Dear PoP – First Date Spots?

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

“Dear PoP,

Do you have any good ideas for first date restaurants? I’m looking for a place that is low key and relatively quiet/private so my hypothetical date and I can have a good conversation and get to know each other. Also, it shouldn’t be so inexpensive that I look cheap, but it shouldn’t be so expensive that I look like a show off (or that I blow a fortune on someone then realize that there won’t be a second date).

To give you an idea, a place like Red Rocks strikes me as a good first date option. I’m interested in non-Columbia Heights/Petworth spots too, though, because I live up here and I feel like it sends the wrong message to take a woman somewhere that’s just a few blocks away from my place.”

Back in Feb. ’08 we had a similar question where I recommended:

If you want to stay in the U Street area, you should get dinner at one of three places followed up by some live music at HR57 (jazz). Good places to eat beforehand are Rice, Al Crostino, or the new wine bar Cork. You’ll probably have to drop like $80 total for the both of you on dinner but HR57 is pretty cheap and you can even bring your own wine there. Rice is located right next to HR57 on 14th Street a couple blocks north of P. Al Crostino (a bit more expensive) is on U St. between 13th and 14th. If she’s been to HR 57 before or any of these restaurants a strong runner up would be to take her to Utopia which has live music at 1418 U Street. It has an awesome atmosphere and the music is usually pretty good. I think they only have music on Friday and Sat. though. If you want another place that is kind cool, go to Bohemian Caverns at 11th and U. It has a lot of history and the music is also rather strong in my experience (jazz and sometimes blues).

He decided to do this. Of course there are tons of new places that have since opened up since Feb. ’08 so what/where would you guys recommend for a good first date?

81 Comment

  • Tabard Inn and Iron Gate, both on N St. near Dupont are great options. Iron Gate has beautiful outdoor seating during fair weather months.

  • I like Eatonville – romantic and still reasonably affordable.

  • Bar Pilar is my favorite, cozy, good food and atmosphere, small plates menu so you can grab a quick bite at the bar.

    Other suggestions:

    — for a classy / upscale vibe, Gibson, the Columbia Room, Ray’s the Steaks, Rasika.
    — cozier / more casual vibe, Granville Moore’s, Brickskellar, Dodge City, Room 11, Etete
    — outdoorsy date, walk in Rock Creek Park, Great Falls, or the Friday jazz series at National Sculpture Garden
    — Sunday date, dim sum at Tony Cheng’s or the brunch (a bit pricey but worth it) at Cafe Atlantico

    • This is a superb list. I’d add:

      Russia House
      Bar Dupont (outdoor seating)
      Busboys (you can discuss books while waiting for table)
      Fox and Hound (or any one of the outdoor spots on 17th)
      Meridan Pint

      Maybe Bedrock Billiards depending on whether she likes to play games, literally speaking.

      Go to one of those cupcake places, and then get a drink at a nearby bar! Everyone loves cupcakes.

  • Dan’s Cafe, the true litmus test for whether the relationship will last.

  • Ack, it ate my comment.

    Why do you think it sends a bad message to stay in the neighborhood? Are you saying that she lives in another neighborhood and you think it looks like to make her come to you? In that case I might agree, but if she also lives near you, staying local is great – especially if you and she are both enthusiastic about your neighborhood!

    • It says I am a lazy f- who can’t be bothered to walk farther than three blocks for this date. Also, you do NOT want to run into a bunch of your friends when you are just getting to know someone. So veto Bedrocks, too, which is more of a good place to hang out and get to know people in a group when it’s just friends but is not great for a date when your whole posse walks in to play pool.
      I once saw a teenage guy escort his date down 18th and up to the KFC, where he gallantly opened the door.

  • I would suggest 1905 on 9th St right a block from the U Street metro. Check out the website – – it is very chill and low key, but nice enough to kind of impress. Food is awesome as well.

    Other than that, I would second Eatonville, although that is not very intimate or quiet.

    I’d also say Napoleon in Adams Morgan could be a solid choice. Very cool and conversation-friendly.

    • I definitely agree. It might be a little pricey for a first date, but if you take a look at the menu and it’s ok, the restaurant is very quiet and romantic without being awkwardly so (no heart shaped candle holders or anything).

  • I went on a first date at L’Enfant Cafe and Bar at 18th and U. It is quiet, with some good music. Dark, but not creepy dark, and the food was awesome. Reasonably priced too. Love that place.

