RATED - Where (and Where NOT) to Go on a First Date in NYC
"Welcome to the age of un-innocence. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember." - Carrie Bradshaw
Dating in New York City is tough, to say the least. Filled with skeptics, one-night-standers, and just plain old creeps - the island of Manhattan in particular is the capital of first dates. That is, until they don’t seem so “first-datey” anymore. Whether the night ends with the promise of another, or simply some tussled bed sheets, the location of the aforementioned meeting is vital in locking in the aftermath - or avoiding it at all costs.
1. The Bean 2/10
Starting off… slow. For those not native to New York City - or any big city for that matter - The Bean is representative of nearly every chain coffee shop ever. With its generic milk-topped lattes and plastic-tasting ham and cheese croissants, there never has been such a boring place for a first date. Although I suggest that blind dates in particular should be casual and with as little pressure as possible, you certainly don’t have to subject yourself or “Mark from your cousin’s work” to something so dreadfully ordinary. The Bean might be a solid place to lock down a few press releases for your meeting with the boss on Friday, but not so great to turn on the “za za zoom” with a potential hubby. Some alternatives include Bluestone Lane in Greenwich (the croissants are sexy) or Prince Tea House on 10th (two words: twisty fries).
2. Cecconi’s Dumbo 8.5/10
Hello, late-night luxury! Cecconi’s Dumbo has a velvet-lined lobby, dripping chandeliers, delectable wood-fired pizzas, and a glorious view of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge. For quarantine, the establishment fashioned a divine outdoor seating area smack dab in the middle of the market. It’s one of my personal favorites, and the perfect place to feel pampered. A word of caution - I once took a guy here who I thought would not hesitate to split the check (not too much to ask, right? Standard for a first date). Nope. He turned out to be an asshole and I got stuck with the $150 bill. But if you and your wallet are prepared, Cecconi’s is a steamy and elegant preamble to the endless possibilities of your night.
3. Their Dorm / Apartment 5/10
For me at least, this option is split right down the middle. Stay with me, though - I have an explanation. Most of the time, the apartment is a place to meet before the date, or it shouldn’t technically be called a date. More like a hook-up or one-night stand. “But Sarah, what if we meet at a social event and he/she invites me back to his/her apartment for drinks?” Yeah, they want to get in your pants. “Is that the case all the time?” Pretty much, especially in NYC. “What if I want to take things slow?” Easy - just suggest somewhere else to go. SPOT Dessert Bar on St. Marks, Milos Wine Bar in the Hudson Yards, or Columbus Circle near Central Park are a few of my go-to suggestions if you don’t feel comfortable ‘putting out’ before ‘going out.'
4. Cafeteria 7/10
No, Cafeteria is not actually a cafeteria. Say goodbye to plastic trays and avoiding the “popular kid table,” and instead give a warm welcome to the best Mac and Cheese on this side of the island, and in no WAY avoiding the round table in the back filled with celebrities. If your PNB (Potential New Boo) has a taste palette that appeals to upscale “American” fare, Cafeteria will surely be a hit. However, there’s one very strong reason why I didn’t rate the restaurant a 10: the last time one of my girlfriend’s frequented there with a date, they asked for a credit card to hold their place, even though they were already seated at their table. She thought it was a little weird, but she figured they just wanted to prevent dining and dashing. Although the waiter ensured that they wouldn’t charge her credit if they paid later with other means. Well, she found that they had procured over $400 from her account upon returning home with her date. She then freaked out, and her date saw her freak out, and the mood was sort of ruined. It was all a misunderstanding and she did get her money back eventually, but seriously - talk about a Grade A date disaster.
5. Columbus Circle 9/10
Calling all Sex and the City fans! Columbus Circle not only offers a quaint shopping center and glorious views, but the illustrious television-featured locale also is located at the south corner of one of Manhattan’s most beloved sights: Central Park. It’s truly an ideal dating sight; recommend the Circle to your blind date or long-time friend (who may be turning into something more) and see where the day goes. Although some are not keen on excess physical activity on a first date that does not involve a bed and a pack of Magnums, I would encourage the willful adventurer to begin at Sheep Meadow, venture around the Carousel and Wollman Rink, and end at Columbus Circle just as it starts to reach sunset. The colors of the fountain at night are a sight to behold.
