A good first date is a lot like a movie trailer: it ought to be short, exciting, and should leave you both wanting more. As a bartender, I’ve helped facilitate hundreds of first dates, and I’ve seen it all — the good, the bad, and the deeply awkward. While asking someone out for a drink can be a perfect way to stage your initial attempt at romance with that new hottie who's caught your eye, there are pitfalls galore that you need to avoid. Following are some cardinal do's and don'ts to keep in mind when choosing the best venue for your amorous opening gambit.
DO: Choose a bar that isn’t too fancy, but isn't too dive-y. You want a place where you can wear jeans, but maybe not shorts. If you go too fancy, you’ll end up looking like you're trying too hard to impress, putting an extra level of pressure on the date that you just don't need. Go too far in the other direction, though, and your night may end in a bar fight with a drunk construction worker on disability instead of a smooch from your new paramour.
DON'T: Go to a chain restaurant. Ever, really, but especially not on a first date. Outback, Friday's, and Chili's all have their place on our dining cards — for me, it's usually when I’m stranded in a hotel along the interstate somewhere — but they should never be an option when trying to woo someone, no matter how much of a soft spot you have for frozen daiquiris and jalapeño poppers.
DO: Select a bar with good lighting. Everyone looks better in low, warm, incandescent light. That includes you and your pretty mug. If there are fluorescents buzzing overhead, no matter how nicely you're dressed or how good your makeup is, you'll both look washed out and drawn. Further, some studies show that institutional fluorescent lights may actually have an effect on your mood, making you tired, anxious, or even sick to your stomach. You've got enough hurdles to overcome on a first date without introducing an easily avoidable mogul in your way.
DON'T: Take your date to your usual hangout. It’s cool if you know the bartender where you do end up going — in fact, it may be a plus to have an ally behind the bar — but you don't want to walk in and have everyone there shout, “NORM!” It’s difficult to have an intimate conversation with a new friend when all the barflies you know are coming up and reminding you of that crazy time you got wasted and did a striptease during karaoke — last Wednesday. That place is yours and yours alone, and should stay that way until you get to know your date better.
DO: Choose a bar with decent music and a good crowd, but isn’t too loud or too mobbed. While you may think seeing that Styx cover band in a venue that fits hundreds sounds like fun, it’s not appropriate for a first date. You want to feel comfortable in a room where others are enjoying themselves, and you want to be able to hear each other. Your attention should be on your date, and not on shouting your order to an overworked bartender dealing with customers three deep at her bar.
DON'T: Go to a bar where they allow smoking. If you happen to live in the rare city where smoking is still allowed inside bars, avoid them at all costs, even if both of you are smokers. You'll stink so badly of cigarettes, you'll even offend yourself. In my experience, those last bastions of smoking bars in the U.S. tend to be on the lower-rent side of things. Remember: you're trying to impress this potential love connection. If you do smoke, it's not the worst thing to go outside for a little alone time together. If things are going well, this may be the perfect opportunity to steal a kiss.
DO: Pick a bar where some manner food is served. While a nice glass of wine or a cocktail provides a necessary hit of social lubrication to grease those moments where the jitters threaten to derail your attempts at suavity, a few handy nibbles will give you something to do with your nervous hands.