  • I think it ate my comment too!

    I suggested 1905 of 9th St, 1 or 2 block from U St Metro – – Very chill and cool vibe. I’ve always thought this place would be a perfect spot for a first date.

    Eatonville is awesome, but a little noisy

    Napoleon in AdMo is a solid choice too

  • Second Bar Pilar! I always say go to Ethiopian (partially because that was my boyfriend and I’s first date) and because it shows if your date can’t have a little fun and be adventurous, you probably don’t want to date them (or at least I wouldn’t). And Ethiopian is cheap and the food is interactive.

    Also, lowkey bars like Solly’s or Dodge City where you can hear yourselves talk.

  • how about ben’s chili bowl, st. ex, bistro du coin, one of the many fine ethiopian establishments, Pho 14, Coppi’s organic… lots of fun options that won’t set you back too much.

  • If you’re willing to travel, Surfside in Glover Park has fantastic, gourmet-ish, expensive-ish tacos, burritos and drinks – and a rooftop deck. Ordering (via printed cards with check boxes) could be a fun way to foster chat.

    • saf

      See, I find them noisy – really noisy.

      (Also, they put cilantro in every single thing they make, but that’s my personal issue.)

  • CAVA -Eastern Market/ Greek, small plates.
    Liberty Tree -H St/ New England Comfort Food (but you can actually taste it).
    Souk – H St/ Moroccan.
    Fusion – GA Ave/ Indian.

    I second getting out of /her/ neighborhood. Many people, (men and women), like to be introduced to something new on a date as it adds to the excitement. If she hasn’t explored your neighborhood though, I see nothing wrong with taking her to your local spot. Red rocks isn’t the most intimate restaurant though.

  • i’d advise against food on a first date. a wise man once told me, dinner is a killer.

  • 2 Amys – find out if he/she likes kids.

    • As a woman who does not like kids and doesn’t want them, I would HATE a first date that was a test to see if I liked kids by throwing me in with a bunch! There are better ways to find this out 🙂

  • meze in adams morgan. it shows that your cultured and has an outdoor patio to watch the street life. but u must leave by 10-11pm before all the drunks come out.

  • I’ve had (and suggested) first dates at the following:
    -Commonwealth at 14th and Irving
    -Comet Ping Pong at Nebraska and CT (good pizza, not spendy, and if the conversation dies you can always play a rescue game of ping pong … just watch out for the kiddies)
    -Ulah (recently reviewed here – really good, chill, also not spendy)
    -Masa 14 (good for drinks, kinda loud)
    -Creme (small plates, lots of options, nice vibe)

    I also second Ethiopian places on U St or sushi anywhere. I’ve been on at least 100 first dates in this city (don’t ask) and the best, general advice is certainly to take into consideration the image you want to present but also remember that if you go someplace where you’re not comfortable in an attempt to get across a certain message, that’ll translate to her somehow, and not in a good way.

    Wait, you’re a guy right? If not, sorry! But advice is the same even if not.

  • I think Al Crostino on U St is a good choice. Nice atmosphere and quiet enough to chat and is not so crazy trendy/busy that you feel like can’t linger because there are people standing around eyeing your table, good food, not cheap but not crazy expensive.

  • Sorry … needed to add: DO NOT GO TO UTOPIA!! Last time I was there, a roach crawled up the wall behind me and my date and I saw another one crawling around the server’s station near the bar. A waitress looked down, saw it, stepped on it, and walked away. I could barely even think about eating the food I was then served. I will never go back there. EVER.

  • @Maire – Sometimes, if a man asks you to meet him at a bar right by his home, it comes across as looking for boot-AY.

    I’d suggest Etete or 1905.

    • Ah gotcha. I didn’t think of it that way but I definitely see your point. I was thinking they both lived in the same neighborhood.

      Anyway, I third (or forth, or whatever) the suggestions for Ethiopian.

  • Himalayan Heritage in Adams Morgan. The food is fantastic and also reasonably priced. You’re looking at about $60 -$70 for a meal for two and a cheaper bottle of wine. Or you could skip the wine and go out to a bar on 18th. I like Tryst as it’s a very nice atmosphere and pretty quiet. I’ve also been on a few dates on Wednesday night at Madam’s Organ for bluegrass. There are some food options, and the music can get kinda loud but it’s a lot of fun.

