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Posted at 1:37 PM ET, 01/11/2008

What's in a Date?

By Julia Beizer

Washington, D.C.: I'm sure you get this all the time, but I have a first date this weekend. We're both 30-somethings who haven't dated in a while. I'm not feeling hip, but I'd like something more interesting than a suburban chain-dinner-and-movie. Thanks!

D.C. is right. We do get this question in Got Plans? all the time, but that doesn't make it any easier to answer. I could suggest to D.C. here that s/he and her/his partner get a table at a cozy romantic place like Al Tiramisu and then spend the rest of the evening over glasses of wine at Veritas. This plan has a nice combination of sophistication and elegance, but is it too romantic for a first encounter?

But let's say I go the opposite route and suggest dinner at the nice, but less-expensive and more-boisterous pizza place Sorriso, with the option of drinks and darts to follow at Atomic. In trying to give off the low-key playful vibe, you might also give off the intensely-dreaded-in-this-town "slacker" impression.

What about a tour of tomorrow night's art openings in Logan Circle [Jan. 12], followed by dinner and conversation about what you've just seen at Rice or Logan Tavern? The obvious plus is that you have an immediate topic of conversation over dinner -- but if you're dating someone who's not into art, it could come across as a little pretentious.

Dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill followed by drinks at the Willard? Too high-roller-y. Skating at Sculpture Garden followed by hot chocolate at Olsson's? Cute -- but maybe too high-school. I could also suggest dinner at Rasika and then drinks at Indebleu? The lounge vibe isn't for everyone.

You get the idea. Each one of these dates will work for someone trying to avoid the dinner-and-a-movie blues, but the challenge is finding the right one. My point is that before the date begins, the pitfalls abound. Indulge me for a minute: let's consider the date as job interview. It's stressful. There's a lot of drama about what to wear. You come up with a way to make your personal story compelling and witty while minimizing the less attractive bits. And of course in both cases, you're worried about the follow-up call and e-mail.

The most important part of the date = job interview equation is that you're supposed to make judgements about people in a relatively short amount of time and with limited information at your fingertips -- and that's why the details matter. The date instigators bear an uncomfortable burden in these situations; they're the ones who have to come up with a date plan that will be fun and different, while not being so out there as to scare off the datee.

But even though the date instigator is walking in a social minefield, I'd also argue that the details of the first date also give you a little freedom to let your personality shine in ways you don't have to explain verbally over dinner. If you're a playful type, go for the skating. If you want to show off that you can get into the Park, go there. Like a lounge? Let it show. Don't be afraid to get creative. A old friend always took dates -- yes, at night -- to see the Awakening sculpture at Hains Point. Random? Sure, but his ladies always loved it.

Do you have any hot first-date spots to share? We could all use a little help in getting out of the dinner + movie rut, so leave your comments below.

--Julia

By Julia Beizer  | January 11, 2008; 1:37 PM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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What about the afternoon leading into evening museum or garden stroll? Anywhere from Torpedo Factory, to Smithsonian, to Brookside Gardens. Sparks, go for dinner. None, go home...

Posted by: Oy! | January 11, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

UGH! First dates SUCK!

Posted by: sigmagrrl | January 12, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

hot dog vendor lunch, go kart racing followed by beers in old town and a jacuzzi at the comfort inn... 2nd date will ensue..

Posted by: ed t | January 14, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

This was not a first date...I think it was the second, but we had dinner at Teaism near the Archives, and then sat on the steps of the Navy Memorial and played scrabble under the memorial's lights.

Posted by: Arlington | January 14, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

We walked from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. It was evening and was one of those warmer January days. It was a great first date :)

Posted by: jt | January 14, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I took her to hear the jazz quartet at the 4 seasons with drinks and heavy appetizers. Then, we took a short drive to Georgetown's Dean and Deluca for coffee and desert. we walked to urban outfitters and looked at all the goofy stuff for sale. It was nice!

