This city is expensive—so we’ve concocted cheap date ideas that won’t make you look like a stingy loser. Good for Valentine’s Day or any day of the year, these bargain rendezvous will keep you looking fly without burning a hole in your wallet. Indie rock nights at Pete’s Candy Store, salted apple caramel pies at Four & Twenty Blackbirds, improv at the Creek and the Cave—no matter what your main squeeze is into, we have your low-cost, high-reward playbook right here.
RECOMMENDED: More Valentine's Day ideas
If you and your love enjoy a nice creep-fest, we recommend a visit to the Morbid Anatomy Museum (424A Third Ave at 7th St, Gowanus, Brooklyn; morbidanatomymuseum.org) for a lesson on how we treat, and sometimes worship, death. Admission is just $8 and with numerous taxidermy workshops and more recently, a lecture on the trendiest burial processes, Morbid is sure to bring couples with a weird streak even closer together. Once you've both had your fill of strange, meet your yum quota with some Ample Hills Creamery (305 Nevins St, between President and Union Sts, amplehills.com) ice-cream, just a short walk from the museum. With sugary goodness from $2.50–$7.75, you'll totally satisfy your "sweetie."
Sets you back: $21
Graphic Love Stories
Nerd is the new cool and nothing says nerdtastic like a good comic book. Geeky sweethearts, make your way to Williamsburg's quaint comic book store, Desert Island (540 Metropolitan Ave, between Lorimer St and Union Ave; desertislandbrooklyn.com). Discover each other's favorites or grab one of the shop's free weekly anthologies. Once you've had your fill, head on over to Videology (308 Bedford Ave, between South 1st and 2nd Sts, ideology.info), a TV-lovers' bar full of free and cheap nightly media-lovin' events like Cocktails, Comics and Cartoons!, a weekly screening of animated shows like X-Men: The Animated Series and The Venture Bros, followed by a chance to cop classic comics via Bushwick’s Vinyl Fantasy. Enjoy a special cartoon happy hour from 4–7pm.
Sets you back: FREE
Laughs and views
Start out an evening in LIC by sauntering through Gantry Plaza State Park (4-09 47th Rd at the East River on Hunters Point, Long Island City, Queens; nysparks.com), a waterfront respite that boasts a beautiful midtown-Manhattan backdrop. Next, head to double-tiered comedy venue The Creek and the Cave (10-93 Jackson Ave between 48th and 49th Aves, Long Island City, Queens; creeklic.com, 718-706-8783), which welcomes stand-ups (including occasional surprise bigwigs like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K.), improv troupes and variety shows every night of the week, often for nada. Prove that you’re not that much of a Costanza by springing for some fish and pork tacos ($3–$4.50) and Tecates ($3).
Sets you back: $12–$15
Free gigs and high-end cocktails
Wait until you’ve been out a few times and you’re ready to squeeze in nice and close before hitting the teeny back room of Pete’s Candy Store (709 Lorimer St between Frost and Richardson Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-302-3770, petescandystore.com), which hosts no-cover shows by indie artists and acoustic troubadours every night of the week. Afterward, head around the corner to The Shanty (79 Richardson St between Leonard and Lorimer Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-878-3579, nydistilling.com/the-shanty), a naked brick-and-concrete bar attached to and owned by the New York Distilling Company. (Psst… On Mondays, cocktails featuring the robust house-made gin are half off all night, going for a mere four to six bucks—so two rounds are well within your budget.)
Sets you back: $16–$24
Saucy tales and classic burgers
It’s not particularly wise to spill your deepest, darkest secrets on a first date. But listening to others do so without any romantic repercussions? Awesome. That’s the setup of Kevin Allison’s popular podcast, RISK!—taped live each month at the Peoples Improv Theater (123 E 24th St between Park Ave South and Lexington Ave; 212-563-7488)—in which comedians like Wyatt Cenac reveal their most shameful (and hilarious) moments. As you wait for preshow ShackBurgers ($4.75) at the original Shake Shack (Madison Square Park, 23rd St at Madison Ave; 212-889-6600, shakeshack.com), reassure your companion that you’ve never made a mistake.
