Date night dives: LA's best offbeat (and cheap) date night spots

Forget tasting menus and clichéd romance, check out these best date night spots off the beaten path and on the cheap in Los Angeles.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Date night: Club Tee Gee

Roses are thorny and red; violets surprisingly aren't new. The next time you have a date to impress, dump the molten chocolate cake clichés. Here are 10 offbeat and cheap date night things for you to do in LA.


RECOMMENDED: Date ideas: Fun easy and unique dates in Los Angeles


Retro date: Electric Dusk Drive-In

  • Price band: 1/4

Go retro and put it in park at Downtown’s recently opened Electric Dusk Drive-In. The outdoor theater projects cult faves from Back to the Future to Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi Brazil at monthly screenings. Drivers can reserve a lot space online ($10/person) or sign up for prime VIP parking ($50/4 people), while those on foot or bicycle bring low-back lawn chairs and Pendleton blankets to lay out on the designated Astroturf seating. Pack your own picnic (and brown-bagged booze) or pencil in your order at the snack bar, then, yes, a carhop will deliver throwback snacks (think: Little Debbie's, soft pretzels, Yoo-hoos and bigger $5 bites like Hebrew Nationals, beef/veggie burgers, fries) to you. Best part? It's dog-friendly, so pack a treat for your puppy loves too. Tune your FM dials for sound—there are also large speakers adjacent to the screen—and watch the big screen (that's 24' x 18' to be exact). For V-Day, make a visit for the classic rom-com, When Harry Met Sally, enough fodder for car cooing and canoodling.

  1. Downtown
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Cheap date: Club Tee Gee

  • Price band: 1/4

Heavy-handed pours and a digital jukebox are a couple of draws to this dark dive in Atwater Village. A local watering hole for buzzing barflys and unpretentious types alike, Club Tee Gee is your safe haven from the hair gel of Hollywood hell. Slip past the windowless, steel doors where a sparkled ceiling and 1970s time capsule awaits—mint green wraparound banquettes, glass and wood–paneled walls, and dimly lit lamps provide privacy for chatter and optimal lighting. Take your sweet time getting saucy on $5 cocktails and, for that salty fill, Doritos and beer nuts for $1. Occasional town drunks are part of the bar’s charm, but it's the strong, affordable libations (the bar is cash-only) that makes this hideaway go a long way.

  1. Atwater Village
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Teams of two: Shatto 39 Lanes

  • Price band: 1/4

This diamond in the rough in Koreatown might not be the shiniest on the block, but Shatto 39 Lanes' $4.75-a-game Thursday nights is enough to drag out even the most tightwad fellow. Standing strong since 1954, the bowling alley boasts (surprise) 39 lanes complete with a roundabout bar, coffee shop, arcade and billiards room. Pre-game at the bar with $4 cocktails served up by Eddie, a veteran employee and staple bartender for 35 years, then graduate to a round of in-house bevvies—the super strong Shatto Sandbagger, a mind-bending blend of Bacardi 151, Remi Martin, Grand Marnier, sweet and sour mix, and cranberry juice ($7.50), promises a punch. In between celebratory strikes, refuel with salty snacks like heat lamp–ready (and heartburn-guaranteed) nachos ($2.75) or the Shatto Special, a combo of chicken wings, stir-fried cabbage and fried egg over rice ($6.50). Consider this no-frills, no velvet-rope joint your pocket change playground.

  1. Koreatown
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Competitive edge: Speed Zone

  • Price band: 2/4

You've maintained your composure behind the commuting wheel long enough, now's your chance at speed steering on Speed Zone’s four go-kart tracks. Take the lead in the Top Eliminator Dragster, a 300-horsepower rush ($15 for three races), and then carhop to the Grand Prix, a track modeled after the Formula 1 and Indy Car racing circuits ($2 per lap). There's also the classic Slick Trax for drift-style racing on finely polished concrete and ultimate Turbo Track—faster than Slick Trax and open to up to 20 drivers ($7 for five-minute session). Happy hour specials include well drinks ($4) and import brews ($4), but you might want to sober up (or at least act like it) before heading back to the tracks. Better yet, keep the competition going at Speedway Golf’s two 18-hole miniature golf courses, Strike Zone’s mini bowling alley and the Electric Alley’s arcade of more than 100 video games.