Posted by: jf | January 14, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

First date (well, the first one that I realized was actually a date and not just friends hanging out!)

1. Lunch in the Sculpture Garden
2. Edward Hopper exhibit at Natl Gallery
3. Walked to Landmark E St Cinemas
4. Picked a movie and watched it
5. Dinner at Cafe Atlantico

It just kept going because we were having such a wonderful time!

Posted by: SR | January 14, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I would wholeheartedly recommend the free concert at the Kennedy Center which starts from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Afterward, go to the Sky Terrace (11th floor of the Hotel Washington) for a light supper and drinks. Very romantic at night! You and your date get to admire the view of our Nation's Capital. It's a block away from the Old Ebbitt Grill. Frankly, I don't like the latter for a first date. It's too noisy and touristy. Well, that's just my humble opinion.
Kelly Yip

Posted by: Anonymous | January 14, 2008 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Best first date in Woodley/Adams Morgan/U Street area:

Walking around the zoo, drinks at Tryst, dinner at San Marco, then maybe out at Tabaq on U Street.

Posted by: bg | January 14, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

The Hotel Washington is closed for renovations and will become the first W Hotel in DC. I don't know if I will feel comfortable going back when it transforms into a super yuppie hotel. There was something small town about the atmosphere before that made it comfortable and unpretentious. I moved to DC 8 years ago because it is NOT NYC! ok, rant over.

Maybe after free concert at KenCen, go to Notti Bianche? make reservations!

Posted by: iikamo | January 14, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I took my wife to the Queen Bee (RIP!) for our first date, and I think neighborhood and ethnic is the way to go. After that, we went down to Iota for drinks, which was just a nice slightly grownup bar at the time. What mattered, in retrospect, was that these were places I really liked -- if she didn't like them, she probably wouldn't like me anyway, and I might not've liked her! Pretending I was into the flashy club scene, or the gourmet restaurant scene, or the K-street lobbyist scene would've been a disaster.

Posted by: Rob | January 14, 2008 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Best first date I've had hands down was dinner at Jaleo, where we we picked a few dishes and had some laughs. Then we walked around the Jefferson Memorial under the cherry blossoms. It was a Wenesday at 10pm, so no crowds to bother us.

Posted by: Erin | January 15, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

We went to the portrait gallery and wandered around for a while then to Clyde's in Chinatown for dinner. It was great!

Posted by: Sarah | January 17, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

We met dancing at a bar and for our first date he took me to the Monday night Salsa lessons at Lucky Bar. We went next door for empanadas as a break before coming back to dance longer. It was a really cute, fun thing to do. We didn't last, but it was still the best first date idea I'd ever experienced!

Posted by: Great date night! | January 17, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I had a great first date at Tune Inn on Capital Hill. It's a staple of dive bars on the Hill- how could you not enjoy it? And I'm now engaged to that first date, so maybe there's something to it!
Also, going to Eastern Market and getting crepes at the crepe stand and then wandering through the flea market. Then stop in Murky Coffee for coffee or Tunnicliffs for a drink.

Posted by: Now engaged.... | January 17, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I prefer activity dates for a first date over a dinner date. Over dinner, you're doing the job interview thing and wonder about whether you're saying or doing the right thing. And you're worried that a pause in conversation means that you're not "clicking" or the other person isn't interested. If you're doing something, you always have something to talk about, and a pause in conversation is natural. Plus, it's a good way to get past the "am I making a good impression?" awkwardness, because you have to relax a little to show what you're good and bad at. Some first dates that I've enjoyed:

-- We made (okay, painted) kites and flew them at the Smithsonian Kite festival.

-- On a spring day, we took pictures of color in art and sculpture around the Mall. (He had said that he liked photography.)