6. Little Owl Restaurant 10/10
Our very first perfect score, The Little Owl is a hidden gem in Greenwich Village with one of the best Happy Hour deals ever. When my roommate first sent me this TikTok with bubbly music in the background (you know the kind) about a restaurant that offered $1 tapas and two-for-one wine by the glass, I did a physical double take. And I kept doing takes when I physically got there. It has the most adorable atmosphere with Friends quotes scribbled on the brick walls, mouth-watering Mediterranean snacks (although they serve a mean burger), and twenty-dollar towering pitchers of Sangria; a low pressure, low priced place for a fun - and possibly even meaningful - date.
7. Times Square 0.05/10
No. No no no no no. The only people I would recommend this hell hole to, are seasoned New Yorkers who were already in the area to see a Broadway show or something, and those dedicated to their Instagram enough to get the supreme lighting of Time Square’s larger-than-life billboards. Even then, the only time I personally could have been caught dead around the area was during my first few months in Manhattan, trying to impress a man I met in my college dorm building during a campus fire drill at two in the morning. There is the most congested tourist trap in NYC with obnoxious crowds and creepy frequenters. And during a pandemic? Enough said.
8. The Time Out Market 9/10
Brooklyn is not to be overlooked. And what better part of New York City’s newest up and coming feature to explore than Dumbo? Located steps above Cecconi’s (which I talked about earlier in the article if you didn’t manage to get lost in the hurricane of shitty date instances since then), The Time Out Market provides a flawless opportunity for an initial rendezvous well-done. After reconnoitering on the first level souk to select your pick of Korean delicacies, Mexican cuisine, American-comfort food, or simply a cocktail from the fully-stocked bar in the back, feel free to make your way up the elevator to the fifth-floor roof and take in the Manhattan skyline view that cannot be defined with any word other than “magical.” If all goes well (which in my experience, it certainly has), the Uber ride to Manhattan presents a fantasy-esque landscape that sets the stage for a romantic night (which in my experience, it certainly has).
9. Le Bain 4/10
If you count meeting for the first time on a sweaty dance floor accompanied with a slurred let me buy you a drink as a “date,” Le Bain would surely take the cake. Friend after coworker after associate of mine have told intriguing stories about their rendezvous at nightclubs such as Le Bain in Chelsea - one of them even met her now sexy, photographer boyfriend on the roof of this celebrity-crammed establishment. However, Le Bain has a less than impeccable score on the First-Date-O-Meter due simply to the stress of cautionary methods one must entail in order to have a successful night at any club or bar: make sure your drink is covered, your friends are around, and your guard is up. Particularly as a woman in the Big Apple, I’ve had my fair share of unnerving instances during a night on the town. In my experience, those looking to “meet” at nightclubs are either skeevs, expecting only a one-night stand, or simply looking to hand-jive the night away with a companion. Feel free to prove me wrong; no one has yet.
10. La Lanterna di Vittorio 10/10
Imagine the iron-rod, emerald green fashioned, fairy light garden of your dreams - that is La Lanterna. An Italian, Greenwich Village gem, this beloved restaurant not only serves impeccable fare (I recommend the lasagna and blueberry cobbler to finish), but also provides an extremely unique atmosphere. There’s affable service (so you can count out repeatedly asking your waiter for the check after the night is over), a dreamy yet casual ambience (so you won’t be glared at by Manhattan’s elite for sporting your favorite Urban Outfitter jeans), and it’s outdoors (so your COVID worries can at least be lessened while you’re chatting about your preferred movie selections). Upon frequenting La Lanterna for a date option around my birthday in August, the staff offered me free cannoli with a candle; you may think this is a simple gesture, but you’d be remiss to find a single upscale restaurant in Manhattan that gives you free anything. 10/10 recommend for your next first date venture. Happy haunting!