Dating in New York City can sometimes feel like one big romantic comedy... or a drama. In a city full of hopeless-romantic singles, nailing the first date is a crucial step. If you'd rather not go to a cheesy themed bar or embarrass yourself at a snooty wine bar with your limited knowledge of vino, you can always fall back on the old-school drink-and-dine with the city's best restaurants and bars. We've gathered a list of the best spots to kick off your journey to true love.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in NYC
Restaurants and bars for a first date
Equal parts salon, pub and bordello, Oscar Wilde serves a broad mix, including tipples in the Victorian style and Prohibition-inspired cocktails. And there’s champagne, of course. The venue is awash in deliriously decadent bric-a-brac like painted-glass windows and crushed-velvet chairs, without the impotence of being earnest—and almost everything is dolled up with ornate chandeliers or heavily lacquered wood.
Conversation starter: All that marble? Yeah, it's real.
Veteran shufflers and court virgins alike are welcome at this surprisingly hip, out-of-the-box date spot, with 10 regulation-size lanes and a league for those who actually know their cherries (scoring in the 10-point box on the last shot) from their pepperonis (all four biscuits in scoring position).
Conversation starter: If biscuits and tangs aren't your thing, challenge your date with a Giant Jenga or Connect Four match.
Tucked between a neighborhood bodega and a Latin religious-articles shop, ROKC is an unadorned semi-subterranean room. But it is what’s behind that utilitarian bar that warrants the trek—it’s not the curious upturned lightbulbs or conch shells neatly set on shelves amid copper Mule mugs. No, it’s Shigefumi Kabashima and Tetsuo Hasegawa, the former Angel’s Share cohorts who serve some of New York’s most stunning drinks.
Conversation starter: Play the guessing game for the ROKC acronym (“ramen, oysters, kitchen and cocktails,” FYI).
It’s a scene straight out of Midnight in Paris—or maybe Back to the Future—all golden-age yearning and space-time shuffling. This dapper Gramercy lounge, from Raines Law Room operators is a railroad space divided into period-piece quarters, including a tufted Victorian parlor and an ashtray-dotted hooch den worthy of Don Draper.
Conversation starter: Yes, this is one of those fancy cocktail bars that has buzzers next to the tables to ring your waiter.
At first glance, Primo’s is an oxymoron: an inexplicably sexy space modeled on… a 1950s diner? On one hand, there’s glass-block partitions, chrome-edge tables and doo-wop music. But swap the soda-fountain counter for a liquor-stocked bar and the squeaky plastic booths for jewel-tone velvet banquettes, and you have the most downright sensual “diner” we’ve ever seen.
Conversation starter: The indulgently rich espresso martini is one of the best we've ever had.
They don’t make ‘em like this any more (probably because Health and Safety would shut ‘em down). West Village hangout the Fat Cat is a basement bar and pool hall where the sofas are scruffy, the drinks are cheap and the ambience is jovial. Closing time is 4am if you're really hitting it off.
Conversation starter: There’s live jazz every night, and Fridays have included formidable Brooklyn soul singer Naomi Shelton playing a residency with her Gospel Queens.
Like its menu—playful, beach-ready cocktails and exotic snacks—Ravi DeRossi's teal-and-white tiki den is rife with time-warp nods to the Pacific isles, including retro floral-patterned banquettes, hand-carved totem pole stools and mother-of-pearl light fixtures. The effect is somewhat dreamlike and downright romantic.
Conversation starter: Order the Shark Eye, a Jaws-esque cocktail that'sone of the most Instagrammable in the city.
The spot at 257 Smith Street was a short-lived “massage parlor” before it closed last December. The narrow rooms are reminiscent of a Sleep No More chamber, adorned with oversize double-starburst mirrors. A collage of yellow-paged open books lines the walls, and old-world potion bottles and women’s vanity knickknacks are strewn on counters.
Conversation starter: Slinky nods to its illicit past include a red light bulb hanging above the doorway and a bona fide canopy bed in a back room.
The East Village icon may have gotten a first-date-ready spruce-up—duct-taped booths traded for green banquettes, neon beer signs for gold sconces—but it's still as lively as ever. Frequenters of the original will breathe easy seeing that the battered red awning, wooden phone booth and signature horseshoe bar remain.
Conversation starter: There's a restored harem-girl mural, dating back to the 1920s when the bar was known as Ali Baba Burlesque.
Venue says An iconic cocktail lounge/bar located in the heart of the East Village, Manhattan NYC.
This Italian wine bar and restaurant from Manhattan’s Massimo Felici (La Nonna, Ribollita) is elegantly understated with house-baked breads and pastries, small Italian plates (meatballs, burrata) and vintages from Italy and California from the glass or bottle.
Conversation starter: "Have you ever ridden the Staten Island Ferry before?"