Sets you back: $29.50
Dessert and mind-blowing nerdery
It’s been scientifically proved that nothing in the known universe is more romantic than pie. At Gowanus go-to Four & Twenty Blackbirds (439 Third Ave at 8th St, Gowanus, Brooklyn; 718-499-2917, birdsblack.com), two slices of shop faves like salted apple caramel or grapefruit custard will run you $11.50. (Arrive early in the evening, as they tend to sell out.) Then, fill your head with, you know, actual scientifically proven knowledge at the Bell House’s monthly Secret Science Club event, where experts lecture on crazy-cool theories for free (149 7th St between Second and Third Aves, Gowanus, Brooklyn; 718-643-6510, thebellhouseny.com; next show: Tue 11 at 7:30pm). Tip: Bring someone geeky to this, lest you seem…like a total geek.
Sets you back: $11.50
Nature and history in the Bronx
Seeing an outdoorsy guy or gal but don’t have the gas money to drive upstate? Fortunately, there’s ample natural beauty to explore in Van Cortlandt Park (enter at Broadway and 242nd St, Bronx; vcpark.org). The secluded banks of Van Cortlandt Lake (in the southwest region) are begging for a quiet but passionate make-out session. Post-smooching, stop by the Van Cortlandt House Museum, just west of the lake (Broadway at 246th St, Bronx; 718-543-3344, vancortlandthouse.org; $5). Its 1740s stone edifice hosted George Washington twice in the midst of the Revolutionary War, and the current interior features re-creations of furnishings favored by the abode’s namesake, the rich merchant and mayor Jacobus Van Cortlandt.
Sets you back: $10
A cinematic shrine and plenty of Guinness
Secure film-buff status by bringing your date to the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Ave at 36th St, Astoria, Queens; 718-777-6888, movingimage.us) on a Friday evening (4–8pm), when the admission fee is waived. Current exhibits include a look at Astoria’s history as a film-studio hub (through Apr 27) and an interactive retrospective of the Madden football-video-game franchise (through Feb 23). Make sure to fool around at the permanent collection’s sound-editing, dubbing and stop-motion-animation stations before leaving. Afterward, drink your fill at the charming Irish joint Quays Pub (45-02 30th Ave at 45th St, Astoria, Queens; 718-204-8435) with rounds of Guinness ($5.50), poured just as they should be: in two steps, so that a perfect head peeks over the rim.
Sets you back: $22
A gratis flick and an awe-inspiring ride
Each Saturday, Sony Wonder Technology Lab (500 Madison Ave between 56th and 57th Sts; 212-833-8100, sonywondertechlab.com) hosts free afternoon screenings of classic and current films. Cap off your daytime date by busting out your MetroCard and riding across the East River on the Roosevelt Island Tram (Second Ave at 59th St; rioc.ny.gov). After disembarking, take a romantic waterside walk to enjoy some sweeping, up-close views of Manhattan—a real treat, even in the winter.
Sets you back: FREE
Experimental theater and suds
Take that cute starving artist to The Chocolate Factory (5-49 49th Ave between Vernon Blvd and 5th St, Long Island City, Queens; 718-482-7069, chocolatefactorytheater.org), which hosts cheap ($15) and free avant-garde theater, dance and performance art. (The next freebie is Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet’s outdoor dance odyssey, Topologie, which runs May 1–10.) If you opt for a gratis show, treat yourself to libations at the roomy craft-brew haven Alewife Queens (5-14 51st Ave between Vernon Blvd and 5th St, Long Island City, Queens; 718-937-7494, alewifenyc.com) and have a deep conversation about the meaning of the work you witnessed. Get more bang for your buck by splitting a $20 growler of the 7.2 percent ABV Beerly Legal Saison, brewed specially for the owners by Captain Lawrence.
