75 great cheap dates
Dinner/activity combos, all less than $50.
Wed Feb 3 2010
The Drawing Center
MoMA and Burger Joint
Brave the crowds during Free Fridays at MoMA (11 W 53rd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-708-9431, moma.org; 4--8pm, free) and spend time squeezing together through cramped exhibitions. All that culture is a worthy excuse to indulge in all-American junk food at Burger Joint (Le Parker Meridien, 119 W 56th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves; 212-245-5000; daily 11am--11:30pm), a casual wood-paneled diner four streets away. Pick juicy cheeseburgers blanketed with two types of cheddar ($13 for two), a brown-paper bag filled with a generous offering of shoestring fries ($3) and superthick vanilla milk shakes or fresh-from-the-tap Sam Adams ($9 for two). Love notes are scrawled on the walls, which may inspire you to pen a second-date request on the spot.
Barbecue and BAM
Instead of shelling out for chichi Wagyu rib eye, squire your latest piece to The Smoke Joint (87 South Elliott Pl between Fulton St and Lafayette Ave, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; 718-797-1011), where you can sate carnivorous cravings with what owners Craig Samuel and Ben Grossman deem "New York barbecue." On the enclosed porch, even the breeze is perfumed by hickory; tuck in to surprisingly lean and tender baby back ribs ($12), smoky greens ($4) and fittingly named Porkslap Pale Ale ($6 for two). Then take advantage of the beauty of BAM and the Peter Jay Sharp Building by stepping inside, totally free, to have a look at some artwork (Nathan Room, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Ave between Ashland and St. Felix St, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; 718-636-4100, bam.org).
Poetry and pasta
Screw Milton: Check out Urbana Poetry Slam at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery between Bleecker and Houston Sts; 212-614-0505; Tuesdays 7pm, $7), an eccentric series that's featured some of the biggest names in poetry but remains a warm and welcoming venue for all kinds of voices. If you feel so moved, you could recite a verse for your date. Just kidding! Really, don't do that. Chug Pabst Blue Ribbon beers ($6 for two) while you enjoy the verse, then wax poetic at Bianca (5 Bleecker St between Bowery and Elizabeth St (212-260-4666), a delicious Italian restaurant just two blocks away. You may have to wait a bit outside, but assure your date it'll be worth it. Order two pasta dishes to share, and you'll both go home full and hungry. The Gnochhi ($9.50) is delicious, as is the Tagilioni with seafood ($12).
Veggie Thai and a movie
Show that you're no flesh-crazed savage by dining at veggie eatery Pukk (71 First Ave between 4th and 5th Sts; 212-253-2741, pukknyc.com). Pair faux-chicken green curry ($7) with ersatz duck drenched in spicy basil sauce ($8) and two bottles of Singha ($4 each). Meat may be murder, but so is breaking hearts with a pickaxe. Hit up the Regal Union Square (850 Broadway, between 13th and 14th Sts; 212-253-6266) for a late-night flick ($15 each).
The Museum of Illustration and Italian
Satisfy your hunger for art at the Museum of Illustration (128 E 63rd St between Park and Lexington Aves; 212-838-2560, societyillustrators.org), where free admission will grant you access to works by legendary American illustrator Harvey Dunn. Satisfy your hunger for food with dinner at Vero Midtown (1004 Second Ave at 53rd St; 212-935-3530, veronyc.com). Order two glasses of white wine ($9 each), veal meatballs with gold raisins, pine nuts and slow-cooked tomatoes ($14), and a panino stuffed with spinach, olives and roasted tomatoes ($12).
A sexy exhibit and aphrodisiacs
Stroll through the "Rubbers" exhibition at the Museum of Sex (233 Fifth Ave at 27th St; 212-689-6337, museumofsex.com; $14.95), because any modern lover knows that safe sex is hot sex. While you're at MoSex, check out other sweat-inducing fodder like "Sex Lives of Animals" (through Oct 25) and Victorian-era vibrators. At Mare (198 Eighth Ave between 20th and 21st Sts; 212-675-7522, chelseadining.com), get oysters ($2 each) and white wine ($7 each) to keep your own powers of seduction going strong.