    • NO ETHIC FOOD ON A FIRST DATE! Can anyone say fart/runs/poopy-mess potential? If you don’t know the person, you may not know if they have problems eating spicy, ethnic food. Ultimate cliff note that I’m embarrassed to even mention: Along Came Polly. Just sayin’.

    • I was going to say Tryst but to some extent it’s so done…if it is Friday night and you are not on a first date at Tryst it’s time to close your laptop and get out and live!

  • I went on a great first date at Bread & Brew in Dupont. It’s calm, quiet and less stuffy than other Dupont options (in my opinion!) with good food, beer and patio options. Plus the folks that work there are really great!

  • Bistro Cacao on Capitol Hill. Really romantic spot, great French cooking; won’t break the bank. The inside is really intimate but the food and decor aren’t at all pretentious like alot of french eateries.

  • Casual warning for all first date dinners: bring cash. Nothing sucks worse than being on a bad first date, at a restaurant and the phones/cc machine are down. Lot’s of staring….lot’s of water drinking.

  • Dickson Wine Bar. Cozy, good food/drinks, and it’s romantic after the sun goes down.

    • +1, but you need to do it on a weeknight because there isn’t much space and it fills up. If you can get a spot, which you should be able to most weekday nights, this would be ideal.

  • I like all of the suggestions, but would vote for the rooftop at Tabaq.

  • I’m a fan of Kramerbooks in Dupont. Food is good, reasonably priced, good desserts, a bar, and books to browse and talk about.

  • Tres, I agree with your assessment that NLN2CH gave good choices, but I’m questioning yours a bit.

    I’d pass on RFD – it’s usually near yelling volume in there, and the food is subpar (though the beer collection is great). Meridian Pint may be on the loud side as well, plus violates your \too close to home\ criteria. Fox & Hound is for some serious boozing in my mind, plus I’m opposed to a Columbia Heights/Petworth guy proposing a 17th St Dupont location.

    For what it’s worth, I met my wife on our first date at L’Enfant – so maybe that’s got some lucky juju? If you’re not doing food, just drinks….I think the Gibson is really your big winner. Classy, intimate, great cocktails.

    • Yes, maybe I went a bit too far outside the box in an effort to conjure up additional options. I think the choice really depends on whether you expect the “magic” to happen on the first date, or you’re still forming an impression of the other person — so save Gibson’s for later.

      Meridian Pint just added panels that act as sound dampeners. I had heard about the sound issues, but I was there recently found it easy to converse.

      I think Col Heights fella can do 17th. It shows the man has breadth. Perhaps DIKs instead of Fox and Hound. Point is to enjoy the outdoor seating and the liveliness of 17th on a summer evening.

  • Busboys and Poets! It’s the epitome of D.C. culture. Good for dates since you can choose a high top table or get a little more comfy on a couch. Also for vegetarians like me, it has a diverse menu for all eaters

    • Bo-ring.

    • I second Busboys and Poets – it was the prefect plan B when I suggested brunch on Tabaq’a top floor for a frist date only to find that there was a significant wait for a table and it was extremely hot b/c of the direct sun/large windows/no A/C.

  • Big second for the Gibson. Awesome first date place for drinks.

    Also really like Bar Pilar for wine and small plates.

  • Never buy an American woman a nice dinner on a first date. If you gotta eat, make it a food cart, takeout, or someplace divey. Women work today; if she’s so damned hungry, let her pay half. Given the dating climate in this town, the odds are against a second date, and by taking women out to dinner from the get-go, you will be blowing your money on dead-end meals.

    I say this as a guy who’s been married for more than 10 years, so don’t tell me I sound bitter or something. That’s just what I’ve seen among the guys around me….

    • You sound bitter.

    • Is this a joke? Given a food cart or divey food option you’d better believe there will be no second date.
      That said I have definitely heard girls accept a date with a guy they are not really interested in on the “girl’s gotta eat” premise. Cold.
      I found the best way to meet guys is to hang out on multiple occasions in a group setting doing something fun you’d want to do anyway, like coffee after class or kayaking.

    • Does anyone else agree it’s totally hilarious this guy is calling himself caballero?

      As woman who mostly tries to pay half, I feel like I mostly agree with you in principle… but good heavens you sound rude (and yes, bitter).

