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As you may have noticed every week leading up to Valentine’s day this year we are publishing a handy “date/get-together-with-a-person-you-are-maybe-sexually-interested-in/whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days” guide which mines our extensive embarrassing dating histories for your own benefit (and hopefully amusement). In the past two weeks we have handled the more non-committal side of things:

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and as the pressure builds and the dread of something like this becoming your future takes over your heart/mind/soul/loins:

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we are going to dive into the sacred ACTUAL FIRST DATE CATEGORY. OMG. O.M.G.

Now, this (for those of us who have become murky on the concept due to too many datehangs etc) includes going out with a human being who you HAVE met in person before, and you two mutually decided that some one-on-one time to explore your potential future of nudity and Sunday afternoon marathons of Law & Order SVU is in order. Something like this used to be not that big of a deal, but in 2013, it kind of is, at least if we think about it the old fashioned way. It requires stringing whole sentences together, vs communicating in cute texts,  consciously blocking out more than 45 minutes to spend with a relative stranger with whom you don’t know how much you have in common with, choosing outfits and more. WHO HAS TIME FOR THIS STUFF? Well, we all should. At least sometimes.

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Now, unlike the DATEHANG or BLIND DATE which have some pretty common sense/general safety rules to live by, for the FIRST DATE, you are much more on your own, skills wise, and each person should really be a master of their own first date game. Still, a quick poll around the reply-all email consortium we’ve set up for this came up with some of these tips/nuggets of wisdom:

  • Showing up early is good (especially if you met this person only once before in a bar setting and you maybe had one too many martinis before engaging in a conversation with them, and while you were willing to share your contact information with them, you are a LITTLE blurry as to the fact what they look like and/or how they pronounce their name, and being there early allows THEM to find you and extend that handshake/hug thing first and say their weirdly hard name again)
  • Ordering your drink and paying for it before they show up is ok/smart – because if you are ONLY meeting for drinks, this eliminates the whole “who is going to pay for things” debate and as we know, people are sometimes cheap.
  • Speaking of cheap, it doesn’t matter that it is 2013 and we are all liberated and equal, whoever did the asking should offer to pay first, and should be ok if it ends up being that they are, in fact, footing this bill. You asked for the pleasure of this other person’s company, they, in return, trusted you enough and cleared their schedule, ironed their clothes, and you are (mentally) gearing up for a future of thoughtful holiday gifts and being able to let yourself go finally, if just a little – you should be ok with paying for some small plates and their reasonably priced glass of Sancerre at even the prospect of ALL OF THAT.
  • Having said that-don’t pick a place that is prohibitively expensive for either party. That’s not playing fair. Save those for the “seal the deal” and/or “special occasion” date (more on which in the upcoming weeks)
  • Be your best self, but be yourself (and make sure that that yourself is not rude, because people who are rude on first dates to anyone (including waiters, valets, and/or the other party involved in a date) deserve to never go on a first date again (and, just think of it-if they are rude to you on a first date, what will happen after they STOP trying? SHUDDER)
  • Having said that-try and avoid stupid arguments and/or uncomfortable topics (unless you thrive on this kind of stuff/the date ends up being one of those 12 hour marathon unicorn dates one sometimes hears about where hearts and souls are poured onto tables and political convictions and religion and childhood pet deaths are all fair game).
  • PUT THE GODDAMN PHONE AWAY
  • Compliments go a long way

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With all that in mind, and also keeping in mind that, according to ancient wisdom, a date is “at least a drink and a cultural event”, go forth with these location/activity recommendations from us (all of which adhere to the relatively quiet/good lighting/quality experience trifecta each first date location worth their salt should aim for):

GOOD RESTAURANTS FOR FIRST DATES:

