Is there a social interaction more fraught with peril than the first date? Even in the age of Tinder (or Hinge or Bumble), two people meeting for the first time with the potential for romance remains a nerve-wracking experience. Picking the right place is crucial. After all, other than one's personal appearance, the venue will transmit all kinds of messages to one's potential partner.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions culled from both personal experience and those of close friends for places that aren't exactly guaranteed to lead to a second date — that's up to both parties to decide — but will at least put both people at ease and encourage conversation.
As a heterosexual male in his
mid late 30s, I recognize that I may not value the same things that other people do in selecting a location. Before diving into the list, let me establish a few rules that govern the selections.
The guiding principle is that a first date should be an opportunity for lots of "getting to know you" conversation. Try to identify a few of the things you have in common that will lead to some stability and the differences that make for fun, creative tension. Towards that end, consider the following:
1. The most important thing is that the person who initiates the date should feel comfortable at the meeting place. A first date is not an appropriate time to head to a spot you've maybe heard is cool or that one of your coworkers likes. Go somewhere you'll feel a ease. If the staff knows and likes you, even better.
2. Pick something that's moderately priced: not too cheap, not too expensive. Leave places like Uchi, BCN and Tony's for a special occasion (your future six-month anniversary, perhaps). After all, setting expectations is key, and no one wants to be seen as a spendthrift. Similarly, don't cheap out. A first date is important. Leave the taco trucks and burger joints for a casual, weeknight meet up.
3. Don't choose somewhere that's too heavily focused on one specific thing: no bars that specialized in wine, beer or cocktails. What if one's date doesn't like wine? Pick somewhere that offers some variety and, ideally, seating away from the bar. Remember, the goal is to foster conversation, and establishing a good rhythm is hard if someone is constantly reaching past you to order or pick up a drink.
4. If meeting at a restaurant, choose a place that accepts reservations. Waiting for a table in Coltivare's garden can be charming, but let's stick to places that can seat you promptly.
Without further ado, here are five bars and five restaurants that should fit the bill. They've all opened in the last year or so.
An attractive space helps set the tone for a special occasion, and no bar in Midtown is prettier than Wooster's. The flexible space features a long bar, intimate tables and lounge seating, which means a couple can have a little privacy during the important getting-to-know-you phase. Bar bites, created by former Soma chef Gabe Medina, are perfect for sharing — and help you learn how compatible your taste in food is. Choose a beer from one of the 49 craft taps or indulge in one of cocktail wizard Steven Salazar's creative drinks that utilize a variety of housemade syrups.
Take a date to this wine and whiskey bar from sommelier Justin Vann and Oxheart chef Justin Yu for two main reasons: a beautiful, historic room and table service. That means no breaking up the conversation or standing around, trying to catch the bartender's eye to get another drink. Sure, that's common in wine bars, but they don't have Public Service's selection of whisky and cocktails. Sitting on one of Public Service's couches or at a table for two also encourages lingering over a bottle of wine, particularly during the daily happy hour from 4 to 6:30 pm when they're half-off. The knowledgeable, friendly staff is always ready to help find a vintage both parties will enjoy.
Weights + Measures
The award-winning Love & Squalor bar at the Midtown bakery/restaurant/coffee shop offers some important features that make it a good date spot. First, details like the shag carpet wall and vintage-looking Star Wars placemats add a sense of whimsy that helps ease the inherent nervousness of a first date. The selection of craft beer, wine and cocktails means anyone can find something to drink, and the award-winning bar staff will keep the libations flowing. If things are going really well, move to a table and split a pizza or a couple of a the signature bread courses.
SaltAir Seafood Kitchen
If one is seeking a lively atmosphere, no restaurant in Houston is buzzier than Clark/Cooper's new Upper Kirby seafood restaurant. The elegant room doesn't need fish tanks or seascapes to set a relaxed, coastal vibe. Well-dressed patrons keep the bar busy from open to close and provide plenty of high-quality people watching. Keep things casual while enjoying the value of the restaurant's barely-over-retail wine prices and savoring bites from chef Brandi Key's globally-inspired menu. Or leave the crowd behind and take a table in the dining room for a more substantial meal. Either way, the setting and the service guarantee a good experience.
Helen Greek Food & Wine
Few restaurants as an intimate as this shotgun space in Rice Village that features traditional Greek dishes prepared with Gulf Coast ingredients. Chef William Wright's menu is designed for sharing, which means engaging in a little friendly compromise while deciding what to order. The all-Greek wine list may not feature many familiar vintages, but owner/sommelier Evan Turner is ready to assist with the right selection. Just don't break any plates without permission.
State of Grace
For those who wish to ignore my suggestion to choose a place you're familiar with that's quiet enough for conversation, why not pick the city's newest, most-talked-about opening? Ford Fry's River Oaks restaurant features a stunning design that recalls a posh Hill Country hunting lodge, which definitely meets the sense-of-occasion factor. Chef Bobby Matos' menu pulls from a variety of Houston's favorite cuisines including Tex-Mex, Korean and barbecue. Those seeking a quieter experience should head for the sunlit Oyster Room rather than the more boisterous main dining room.
Richard Knight's long-awaited British tavern has finally made its debut, and diners are raving about the former Feast chef's return to the kitchen. While the dining room feels more formal with its houndstooth fabrics and sea green walls, those seeking a more casual experience may opt for either the cozy pub or expansive patio. Stick to lighter food choices like the snapper tartare or salmagundi of roast lamb in a tart vinaigrette. Pair it with some of the inventive cocktails, a craft beer or a glass of wine from the Old World-oriented list. If none of that sounds compelling, split the 32-ounce porterhouse; at least both parties will leave full and happy.
Generally, I find coffee shops make an awkward place for a date. Caffeine can make people jittery and the venue is more likely to be filled with people banging away on laptops than lingering over conversation. However, The Honeymoon offers so much more than high quality lattes made with beans roasted onsite. The New Orleans-inspired interior has a casual, welcoming vibe, and the space itself is big enough that a couple can have a little room to talk. Mix in better-than-expected food options and the ability to ditch coffee for wine, beer or cocktails, and it's just about perfect.
As much as I love cocktail bars, they tend to be too cramped for a first date. Again, the goal is to get to know the other person — not be wedged in between other people fighting for the bartender's attention or being shoved aside by people who want a drink. Although its located next to Pax Americana, Zimm's is a little quieter and more staid. The bartop is relatively small, which means it's easy to find seats at a couch or table away from the action. If hunger strikes, dining options include Pax, Brasserie Max & Julie and Nippon Japanese Restaurant, all of which are capable of providing a solid meal at a reasonable price.
The Midtown newcomer certainly makes a strong first impression with its over-the-top decor and dimly lit room, but it's chef Micah Rideout's food that left me with the impression that it's a good fit for a future couple. The menu of shareable places encourages a bit of conversation about what to order, and, if things go well, you'll be playfully sparing over who gets to finish what. Thankfully, the DJ keeps things at a low enough volume that it's easy to hear each other but still sets a festive mood.
Do you have a favorite we left out? Let us know in the Comments section below!