up. And if you're both Mission-bound, I love The Sycamore for their neighborhood vibe, nice draft selection, and outdoor patio (bonus points if it's Bingo Night!).
photo credit: virtuallykc
You can class things up with a wine date if that's your jam. Fig & Thistle in Hayes Valley is kind of twee, but is also cozy and cute in a way that I just can't deny (truth). They've got some nice cheese and charcuterie, too, if you want a snack to go with your glasses or bottles (no judgement).
If it's a (rare) nice night, Arlequin's back garden is a total win — you can buy bottles from the shop next door and take them outside to enjoy. I'm a big fan of 20 Spot in the Mission — it's housed in a former record store (cool!), has a laid-back neighborhood vibe, a great wine selection, and nice small plates. Interested in a wine bar in the Marina? I'm afraid I'm the wrong person to ask (sorry...kind of).
If you're someone who really knows their wine, definitely don't be afraid to drop some knowledge, but please don't be a totally pretentious ass about it (even if you mean very, very well). Same rules apply to her (unless you're both total wine snobs in which case, go make some sommelier babies already).
photo credit: Ron Dollete
I think the key to a good cocktail date is picking a spot that, yes, has great drinks, but is also not stupid-crazy crowded all the damn time, too. So, unless you're both flexible work-from-home-slash-coffee-shop freelancers who can get to Trick Dog RIGHT when they open at 4 p.m., save it for another time (when you're looking to get hammered on delicious drinks but not actually hear each other say anything). 15 Romolo is usually pretty chill on weeknights, and continues to have some of my favorite drinks in the city (and great, great bar food). Nearby, Comstock also has great drinks and a classy scene, and doesn't get too crowded until later in the evening.
Tradition in the TL is just far enough away from central downtown to stay decently mellow, and doesn't require the commitment/reservation of sister bar Bourbon & Branch (and ending up at Shalimar across the street is a GREAT idea). The Hideout at Dalva has the kind of back room sexiness of B&B, but with a livelier soundtrack. And it's hard to beat Alembic in the Haight for drinks and atmosphere — I can't wait for them to finish their expansion and have even more room for eager drinkers.
But really, the spot (and drink) of choice won't matter if you two are really meant for each other (aw). Or, have a friend on hold to call you with an "emergency" if you need to make a quick exit. Godspeed and may you get lucky in the near future, friend.