  • 1905 – 1905 is one of those places that were built for dating. Intimate but not too intimate (read: cramped), flattering lighting, busy but not overcrowded, strong cocktails, reasonable prices, with an air of relaxed specialness to it. This place is like a friend you wish you could bring along, that’s how much they’ve got your back in the first date arena.
  • Bar Pilar Upstairs – I would never have recommended Bar Pilar for a first date before the expansion. Meeting friends for drinks: yes, first date: definitely no. Not because I don’t love it (because I REALLY DO) but because the downstairs was always so goshdarn busy getting seats and/or not yelling would be hard. But with the upstairs now open you get the best of both worlds: their awesome cocktail program, a combination of both small plates and more sizeable dishes, and a relatively intimate but never overcrowded situation to get to know each other during. Also: very flattering lighting.
  • Jaleo – Jose Andres’ flagship wins for several reasons: small plates done right (we will always recommend NOT overeating during a first date on account of eliminating potential sluggishness/need for naps later), a room bright and big enough that it doesn’t feel like there is too much pressure applied to this occasion, and omg-that gin and tonic list. Plus, it FEELS like you’re doing something both worldly AND very DC food wise, which is nice.
  • Boqueria – There is a derth of places to go on first dates downtown, and for that we welcomed Boqueria in 2012 with open arms. A great sangria selection, DELICIOUS small plates, a big bar to linger around during potential happy hour first dates. Also, added litmus test bonus: if your date finds something to complain about at this place, you walk away. Boqueria does what they do so simply and so well, you have to be a super curmudgeon to nitpick about it, and super curmudgeons are not worth wasting your precious first date hours on.
  • Room 11 – I know people who swear by this place. The only issue is: make sure you’re there early for the spots you really want. Also, I feel the need to quote Nick Pimental, one of the owners here (from BYT’S PRO TIPS VALENTINE’S DAY GUIDE  a few years back, which is STILL a great read btw): “Because of Room 11′s size, if your date is not going well, you can easily turn around and start a fresh new date with the other person sitting next to you. I have seen it happen many times.‘ File that under: good to know.
  • Vinoteca – lots of wines by the glass, small plates galore, a great location to any potential show or otherwise you’d be going to, not too busy, and as Jessica Day in NEW GIRL can confirm “pink wine makes girls all twirly”

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GOOD BARS FOR FIRST DATES:

  • Black Jack – sure it gets pretty packed later on at night, but come early and it is fine. Get a good spot (one of the couches, maybe?), have a nice strong drink for social lubrication, and then retreat to the bocce area to either sit in the bleachers and make out, or you know, actually play bocce. Whatever works for you.
  • Marvin (inside, upstairs) – the rooftop at Marvin is a permanent disaster if you’re first date bound. Busy, filled with random Australian dudes who heard this is the place to go, loud, etc. But, come early, go to the upstairs room before the rooftop, sit at one of those tables by the window, and get to know each other over the busiest intersection of DC’s nightlife while feeling oddly at peace. Also-lots of good smaller food options you can order from downstairs without committing to a full meal.
  • Bourbon – it is nearly impossible to go on a decent bar first date in Adams Morgan but Bourbon does a great job of being classy enough that your date doesn’t think you’re cheap and casual enough that you don’t feel like you’re being roped into something a little too soon too fast. Bonus: in the summer, that back garden is somehow still not too busy and great for conversing in.
  • Wisdom – as far as craft cocktail bars go-this is our pick. Less busy than the Gibson, less intense than Columbia Room, but with drinks just as delicious and special and those tiny nooks that you can pull the curtains over when you are ready for things to get a little more intimate (and a few Wisdom cocktails in, they will get more intimate)
  • Tabard Inn (in the lounge) – the couch area before you hit the restaurant is like the living room you wish you always had your first dates in, if it was acceptable to have first dates in living rooms.
  • Dodge City – just throwing back a few drinks and seeing where this goes. NBD.

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GOOD HAPPY HOURS FOR FIRST DATES:

