A classic first date move is to invite someone out for noncommittal happy hour drinks with an unspoken dinner plan on the back burner if things are going well. Setting the expectation at drinks only keeps the pressure low and allows you the opportunity to politely bow out early with an entire night ahead of you if he keeps talking about his ex-girlfriend or she has 13 cats at home (or vice versa). But if it seems like both parties are having a good time and you’re not quite ready to part ways, tossing out an impromptu dinner invite can extend your evening and test your date’s spontaneity.
A little prep work behind the scenes of your effortless spontaneity never hurt anybody. So I’ve pulled together 3-part date plans by neighborhood to take you from evening drinks to a late-night adventure.
[Updated March 7, 2017]
Drinks: Start with drinks at Twenty Two. This combo wine bar and art gallery is one of my favorite spots in town. If you can elbow your way to a bar seat upstairs at Soul, that’s also a great option for cocktails, but if they’re slammed (as they usually are) you’re better off downstairs where you can have a conversation and figure out if you’re going to dinner with this person. If he or she can’t get over the fact that there’s no liquor at this particular bar, maybe just eat dinner on your own.
Dinner: If the answer is yes to dinner, you can class it up at Bistro La Bon or keep it casual at any of the many pizza joints on Central Avenue’s Pizza Mile, including Intermezzo, Pizza Peel and Pure Pizza. I am very pro pizza on a first date (or any date).
Shut it down: If you’re still having fun after dinner, you’ve probably made a connection and now you need to see if this person can house late-night snacks like a champ. For primo snack selection and people watching, head straight to Common Market. This is where my 3-part first date with my husband ended almost 3 years ago. Not a late-night snacker? (Who are you?) Go play patio games at Thomas Street Tavern.
Drinks: Since Montford’s bar scene is always popping after work, I like the idea of starting with drinks a little off the beaten path at Rock Salt. Located across the street in the back lot at Park Road Shopping Center, this oyster bar is often overlooked as a cocktail destination so it’s usually pretty quiet pre-dinner.
Dinner: If you decide to progress to dinner, Good Food is a no-fail destination as it’s consistently listed among the best restaurants in town. It can also be tough to get in without a wait so plan for this. If you didn’t think that far ahead, Luisa’s is a good casual pizza backup.
Shut it down: Since we’re on a date, let’s steer clear of loud party spots like Southside and Jeff’s and opt instead for some first date-friendly entertainment at 10 Park Lanes. Depending on the night of the week, it could be tricky to get a bowling lane without a reservation, but there’s always shuffleboard and the arcade. Fumbling through games no one is any good at is the perfect way to bond.
Dinner: Heist. While most breweries rely on food trucks for dinner service, Heist runs its own killer kitchen operation. Eat everything. And if you find at this stop on your adventure that this date should be over, you can always drown your sorrows in a giant slice of Benny Pennello’s pizza next door. I won’t tell anyone.
Shut it down: But if sparks are flying, find your way to Amelie’s. Predictable as it may seem, popping in to everybody’s favorite 24-hour cafe for a late-night dessert is a surprisingly refreshing change of pace in today’s bar-heavy dating scene. Plus, if you end up falling in love (as is possible after this stellar date night), this will become “your place” and you can eventually make it official with your very own padlock on the Love Lock wall out front. Aw.
Drinks: The indisputable best cocktails in Charlotte are found at The Summit Room. The cocktails are so good it doesn’t even matter if your date progresses any further.
Dinner: But if it does, you should go eat at Kabob Grill. This is a small, casual restaurant next to Harris Teeter, which is precisely my speed for a first date. And while I find Mediterranean cuisine to be readily available and approachable to most people, your date might consider it an “exotic” stretch from his or her usual food routine. This is a good thing. Trying new things on a first date is a good way to break down walls and get people at their most authentic. If it turns out your date is unbearable at his most authentic, grab some baklava to go and head home.
Shut it down: If things are still going well, head next door to the new Foxcroft wine bar to linger over a glass of wine and their famous doughnuts. This is my ideal night out so hopefully my boyfriend is reading.
Drinks: Customshop has a chill, mature vibe and an impressive craft cocktail menu, which is a solid way to kick off or end your night if you ask me. If you fail to proceed past this point, seek comfort in the bread pudding. It’ll be fine.
Dinner: Assuming drinks went well, you’ve moved on to a tough dinner choice on this block. Flip a coin for Carpe Diem or Passion 8 because they’re both solid date spots. If you want something more casual and it’s a weekday before 8 p.m., hit up the food counter at Earl’s Grocery.
Shut it down: This is definitely the tamest “shut it down” option but it’s a winner. Go get ice cream at Elizabeth Creamery and eat it on a free ride on the trolley. Yeah, act like that’s not adorable.