75 great cheap dates
Dinner/activity combos, all less than $50.
Wed Feb 3 2010
A show at Joe's Pub and beers at Central Bar
The intimate space at Joe's Pub (425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and E 4th St; 212-967-7555, joespub.org) provides the perfect setting to see impeccable talent of all genres and origins. Enjoy the show while artfully avoiding the pricey bar, then swing over to Central Bar (109 E 9th St between Third and Fourth Aves; 212-529-5333, centralbarnyc.com), where you can continue to chat over $10 burgers and $6 draft beers. If you're lucky, the evening's encore will take place in one of your apartments.
Pizza and classic rock
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 from Petaluma (1356 First Ave at E 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."
Satsko and Pianos
Elegant 40-seat sake bar Satsko (245 Eldridge St between E Houston and Stanton Sts; 212-358-7773, satsko.com; closed Mon)—an offshoot of the same-named East Village joint—offers a three-course prix fixe ($40 for two) that's much more palatable than MSG-laden instant ramen. Sink into one of the red brocade banquettes, sip a glass of rice wine and graze on refined Pan-Asian fare such as sirloin steak with wasabi-mashed potatoes. The included dessert of almond, green tea and shiso crme brle or homemade lychee ice cream is rich enough to distract from your ozone-thin wallet. Bypass the earplug-requiring indie-rock bands at Pianos (158 Ludlow St between Rivington and Stanton Sts; 212-505-3733, pianosnyc.com)—three streets away—and duck into its quiet upstairs haunt.
Tango and Pakistani food
We could go on about how tango inspires la pasin in the unlikeliest of folks, but we all know it's true. For an eve packed with serious cheek-to-cheek action, try Lafayette Grill & Bar's Monday night sessions (54--56 Franklin St between Broadway and Lafayette St; 212-732-5600, lafayettegrillandbar.net; 7pm--1am, $10), which include an hour-long beginner's lesson and four-and-a-half hours of deejayed tunes. After your Buenos Aires--style hoedown, cool your heels at subcontinental spot Pakistani Tea House (176 Church St between Duane and Reade Sts; 212-240-9800) five streets away. Though it's only a counter and a smattering of tables, it's a must for foodies. Display your culinary prowess by asking for mango lassis ($6), baked-to-order naan ($2 for two pieces) and chicken curry ($14 for two). Then linger over paper cups of chai ($2 for two) and rasmulai ($5 for two)—a milky cheese pudding—before further astonishing your sweetie by easily conjuring up a cab.
Expand your musical mind and your stomach
Explore musical styles and Lincoln Center's new David Rubenstein Atrium with Target Free Thursdays (Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Sts; lincolncenter.org/atrium; 8:30pm, free). February's lineup includes experimental and post-classical music, a Chinese New Year celebration and a virtuoso Argentine bandonenist. Admire the new fountain as you leave and head for live Cubano bands and Little Havana--style fare such as cold Hatuey cerveza ($12 for two) and garlicky suckling pig ($36 for two) at Latin restaurant Guantanamera (939 Eighth Ave between 55th and 56th Sts; 212-262-5354, guantanameranyc.com; 11:30am--midnight) ten blocks away. Puffing on gratis handmade cigars after will make you look like a high roller even if you lack the cash to back it up.
Casa Mon Amour and Club Europa
Make it clear that friendship isn't an option by escorting your favorite hottie to the aptly named Casa Mon Amour (162 Franklin St between Java and Kent Sts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-349-1529, casamonamour.com), for a cozy tte--tte over stick-to-your-ribs Latin grub. Sip glasses of red wine ($10 for two) while letting sweet plantains ($3) and roasted chicken ($16 for two) pleasure your palates. Chocolate cheesecake drenched in dulce de leche ($3) provides a prelude to something that's just as sweet—a postprandial kiss. Might as well gamble on music if you're going to risk falling in love. Try your luck on the Friday and Saturday night dance parties at Club Europa (98 Meserole Ave at Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-5723, europaclub.com). Expect Polish electronica, $3 PBRs and ample use of a smoke machine.
