After a long shift behind the bar, crafting a cocktail recipe, or hosting a wine-focused TV show, food and beverage pros still head out on the town with their dates. The only difference between them and us plebs is they know exactly where to go to impress, or cuddle up somewhere dark, cozy, and off the beaten path, or sip some serious scotch. Seven experts share their favorite bars — but you can act like you discovered them yourself.
The Morgan Library
Rosie Schaap, former drink columnist for The New York Times Magazine and author of the memoir “Drinking with Men” still spends time tending bar. When it comes to drinking, Schaap knows her stuff. Her “favorite date spot, bar none, is the Morgan Library, especially on Friday nights, when it stays open late, admission is free, and there’s live music — often a jazz trio, and always good.” Architect Renzo Piano’s beautiful, airy atrium is a fun, pretty place for a first date, and there’s a lovely menu of small plates, wine, and cocktails.
Black Mountain Wine House
But on chilly afternoons and evenings, Schaap heads to Brooklyn’s Black Mountain Wine House, which “is also deeply inviting — especially if you can grab a table near the fireplace.” Its intimate warmth promotes comfort and relaxation, “and the absence of hard liquor helps ensure that no one gets so tipsy that they wonder later if they said anything appalling.”
It just takes a few minutes of browsing Aaron Foster’s cheese and butcher shop Foster Sundry in Bushwick to realize this guy has exceedingly good taste, so I’d listen up to his bar wisdom. “TBH I don’t hang out in Manhattan very often; but I do make time at least once a year for the bar at Keen’s,” Foster says. Keen’s Steakhouse has been around practically forever — 1885, to be precise. Their mutton chop is the stuff of legend, well worth ordering over the merely adequate steak, and the ceiling is lined with thousands of smoking pipes from patrons of yore. It’s certainly an old-school NYC spot sure to impress.
“But it’s the scotch bar on the first floor that really thrills,” Foster points out. “Sure, they have other booze, but when in Rome, right? Drams run from $12 to the price of a Greenpoint sublet. The bartenders are gruff but knowledgeable and can point you in the right direction. Smoky, sweet, iodine, camphor…or go for dealer’s choice (remember to set a budget!). I love to go with a date, pick two, and share. You can order the mutton chop to the bar too if things are clicking.”
Food and beverage public relations guru Helen Baldus met her boyfriend at Ditmas Park’s Bar Chord listening to a New Orleans band, and the spot remains one of the couple’s favorite date destinations. They love the live music seven days a week, spacious backyard and “better-than-average wines by the glass, in addition to a great beer list and full bar.” Drinks are reasonably priced, and the vibe is laid-back without being dive-y. Plus, the staff is friendly and there’s always an interesting crowd.
David Phillips, a sales representative for spirits and wine importer Haus Alpenz, spends his work days in the heart of the fancy craft cocktail world. So, when it comes time to wind down, he heads to the low-key Clandestino, where “it’s a pleasure to get away from the scene and just enjoy a couple drinks and the company of someone new,” explains Phillips. “Like its name implies, Clandestino is an out of the way — Lower East Side meets Chinatown — neighborhood bar that has the perfect vibe for a first date.” There’s a long bar, and plenty of tables for two, a thoughtful beer list, and delicious cocktails. The music is loud enough, but not too loud that you can’t hear each other banter.
Death & Company
Mindy Fox put in time on the staff of Saveur before leaving to do her own thing, like contribute to Food & Wine and author cookbooks including A Bird in the Oven and then Some and Salads: Beyond the Bowl. Fox heads to Death & Company for dates “because the cocktails are incredible and the dark, low-lit space is glow-y and fun. And the East Village still feels off the beaten path,” says Fox. The speakeasy is tucked away without much signage; it’s a little bit of a hide-out, and you’ll look in the know when you know exactly where to go. Plus, the drinks are killer. Try an Oaxaca old-fashioned, a smoky concoction of reposado tequila, mescal, and agave nectar, finished with a flamed orange twist.
If you’re lucky enough to eat at Gramercy Tavern, ask for captain Allen Stafford. He’s a hospitality guru, a fancy food genius, and a warm, hilarious guy. After hours, Stafford’s date bar of choice is Dante in the West Village. The spot is the revamped version 100-year-old Caffe Dante, with comfy green-leather banquettes and a classy vintage feel. Stafford is “excited by the skill and attention to detail in the space, the drinks, and even the bar snacks,” he says. “If I’m there on a date with someone who isn’t into it, I am done with him.”
If you fantasize of spending your days pairing fine wines with gorgeous food, Carole Mac has your dream job. She’s the creator and host of “Follow that Somm” on Wine4Food.com, where she picks out perfect wines with esteemed sommeliers on camera. Her favorite speakeasy for a date is Raines Law Room for its velvet-lined romantic vibe, craft cocktails, and “etched-in-my-brain memory of a date past,” Mac reminisces.
“Not only did my exotic, chiseled, and much younger date and I get reprimanded for getting too friendly on those semi-private couches, he legitimately tried to skip the bill. If you’re wondering how the story ends, I called the Raines Law Room immediately with my credit card number but continued to date him all summer.” Your experience most likely will differ. Couches are semi-private, with a doorbell to ring your server. But if you get too friendly, expect to be reprimanded.