Top ten cheap dates

You might really like your beau but in times like these, no one's worth splurging on. Here are ten (unique) options that are $50 or less.

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Browsing and boozing
Believe it or not, you can spend a night out, come home with your hands full and not have to lose an entire yuppie food stamp (that’s a $20 bill). First, peruse the nearly 5,000 items on offer at A Dollar Store (88 Mulberry St between Bayard and Canal Sts, 212-227-4727), but snap up no more than two trinkets each. Wander north to the Lafayette Bar (161 Lafayette St between Grand and Howard Sts; 212-334-7114, thelafayettebar.com), change in hand, where a whole passel of drinks—beers, cocktails, shots—are $3 each all day, every day. “We’re small, but it’s a place for good conversations,” says the bartender. “Some nights people are dancing on the tables to Latin music—you know how it gets after a few drinks!” Especially ones this cheap.

Folk music and comfort food
Crafty gal seeks naive outsider. Or, if you’ve already found your match, head over to the American Folk Art Museum (45 W 53rd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, 212-265-1040) for Free Music Fridays from 5:30 to 7:30pm. While the music is a little country—you’ll hear strains of banjos, fiddles and a variety of folk balladry—the atmosphere is homespun without being hokey, and the galleries are open free of charge. Keep the homey vibe burning and head to romantic French-American bistro La Bonne Soupe (48 W 55th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, 212-586-7650). The name roughly means “the good life,” and indeed it is. Request a seat on the outdoor balcony upstairs, or settle in at any of the gingham-covered tables and dig into authentic comfort food. Try the savory or sweet crpes served with salad ($12.95), or cross skewers middip while sharing a fondue built for two ($21.95). Bon!

Graffiti and dinner
Show your honey you’ve got some street cred with an afternoon at 5 Pointz (45-46 Davis St at Jackson Ave, Long Island City, Queens; 317-219-2685, 5ptz.com), a warehouse-turned--graffiti-gallery. The brilliantly hued, block-long building—just off the 7 train—offers an ever-evolving tableau of wildly different tagging styles from throughout the five boroughs. After admiring the work of the Michelangelos of the aerosol-can world, mangiatevi Naples-style at cozy red-sauce joint Manducatis (13-27 Jackson Ave at 47th Ave; 718-729-4602, manducatis.com). 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.

Dinner and Russian cinema
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 Cafe (34 E 2nd St at Second Ave; 212-533-3412, anywaycafe.com) 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. In Soviet Russia, movies watch you! Catch the free ’20s and ’30s Russian-cinema series at Pravda (281 Lafayette St between Jersey and Prince Sts; 212-226-4944, pravdany.com), 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.

Flea market and fondue
Have your date help with your last-minute holiday shopping at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market (39th St between Ninth and Tenth Aves; 212-243-5343, hellskitchenfleamarket.com). Pretend you’re taking part in an archaeological dig as you frantically search through the oddball trinkets, antique jewelry and novelty pieces, hoping to find a gift for Aunt Myrtle. Celebrate your successful excavation over the cast-iron fondue pots at Kashkaval (856 Ninth Ave at 56th St 212-581-8282, kashkavalfoods.com). Dip a French baguette into the cheddar and ale fondue ($24 for two, plus $5 for a side of veggies or $6 for meat) and sip glasses of cabernet sauvignon ($16 for two). Consider the meal an early Christmas present to each other; this isn’t the time to spend money frivolously!

Drinks and more drinks
Meet your Harajuku girl (or guy) at Angel’s Share (8 Stuyvesant St at 9th St; 212-777-5415), an elegant drink parlor at the crossroads of downtown’s mini Tokyo. Head upstairs to the bustling Gyu-ya restaurant and enter through the unmarked door on the left. Once inside, snuggle into a banquette or snag a club chair in the cozy wood-paneled back room, then whet your appetite for amour over a classic cocktail like the Evidence, made with Earl Grey--infused vodka ($13). Singularly monikered bartender Shingo says, “Come Sunday or Monday to avoid a crowd.” Now that you’re in a state of heavenly bliss, go around the corner to subterranean sake bar Decibel (240 E 9th St between Second and Third Aves; 212-979-2733, sakebardecibel.com). This intimate lair serves more than 70 sakes—try the Nigori, a sweet unfiltered variety ($10), and nibble on a heaping plate of edamame ($3). Manager Yuki says, “It’s a casual place that feels like home.” Kampai!

Tacos and a sing-along
Upper East Side couples in the mood for romance, pay attention. Start your night off at Taco Taco (1726 Second Ave between 89th and 90th Sts, 212-289-8226), a redundantly named Mexican restaurant that’s as cozy as the fare is tasty. Order a healthy portion of two tacos—chicken or beef—with rice and beans for just $10. Afterward, snuggle even closer at Brandy’s Piano Bar (235 E 84th St between Second and Third Aves; 212-744-4949, brandysnyc.com). This tiny space can get crowded, but that’s because the service is just too damn good: The bartenders sling $5 beers and take turns belting out hits like “Come Sail Away” and “Walking in Memphis.” Tap your toes and sing along. And, at the end of the night, remember: True love doesn’t care how gaseous or tone-deaf you may be.

Bowling and boozing
The last thing you want on a date is to look like you’re trying too hard. Bowling is the great equalizer: It proves you’re no snob, and no one expects you to be very good. Sure, a single game is $14.50 per person (with shoe rental) at Port Authority’s Leisure Time Bowl (550 Ninth Ave between 40th and 41st Sts, 212-268-6909), but you can’t put a price on having carte blanche to quote the Dude for an entire evening. Postbowl, roll yourself to nearby Lansdowne Road (599 Tenth Ave between 43rd and 44th Sts, 212-239-8020). This Irish sports pub has all the fixins, from rugby jerseys on the wall to $7.50-per-dozen “Scruffy Duffy” wings—holdovers from the owner’s last bar of the same name. Rest your $4 draft special on the ice rail that runs the length of the bar and changes colors depending on what team’s playing on the TVs above. Resist the urge to lick that giant chunk of ice; you’ve seen A Christmas Story, right?

Falafel and hookah
Go Mediterranean on the LES at Ashkara (189 E Houston St between Ludlow and Orchard Sts; 212-260-8321, ashkaraone.com), where you can drown the fried balls of chickpea tastiness in unlimited fresh toppings (17, to be exact) from the self-serve salad bar ($4.50). Then, stroll over to cozy yet sleek Le Caire Lounge (189 E 3rd St between Aves A and B, 212-777-7447, lecairelounge.com) to unwind—and swap spit by sharing a fruit-flavored hookah (weekdays $15, Fridays and Saturdays $20). If you gave up smoking with Bloomberg, just groove to the fun and funky world music and choose from the extensive beverage menu (most wines are $7 a glass). It’s a night of worldly fun without the need for a passport and those annoyingly tiny bottles of travel shampoo.

Pizza and '80s pop
Like your date almost as much as you like cheese? Start your evening by indulging in the pizza quattro formaggi ($14), a tasty, wood-burning-stove--baked morsel topped with Parmesan, provolone, fontina and mozzarella, at Petaluma (1356 First Ave at 73rd St, 212-772-8800, petalumanyc.com). Then cross the street to Session 73 (1359 First Ave at 73rd St; 212-517-4445, session73.com) to indulge your mutual love of classic rock and ’80s pop. Try a duet on Wednesdays at Live Band Karaoke, or challenge the musicians of Stump the Band—a group that’ll play any song they know—on select Thursdays (check the website for details). There’s never a cover, and cocktail specials are just $5. Only on the Upper East Side is it still cool (in a totally unironic way) to sing “Kokomo.”

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