      • From what I can tell, among the under-30 crowd, dates don’t exist anymore. But if they do, for some reason, the man is still expected to buy dinner. And for what…..a few hours of conversation with a woman you may never see again? That’s a raw deal for the man. If women work as equals and want to be treated as such, they shouldn’t expect men to buy them dinner or drinks until the relationship is well underway. Of course, when I tell this to women (intimate friends, mind you, who are supposedly modern), they get all huffy about it, because I’m messing with their sense of entitlement.

        For the record, my wife didn’t let me buy her dinner (and I offered to do so) until we had been dating for months. She didn’t have any money, but she was still proud enough not to accept dinner from a guy she was just getting to know.

        And yes, the caballero name is a bit of joke, because I’m definitely not one. Being a gentlemen was appropriate back in the day, but not since sex and gender roles have been upended in the past couple of decades.

        • My boyfriend and I split the first several dates. The first date: ya, I get it, we are equals. The second date: okay, you respect the fact that I have a job and can support myself. Third date: ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Treat a lady to a meal. It’s clear we like each other.

          I still tease him for seeming like a cheapo in our early dating days. PS. We still split every meal and I like it that way.

      • Agree with Jenna that the name is hilariously off.

        And to “caballero” – I pity your wife.

        • Well, at least my name is hilariously off and not just off. I always try to find humor where I can….

          My wife seems pretty happy. But I guess she has really low standards. And she probably doesn’t have a lot of options other than me. Come to think of it, we’re both real losers, and we were lucky our paths aligned in this crazy, mixed-up world. If it hadn’t been for her, I’d be going on first date after first date after first date, spending all my money on girls who didn’t want to see me again. Thank god I’ve been saved from that hell.

  • I like the rooftop at Perry’s in Adams Morgan. The sushi is serviceable and the atmosphere is pleasantly romantic (but not overly so), with the strings of lights and the view.

  • The Teaism in Penn Quarter is a good, quiet spot in the evening, with affordable and varied fare.

  • The smartest thing I did with my girlfriend was not go straight to a bar or restaurant on our first date. Instead we went to an art show at the Fridge off 8th Street, SE. The conversation flowed much better because we weren’t sitting across a table interrogating each other. We went to get drinks after, but by then we’d at least hacked our way through some of the awkwardness of a first date.

  • Maybe I have absolutely no class but sometimes I like something really casual like LGL or the Red Derby. Cheap beers can break the ice; the romance can wait until the 2nd date.

    I also think Etete, Room 11, Dodge City, ChurchKey, Bar Pilar are good options.

    Dickson is not so good because you can end up splitting a table with strangers. This happened to me once; we picked up and went to Solly’s.

  • Wow, what a catch you are.

    But to be constructive, if you’re looking for a way to score a second date/get in someone’s pants without spending anything, try a gallery opening or a free film screening or lecture (there are lots of options at local museums).

    Or, you could try narrowing the field a bit, taking people out that you have talked to a few times and actually like, rather than acting like a tightwad who feels he’s owed something in return for *asking* someone out on a date. If you (man or woman) ask, you should pay.

  • Liberty Tree was the first place that popped into my mind! Your other recommendations are great, too!

  • Ugh, that was supposed to be a response to Ragged Dog.

  • Rosecroft Raceway.

  • If you absolutely must do dinner for the first date:

    cozy/intimate: Thai X-ing (only one table in the “restaurant” – doesn’t get much more cozy than that)

    I understand you want something quiet and intimate to get to know your date better, but “fun” dates can be just as successful. If you want something fun and relaxing, try H Street Country Club, a Nationals game, or a live band.

    Or look for “summer date” options like these:

    Try asking her what she likes to do. You might be surprsied.

  • Another very different option if you’re feeling adventurous:
    get crabs at the waterfront! You can take them somewhere secluded. Eating them is definitely messy, but I’ve found that can actually help overcome some of the first date awkwardness.

  • Has anyone tried out Darnell’s near 9:30 Club? Walked by the other night, had never even noticed it, really hidden away, but looked awesome, fantastic outdoor space …

  • I have to say that a first date-dinner date has a high failure ratio. I second the “activity” date idea. Unless you both are in sales or hit it off immediately, it’s hard to pull off 2hours of interesting conversation with a total stranger. It’s much easier if there’s an activity that you can participate in while you’re getting to know each other (art, sports, hikes, etc.)

    I always had a plan B and a plan for something to do after I.e. a dessert location, or a low key bar. A change of scenery is good after the meal and it gives you the option of extending a good date.

  • Iron Gate Inn

  • Matchbox is great for a first date. It has a good atmosphere and it’s not too expensive.

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