Karaoke and Korean in Chelsea
Sing several rounds of $2-a-tune karaoke at Chorus (25 W 32nd St between Fifth Ave and Broadway, third floor; 212-967-2244, choruskaraoke.com). Tip: Avoid that hair-metal ballad. No one looks good hitting the high notes. Soothe vocal cords and jangling nerves alike with a bottle of soju ($12.95) at bustling all-night Korean hot spot Kunjip (9 W 32nd St between Fifth Ave and Broadway; 212-216-9487, kunjip.net). While there, devour crispy seafood pancakes ($14.95) and sizzling stone-pot bibimbap strewn with kimchi ($12.95).
The Seaport and tango
Believe it or not: The Seaport's not just for out-of-towners. Head down there around 6pm (when most tourists are headed home) and grab a bite at the dive-chic Fresh Salt (146 Beekman St between Front and South Sts; 212-962-0053, freshsalt.com). Chow down on a cheesy, veggie-topped pita melt ($7.50) or one of the six fully loaded sandwiches ($9). Be sure to swill some happy hour beers or well drinks ($4); you'll want to be fueled up for this season's last Tango Porteo at South Street Seaport (Pier 16 between the Peking ship and Skippers outdoor caf, spiceevents.net). Just $10 gets couples a free lesson (at 8:30pm) and a night of cha-cha-chaing. It's sure to be an icebreaker.
Taco Taco and Brandy's Piano Bar
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.
Yogurt-landia and piano
Skip the line at Pinkberry and indulge in chilly faux-cream goodness at self-serve haven Yogurt Land (267 Bleecker St between Cornelia and Jones Sts; 212-206-1824, yogurt-land.com). Impress your date by twisting any of the 28 flavors of frozen yogurt into a Dairy Queen--worthy swirl. At 39 an ounce, you can afford to pile on an obnoxious amount of toppings (there are 35 on offer). Then, defrost your brains by heading underground for some show tunes and drinks at Marie's Crisis Cafe (59 Grove St between Seventh Ave South and Bleecker St, 212-243-9323). One minute, the barmaid is pulling you a pint of Bass, the next she's belting out "Me and Bobby McGee."
Tango and Argentinian food
Although the setting is a far cry from the dance halls and brothels of 19th-century Buenos Aires, a sultry evening of dancing can be had at Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Ave at 15th St; 212-243-6005, chelseamarket.com). You may be intimidated at first, but a free tango class will help you feel like El Cachafaz during the subsequent three hours of partnered dancing and live music, Fridays 5--9pm. If you work up an appetite with all the hot, sweaty action on the dance floor, step lively to Industria Argentina (329 Greenwich St; 212-965-8560, iatribeca.com). This warm, Latin-themed spot is perfect for sampling a smooth malbec ($10) and exotic
BBQ and Queer-a-oke
Williamsburg sounds like a good place for a date but it's tricky to do right. Start off by demonstrating your culinary taste at calming oasis Fette Sau (354 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-963-3404), where you can chomp down on a meat platter together (prices depend on the weight of what you order), or just snack on potato salad and pickles while knocking back a beer or two from their excellent selection. With a few inside you it's time to ratchet up the fun at friendly queer bar Metropolitan (559 Lorimer St between Devoe St and Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-599-4444), four streets away. Fishnet-clad drag queen and hostess Basic Black welcomes virgin vocalists from a mixed crowd for Tuesday night's Queer-a-oke. Order a quartet of well drinks ($12) to foster courage and ccan the 10,000-strong song list, but keep in mind that "Love Is a Battlefield" and Tina Turner's "Better Be Good to Me" are perennial duet crowd-pleasers.
Do the Hustle and have 24-hour Korean food
Strike your best pre-Hairspray Travolta moves at groove studio Dancesport's (22 W 34th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, fourth floor; 212-307-1111; 5:30--6:30pm. R.S.V.P. required) Friday-night private tutorial (introductory offer $20 for two, 30 minutes). A nimble-footed instructor will school you and your beloved on the Hustle's smooth disco stylings and continuous head-spinning turns. Or, if you prefer to cop Antonio Banderas's Latin rhythm, you can learn tango or salsa. Skip the tourist-laden doldrums of midtown for Koreatown's 24-hour Han Bat (53 W 35th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-629-5588). Warm your bellies with Gobdol Bi Bim Bad, veggie-and-barbecued-beef--topped rice served in a stone pot ($22 for two)—a hearty way to refuel after getting down. Then cool off with frosty Seoul brewery OB beers ($8 for two) before asking your partner if his or her dance card is full next week.