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
The winsome touches—an exposed brick wall, twinkling light fixtures, dangling plants—make for an amorous first date at the that's not too over the top at the downtown Chinese restaurant. After all, you'll most likely end up slurping the much-praised fish stew or funneling noodles into your mouth mid-conversation.
Converstion starter: Before opening in NYC, Madam Zhu got her start with eight restaurants throughout China.
The Jane Hotel may be best known for the raucous late-night party scene, but this new-ish restaurant might make the hotel a destination in the earlier hours, too. The team behind the Smile has opened an all-day Italian restaurant and café. The airy interior is shaded in hues of white, gray and black, with warmly-lit bulbs and checkered floors.
Conversation starter: The Jane Hotel used to be a hotel for sailors, and even housed survivors of the Titanic.
This set piece for nostalgia-seeking daters takes its late-1940s aesthetic mighty seriously, with glossy oxblood banquettes and barbacks kitted out in newsboy caps and suspenders like dancers in a Broadway musical. Once you get past the standoffish bouncer out front, you’re transported to a Truman-era fever dream.
Conversation starter: Afterwards, head upstairs to the more casual Happiest Hour, owned by the same team.
Enoteca Maria's real draw is the seven Italian nonni in the kitchen. One night it’s Gaia from Milano with gnocchi, the next it’s Theresa from Sicily making capuzelle. Co-owner Jody Scaravella recruited the chefs through Italian-language newspapers, but says she’s open to hiring American–born toques—so long as they cook like their grandmothers. It's like bringing your date home without all the familial pressure.
Conversation starter: Time to reminisce about your favorite dish from grandma.
Perhaps no hospitality mind better channels the West Village's starry-eyed appeal than Gabriel Stulman. The restaurateur has worked his magic touch yet again on Fairfax, and the effortlessly chic neighborhood groupies have set up shop at the all-day café and wine bar: Fashionable twentysomethings date and congregate in the midcentury-modern apartment layout.
Conversation starter: Try something new and split a bottle of orange wine.
This Morris Park beacon is famous among chowhounds for its brick-oven pizza and cozy confines, and that’s not all Patricia’s does right. The hot antipasti include huge stuffed mushrooms, baked clams, luscious fried shrimp and eggplant rolled around ricotta cheese. The linguine arrabbiata has a spicy sauce with chunks of tender tomato. It's where you take the self-proclaimed foodie who has been everywhere.
Conversation starter: The place will be packed with locals chatting up the owner, Patrica Borgognone. Join them!
At Charlie Bird, you can impress your date with a swirl of a smoky Rodano chianti riserva while nodding your head to the Notorious B.I.G. Devoted in equal measure to seasonal cooking and serious wine, this Greenwich Village spot roughs up its own polish with subtle hints of the street.
Conversation starter: Fit for the music-lover just as much as the food-lover, thanks to the large graphic prints of boom boxes and the soundtrack of early-’90s hip-hop.
Once you reach the 26th floor of Beekman Tower, you’re instantly welcomed into a decadent barroom fashioned with soaring cathedral windows, jewel-tone blue walls and glass showcases filled with vintage oddities. This intoxicating music-box–like space has four doors that lead curiosity seekers to the main draw.
Conversation starter: Ophelia’s old-world appeal instantly clicks when you learn that the bar—once named Top of the Tower—served oh-so-casual customers like Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa.
The gorgeous Donna, a breezy, rum-soaked drinkery secreted away near the Williamsburg waterfront, is long-term relationship material: sexy enough to seduce on sight, yet substantive enough to keep you coming back for more. It's a fever-dream vision of Central America that takes its inspiration from Spanish-colonial cathedrals, Art Nouveau parlor rooms and the sailor’s flophouse that existed on this site in the 1800s.
Conversation starter: The menu is more akin to an Illuminati recruitment pamphlet than a descriptive bill of fare.
Impress your date with your bar savviness at this sleek speakeasy. The entrance to this taxidermy-strewn saloon is hidden behind an old phone booth inside Crif Dogs. Pick up the receiver and a hostess opens the back wall of the booth. Inside, a team of barkeeps offer thoughtful cocktail creations where the staff is happy to talk you through any libation on the menu.
Conversation starter: Wash down your high-brow cocktails with low-brow dogs from next door.