  • Mintwood Place – Mintwood is an amazing restaurant but maybe a little too much of a full meal commitment for a first date (imho). At the bar though 5:30-7pm, you can get $5 glasses of wine and order a cheese plate, and you’re good to go.
  • Agora – Zaytinya is probably a little too bustling to be really able to hang out there when you barely know the other person. Instead, go for this underrated Dupont gem, which also has a solid selection of mediterranean small plates (spreads, flatbreads and other easy shareables) starting at $4, beers for $4, Stoli and Bacardi drinks for $5, and wines for $6. The staff is very sweet, the music is hilarious, and you can people watch the Little Serow line as an added activity.
  • Mari Vanna – as you maybe read during our “FIRST LOOK” story, we’re pretty jazzed for this Russian addition to Dupont circle. Aside from the adorable interiors (which can help as a crutch during any conversation dry times), the place also features 70+ infused vodkas, and they are $5 during happy hour. Just pace yourselves.
  • Napoleon – $5 House wines and 1/2 off Champagne cocktails means you’re pretty much home free with any girl on any first date ever (see the twirly comment earlier). Before things get possibly sloppy, grab some 1/2 bar menu food items too (#protips). Bonus: people are still somehow unaware of this AMAZING happy hour situation, and as such it is actually pretty easy to grab a good two seater at the bar during it. Hopefully we didn’t just blow it for you.

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(NORMALLY SPECIAL OCCASION WORTHY) FANCY PLACES WHERE IF YOU SIT AT THE BAR IT IS OK FOR A FIRST DATE:

  • The Source – get the dumplings sampler or the new SUSHI+CHAMPAGNE special, and mentally hi5 Chef Scott Drewno as your date’s face melts with every bite (at a fraction of the cost of a proper sit down dinner at the Source) .
  • Fiola – Jeff Faile is one of the best men working currently behind a bar in DC, the drinks are both potent and thoughtful, and the food you order at the big, never-too-busy wrap-around bar is the food you can get in the main dining room, but with less commitment.
  • Bourbon Steak – Get a cheese plate and either one of their classic cocktails (they have one of the finest lists we’ve come around) or the truffle martini and feel like a super baller on a first date, instead of just a regular baller you would have felt like in a normal bar.
  • Rasika West End – great cocktails, great people-walking-into-the-dining-room people watching, great opportunity to mentally plan your one year anniversary dinner which will inevitably now have to take place right there.
  • Cashion’s – Cashion’s is one of those classy, forever-a-good-choice DC institutions. Sitting at their tucked away from the front bar on a first date is as good of an omen for your future relationship as we can think of.

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GOOD ACTIVITIES FOR FIRST DATES:

  • After Hours Lite at the Museums: we’re not talking about those fully blown BYT 2000 person extravaganzas, no-we’re aiming for the great stuff that happens right after work and right before dinner time at the museums: the new Corcoran Uncorked Wednesday series, the Phillips After 5, stuff like that. Built in conversation topics: check. Affordable: check. Making you look good in front of a date for choosing it as an activity: check. Relatively short time commitment: check. Nothing not to like: check.
  • Ice Skating – while we are not that into things that require actual skills and/or involve sharp objects on first dates, there is just something so adorable about an ice skating first date, that we had no choice but to throw it in.
  • Midnight Movies at E Street – going to a first date at midnight is a choice not everyone is ready to make but there is something to be said about bonding over weird movies at weird times: it really DOES bring people together. Plus, midnight movies are a little less of a stodgy/quiet setting than a regular movie, so it can still be a good way to get to know each other. PLUS: there is wine and beer at E Street. PLUS: that moment when you somehow just start holding hands during a funny/scary/any part of the movie. PLUS: maybe making out.
  • Non-Sold Out Music Shows in venues which have separate bar areas from the music show area – now, we over here at BYT obviously LOVE MUSIC. Still-it is sort of hard to get to know each other during loud situations while surrounded by 1000 people. So-if music is your date activity of choice, we recommend going for a not super packed show and make sure there is a good, relatively quiet alternative for a get-to-know-each-other respite in between sets or during boring songs (see: 930 back bar, the RNR hotel rooftop, Black Cat red room etc)
  • Gallery Openings – free and awesome and early in the evening.
  • Union Market on a Weekend – Great first day date. Go, eat some oysters at Rappahanock, drink some delicious sodas and Buffalo and Bergen, hang out, plan your imaginary future dinner parties together, non-creepy stuff like that.

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Obviously-more than the spot itself, the success of the date depends on well, the two of you. We just hope this listicle takes out a portion of the stress out and you can focus on the important stuff (like: trying not to jump them right there and then but saving your virtue for the next date at least) instead.

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Now-tell us some of your recommendations in the comments. PLEASE. Next week-we’ll deal with the super important SEAL THE DEAL date scenario.

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