Zines and small plates on the LES
Forget The New York Times Sunday crossword. Instead, pull yourself out of bed for a late-afternoon trip to ABC No Rio (156 Rivington St between Clinton and Suffolk Sts; 212-254-3697, abcnorio.org), an arts-and-crafts space that has almost 12,000 music-, politics- and culture-related zines on hand. Now that you've successfully avoided the brunch crowd, order some of the small plates at The Stanton Social (99 Stanton St between Ludlow and Orchard Sts; 212-995-0099, thestantonsocial.com). Share the potato-and-goat-cheese pierogies with caramelized onions and truffle crme frache ($8), herb-dusted fries with red chili aioli ($6) and kobe beef sliders ($7)—but you'll want your own cocktails. Then crawl back into bed—you have work tomorrow.
Street art and an old-school supper
Show your honey you've got some street cred with an afternoon at 5 Pointz (Jackson Ave between Crane and Davis Sts, Long Island City, Queens; 5ptz.com; weekdays by appointment, Sat--Sun noon onward), a warehouse turned graffiti gallery. The brilliantly hued, block-long building—just off the 7 train—showcases an ever-evolving tableau of tagging styles. After admiring the work of aerosol-can Michelangelos, mangiatevi Naples-style at cozy red-sauce joint Manducatis (13-27 Jackson Ave at 47th Ave, Long Island City, Queens; 718-729-4602, manducatis.com) three streets away. Wash down salad and pancetta-studded spaghetti carbonara ($34 for two) with two glasses of vino ($14), then sit back and let owners Vincenzo and Ida Cerbone dote on your companion—a gauge for how he'll (or she'll) do when meeting your parents.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat and The Drawing Center
Show off your sweet side at Vosges Haut-Chocolat (132 Spring St between Greene and Wooster Sts; 212-625-2929, vosgeschocolate.com), an exotic truffles bar in Soho. Indulge in a little afternoon delight with a cheese-and-chocolate plate; or try something a little more exotic: a gooey panino with applewood-smoked bacon, milk chocolate and Gruyre cheese on brioche (each $7). Next, give your eyes a treat at The Drawing Center (35 Wooster St between Broome and Grand Sts; 212-219-2166, drawingcenter.org), which is featuring more than 200 drawings commissioned by Rirkrit Tiravanija and derived from photographs of demonstrations published in the International Herald Tribune. The suggested donation for couples is $6, and it's a great distraction from thinking about the absurd amount of calories you just inhaled.
Brooklyn Ale House and Monkeytown
Brush up on your Derrida and put on some Rushmore glasses—you're going to Williamsburg. First stop: Brooklyn Ale House (103 Berry St between North 7th and 8th Sts; 718-302-9811, brooklynalehouse.com), a wonderland of beer and whiskey. Check in for drinks—beers range $4-$6 and whiskey ranges $6-$12—and compete for your date's love through friendly rounds of pool and darts. Next, cement your ironic cred with a visit to Monkeytown (58 North 3rd St between Kent and Wythe Aves; 718-384-1369, monkeytownhq.com), where $20 gets couples access to a communal dining/drinking/movie room equipped with four screens.
The Living Theatre and Cocoa Bar
Burnish your downtown-culture credentials with a trip to see "Lizzie Borden" at The Living Theatre (21 Clinton St at E Houston St; 212-792-8050, livingtheatre.org). The self-proclaimed "rock road show" presents the smilingly sordid tale of the legendary double murderess. When it's over, all the talk of bloodshed will make the espresso-laden $5 Iced Chocolatte at next door's Cocoa Bar feel like a mild indiscretion.
Soviet spots: Anyway Cafe and Pravda
If Doctor Zhivago taught us anything, it's that fur hats are sexy and that Russians take their romance seriously. So start the night off in czarist fashion at the Russian-French Anyway Caf by splitting a Romanoff salad with vodka-cream caviar dressing ($9), then support the proletariat by sharing some Russian peasant-style beef ($13). Babushkas optional. 34 E 2nd St at Second Ave (212-533-3412, anywaycafe.com) In Soviet Russia, movies watch you! Catch Pravda's free '20s and '30s Russian-cinema series Sundays at 8pm with a vodka-and-lemon Leninade ($24 for two) in hand. Popcorn is for capitalist pigs—nosh on the complimentary homemade potato chips and caviar dip. 281 Lafayette St between Jersey and Prince Sts (212-226-4944, pravdany.com)
The Public Theater and Thai food
Usually you have to rely on Netflix for a Spike Lee joint, but the auteur is currently producing "County of Kings" at The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and E 4th St; 212-967-7555, publictheater.org). The one-man show, written and performed by Def Poetry Jam star Lemon Andersen, tells the story of a Brooklyn artist coming of age during the birth of hip-hop (grab rear orchestra for just $20 each). Follow the performance with a bottle of chilled sake ($16) at sleek Thai spot Klong (7 St. Marks Pl between Second and Third Aves; 212-505-9955, klongnyc.com)—just two avenues away. Then nosh on beer-marinated pork chops ($20 for two) while discussing your favorite Biggie tracks.