Sets you back: $20–$30
Mansion Peeping and pub trivia
Start off an evening in Yorkville with an amble through Carl Schurz Park (enter at East End Ave and E 86th St, carlschurzparknyc.org). Make sure to swing by Bobby Wagner Walk, a grand promenade along the East River, and Gracie Mansion (at 88th Street), the latest home of Bill de Blasio and official residence of NYC mayors. (Refrain from shouting at the new guy, please.) Then, show off your intellectual prowess—or comical lack thereof—during Tuesday-night trivia at the Gael Pub (1465 Third Ave between 82nd and 83rd Sts; 212-517-4141, thegaelpubnyc.com; Tue 8:30pm; free). The fun battles are always jam-packed, feature six diverse categories and include prizes like a $50 bar tab. Not that you’ll need it to tip back a few: Pitchers of beer are only $14.
Sets you back: $14
Brews, tunes and sweets
The inviting dark-wood decor and gratis live piano sets at Greenpoint drinking den Manhattan Inn (632 Manhattan Ave between Nassau and Norman Aves, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-0885, themanhattaninn.com) make it a breeding ground for old-timey romance. After sipping $6 drafts from local faves Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint in the candlelit space, head next door to Van Leeuwen Ice Cream (620 Manhattan Ave between Driggs and Nassau Aves, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-701-1630, vanleeuwenicecream.com) for two small ginger, Earl Grey tea or other unconventionally flavored cones ($5.25 each)—or, if it’s still freezing outside, grab some hot cocoa made with French chocolate ($5.25). If the weather is nice, take your sugar rush to nearby McCarren Park (enter at Driggs Ave and Lorimer St, Greenpoint, Brooklyn), and sit on a bench facing the Empire State Building.
Sets you back: $22.50
Bucolic strolls and cheap-ass tacos
If you’re looking to impress your companion by spouting off bits of horticultural expertise—hey, it might work—or if you’re just looking for a pretty spot in which to walk around and stare amorously into each other’s eyes, walk around the magnificent six acres that make up the Central Park Conservatory Garden (enter park at Fifth Ave and 105th St; centralparknyc.org). Once you’re done sniffing the magnolia and lilac trees, scoot over to El Paso Taqueria (64 E 97th St between Park and Madison Aves; 212-996-1739) for a bite to eat. Addictive soft tacos (steak, pork, chorizo, veggie, chicken) at the small Mexican joint will run you just $2.50 to $3 apiece.
Sets you back: $15–$18
Ukrainian eats and beachside hand-holding
Show your squeeze you’re a man or woman of the world by feasting on ravioli-like pelmeni and vareniki dishes ($6–$9) at Coney Island’s Café Glechik(3159 Coney Island Ave between Brighton Beach Ave and Brighton 10th St, Coney Island, Brooklyn; 718-616-0494, glechik.com), an Anthony Bourdain–approved restaurant decked out with Eastern Euro knickknacks. You may also want to bring along some vodka to take advantage of the café’s BYOB policy. Afterward, walk a few blocks to the Coney Island boardwalk to watch the sun go down—or (if you’re a risk taker) venture onto the beach itself, climb into a lifeguard chair and hold each other tenderly as you gaze out on the ocean.
Sets you back: $12–$18
Cans o’ beer and lush gardens
Enjoy the city’s cheapest booze cruise and panoramic views of lower Manhattan aboard the Staten Island Ferry (South St at Whitehall St; siferry.com; free), where domestic cans are in the $4 range. Once ashore in Staten Island, take an eight-minute bus ride and tour the grand estates and lovely waterfront grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden (1000 Richmond Terr between Snug Harbor Rd and Tysen St, Staten Island; 718-425-3504, snug-harbor.org; $5), originally established as a retirement estate for sailors in 1801.
Sets you back: $24