But, if you simply must have dinner, I think Spanish restaurants with flamenco performances always make me happy, at least, as does the sangria. :)

Posted by: love dating but off the market | January 17, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Vodka martinis at Sea Catch (great infusions!), walk along the canal, and if it is going well, catch the late show at Blues Alley. Or go to Dukem, something about eating with your hands is always sexy, but the atmosphere is decidedly relaxed. I also like Old Town, dinner at Geranio and then split a bottle of wine at the Old Town theater.

Posted by: ideas | January 17, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

When my husband and I were first dating and didn't have a lot of money, we used to take a picnic lunch to the National Arboretum. It's a beautiful place with lots of easily walkable trails and neat little spots to explore, and is rarely crowded. You need a car to get there, but admission is free and your date will probably be impressed that you even know about the Arboretum and how to find it.

Another great picnic spot is the park near the Iwo Jima Memorial in Rosslyn. It's Metro-accessible and has a spectacular view of DC. In the summer there are free carillon concerts on Saturday afternoons and free Marine Band concerts on Tuesday evenings.

Posted by: dating on a budget | January 17, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad to see this feature. I am always looking for something different to do not just on a first date but in general. How about appetizers and drinks in a nice jazz spot (the Galaxy, Martinis) and then a ride downtown. My favorite is the tidal basin (not in the winter) and a picnic.

Posted by: Sharon Jenkins | January 17, 2008 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Anything in the performing arts...Kennedy Center, Art-o-matic(summer), musuems. Chart House in Old Town Alexandria then a walk on the water front during the warmer days of the year. Putt putt golf in the warmer months.

Posted by: Melissa | January 18, 2008 12:42 AM | Report abuse

On my first date, my bf took me ice skating for the first time in my life. We had tons of time to talk and get to know each other. Afterwards he took me to the top of a parking garage at night. The lights were so pretty!! It was the best.

Posted by: Brooke | January 18, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I want to date the Scrabble player guy!

Posted by: Anna | January 18, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

For a first date, it's great to meet for lunch or an early afternoon activity. First of all, you get to see your date in full light! But more importanly, it leaves room to suggest continuing the date if things are going well without them having to continue overnight. On my lunch date success story, we met at the Zoo which led to funny conversations about the animals - and the humans there, as well. Then we went to get an early dinner, then wound up playing trivia and having beer at Bedrock Billiards. It felt like at least two dates because of the variety of activities and the fact that it lasted about 11 hours!

Posted by: Happy | January 18, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Requesting help GOG! Coming into town in 2 weeks-looking for a place to rendezvous with a special femme for wine/drinks at 8 PM on a Tuesday. Looking for soft low light, couches, chill beats, quiet for conversation, and opportunities for semi-privacy. Price not an object. Late 30's, male, professional. Thoughts? Thanks!

Posted by: Jack | January 18, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

One of the best dates I ever had was listening to jazz at HR57, followed by dessert at Kramer Books. HR57 is a cozy little BYO jazz place at 14 & Q, NW. A bottle of red wine would be great on a cold night like tonight.

Posted by: Gator | January 19, 2008 5:33 PM | Report abuse

When my husband and I were dating we used to go on neighborhood walking tours of the city. It was a great way of finding more about the history of where you live. Also if you see a restaurant or bar that you like on the tour you can go there afterwards!

Posted by: Kat | January 20, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

A great first date idea is lunch in a park followed by canoeing. definetly fun and a chance to really get to know someone.

Posted by: ally | January 29, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Seems 1st date is important to everyone.
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Posted by: elvagreen | January 30, 2008 4:15 AM | Report abuse

any one ever notice that most people in date lab never go on second or third dates?

I have. Wondering if it's the people in the D.C. area just do not have chemistry with each other or is date lab setting up the wrong people.

Anywhoo, i've found it's easier to meet people randomly in public settings like while riding metro or in a bar or even through friends which is actually better.

I've also noticed that most people here in D.C. are made of teflon: the chemistry is mostly never there to make for long lasting relationships. are we all just ships passing the D.C. night?

Posted by: milanamjc | March 14, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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