New Museum of Contemporary Art and Barmarch
Squire your latest Match.com crush to the New Museum of Contemporary Art (235 Bowery between Rivington and Stanton Sts, 212-219-1222) for "Urs Fischer: Margeurite de Ponty," a massive installation feature fun-house tricks and large-scale sculptures (opens Oct 28). Continue your arty night by ambling two blocks to quirky white-as-a-canvas bistro Barmarch (14 Spring St at Elizabeth St, 212-219-2399). Bite into applewood bacon--topped burgers ($26 for two). Then over glasses of cabernet ($20 for two), suggest that the two of you log on for a private viewing of the New Museum installation's final part—online collages—via the laptop in your bedroom.
Empanada Mama and Alvin Ailey Extension
Prove to your S.O. that size doesn't matter: At the Manhattan spin-off of Queens chain Empanada Mama (763 Ninth Ave between 51st and 52nd Sts; 212-698-9008, empanadamamanyc.com), eensy parcels of wheat- or corn-flour dough are crammed full of a multitude of flavors. Feed your mate the Latin caf's namesake creations, such as the roasted-pork--stuffed Reggaetn; the curiously designated, seafood-filled Viagra; and a sweet variation featuring bananas and Belgian chocolate ($18 for six). Cut the small talk, put on your sneakers and get stepping at the Alvin Ailey Extension (405 W 55th St at Ninth Ave ; 212-405-9000, alvinailey.org), a mere five streets away. On Saturdays from 2:30 to 4pm, the dance theater's hip-hop--basics tutorial ($32 for two) will lead you and your honey through funky, calorie-burning choreography. After class, ask your partner for a private session to perfect your grind.
The Whitney and Italian at Uva
Tease out your date's stance on prickly issues such as race and class at artist Kara Walker's excellent retrospective at the Whitney (945 Madison Ave at 75th St; 212-570-3600, whitney.org), while giving the slip to the $15 entrance fee on pay-what-you-wish night every Friday from 6 to 9pm. Chase the heavy subject matter—controversial cut-paper silhouettes of Southern masters and slaves—with performance art group Moving Theater in Residence's Impermanent Collection, a cheeky, lighthearted mix of dance, music and film on Fri 7 at 7pm. Pair Bonardo red wine ($32 for a bottle)—which can be slurped from ceramic bowls at Italian joint Uva (1486 Second Ave between 77th and 78th Sts; 212-472-4552, uvawinebarnewyork.com)—with vegetarian antipasto, buffalo mozzarella with artichokes, eggplant and mushrooms ($16 for two), a perfect mix of high- and lowbrow fare.
Straight Up Vampire and McSorley's
Is history sexy? It is when matched with vampires, a sense of humor and booze. Travel back to colonial Pennsylvania with Straight Up Vampire at Joe's Pub (425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and W 4th St; 212-967-7555, publictheater.org; Feb 10, 9:30, Feb 11, 7pm; $15), which is best described as a Quaker Twilight set to the music of Paula Abdul. Once you're done laughing and getting hot under the hemp collar, slide over to the historic, sawdust-strewn saloon McSorley's Old Ale House (15 E 7th St between Second and Third Aves; 212-474-9148). Elbow a spot at the distressed-wood bar and knock back Fidelio Brewery cream stock ale ($9 for four mugs). If you're looking to avoid a good-night kiss, the cheddar cheese, crackers and onion plate ($3) should safeguard against any close encounters.
Dominos and Netflix
Remember when a night in meant a movie on basic cable and calling the pizza place on the corner? Well, folks, it's 2010 and being lazy is easier than ever! No need to talk to a human—simply place your order on Dominos.com ($10-$12 for a large one-topping deep-dish pie) and track its progress online. While that's in the works, sign into your Netflix account and instantly stream one of more than 12,000 movies directly to your TV for free. (In order to do so, you'll need to have a Roku box, $99 at roku.com/netflixplayer.) Let's just hope that the rest of your night is as instantly gratifying.