  1. Industry
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Dance in your pants: The Short Stop

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

A former hangout for LAPD cops and pre- and post-Dodger game meet-ups for years (see if you can spot baseball memorabilia and rumored bullet holes behind the bar), Echo Park’s Short Stop continues to host locals and the impromptu dance party. Order $2 happy hour Pabsts ($3 after 8pm) or shoot a round of pool next to the black and white photo booth behind the bar. Check out Super Soul Sundays, a weekly dance party featuring classics from the 1960s and 1970s hosted by DJs Dia Becker and Jennifer Tefft and one of the best kept nights for kicking up your heels. Snag a table on the dance floor early and once the disco ball and sweat-worthy songs (Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Prince) begin to spin, everyone won't be able to fake the funk for long.

  1. Echo Park
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Classy couple: Pacific Dining Car

  • Price band: 3/4

It's 4am and somehow you and your date have lost track of time, but your appetites certainly haven't. Satisfy hunger pangs by going high brow at the original Pacific Dining Car Downtown. Open 24 hours seven days a week, the renowned, decades-old restaurant—originally founded in 1921—continues to serve quality meats butchered and dry-aged in-house around-the-clock with class. Settle into one of the railway car dining rooms with their classic Training Day Baseball Steak, an old-time favorite and the thickest aged top sirloin cut, or original 8-ounce Midnight Cowboy bone-in rib-eye ($24.95). Late night diners can order a plate of the famous filet and eggs ($18.95), while all-day breakfast and dinner and a second location in Santa Monica fill famished lovers both East and West.

  1. Downtown, Santa Monica
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Get physical: LA Derby Dolls

  • Price band: 2/4

Fulfill your date's all-female fantasy with two VIP tickets to see the LA Derby Dolls, SoCal's finest (and toughest) roller derby league girls. Founded in 2003 by Rebecca Ninburg (aka Demolicious) and Wendy Templeton (aka Thora Zeen), the Dolls are a league of five teams that pack speed, punches and a seasonal spectacle of spills. Head to their home track, the Doll Factory, to see them strong-arm each other under a giant roller skate mirror ball. Grab a bite from on-site food trucks selling corn dogs and Greek meats on sticks or a Schlitz at the bar, and join in the healthy heckles and cheers as skaters and teams are introduced to the crowd. And with skater names like "Fleetwood Smack" and "Laguna Beyatch," we double dare you to hold off.

  1. LA Derby Dolls 1910 W Temple St
  2. Until Sat Mar 8
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Group mentality: Max Karaoke Studio

  • Price band: 1/4

Go ahead, grab a mic and get sloshed in one of the multiple private rooms at Max Karaoke Studio. With three locations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Downtown, this karaoke spot is ideal for large, rowdy groups (and group dates) and open late (until 3am Sun-Thu and 4am Fri-Sat). Thumb through an extensive selection of songs to kick off your evening set. And should you and your date decide on a showdown of power ballad duets (think "Leather and Lace"), two microphones are available in the room, as well as tambourines, upon request. Encourage friends to potluck ($1 charge per person for outside food) and BYOB wine, mixers and liquor—believe it, kegs are welcome and ice is sold on-site. Groups of 10 pay $53 an hour—it shouldn't take much for you and your friends to do the math—while couples get a duo special of $18 an hour. All songs can be searched on the website for pre–date night practice sessions.

  1. Downtown, West LA, Torrance
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Lucha VaVoom

Best in show: Lucha VaVoom

  • Price band: 2/4

You've been to the opera and you've seen the ballet—all fine choices mind you, just a tad (yawn) expected and cliché. Swap class for some stunts and sass with Lucha VaVoom at Downtown LA's Mayan. Part luchadores (mexican wrestling), part saucy striptease and comedic acts, Lucha VaVoom is over-the-top theatricality at its messiest best. Collectively chant "lucha" then "vavoom" as sexy luchadora Estrellita, luchador Dirty Sanchez (with his dirty little secret) and other masked wrestlers get rowdy in the ring. A live burlesque dancer, hula-hoop sensation, contortionist, pole princess and midget only add to the frenzy. In this raucous show of eyeshadow, Spandex and body slams, expect muscled men to fly high and the bikini tops to drop (drag queens included).

  1. Downtown
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Weirdest location: Taco Zone Truck

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

The Von's parking lot doesn't exactly scream romance, but one taste of this storied truck's carnitas tacos and your date will be swooning. Whether your date is in need of an afternoon snack, a casual dinner or a late night bite, Taco Zone is a Mexican food fan favorite. From burritos to quesadillas, what sets these authentic meals apart is the salsa. And with $1.50 taco, it's hard not to wait in the late night line that wraps around Echo Park. Just make sure you hit an ATM before, because this fun food joint is cash only.

  1. 1342 N Alvarado St, (Montana)
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