5 cool and affordable date spots in DC

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series that explores modern dating in the District from WTOP’s Rob Woodfork. Catch up and read the first article on dating apps.


If last week’s advice helped, and you found someone you’d like to get to know better before entering the “Netflix and chill” phase, this week’s column is for you.

A guy can spend more than $170 on a first date, according to a 2015 survey from a date-auction site. For most people of a certain tax bracket (regardless of gender or agreements on how the tab will be paid), that’s a helluva lot to spend in this early and sensitive stage of the dating process.

So for those of us who can’t afford to go “two and through” too many times (that’s my cute way of labeling a relationship that lasts just two dates), I’ve assembled a list of five local places where you won’t have to sell your car (or a kidney) to enjoy a few hours with that special someone.

My criteria for this list is simple: I don’t like to wait, I don’t like to be elbow-to-elbow with strangers and I don’t like feeling like I’ve overpaid. What I do like is unique ambiance (i.e. not a chain restaurant), the option to sit outside when the weather is nice and a noise level that doesn’t drown out conversation.

Without further ado, here’s a list of great D.C. date spots, in no particular order:

Dirty Habit Part of the charm of Dirty Habit is you probably wouldn’t notice it unless you were actually looking for it. Tucked away behind a gate on 8th Street NW (behind Hotel Monaco), you’ll walk through a trendy outdoor patio and enter a perfectly lit, modern lounge area. Personally, I’d view this as more of a third date option, rather than a first. The food is reasonably priced and cocktails run around $13, but limited options are on special for $8 during happy hour. That said, I tried the Rude Bwoy (my Caribbean blood demanded it) and I wasn’t the least bit sorry. (WTOP/Rob Woodfork) (Rob Woodfork/WTOP)
Black Jack My idea of a great date is having a fun outing that feels more like hanging out with a new friend, rather than being on a romantic job interview. I’ve found that Black Jack is a great place to achieve that balancing act. Two words describe why I like this watering hole on 14th Street, just north of Logan Circle: bocce ball. If you’re getting the alcoholic juices flowing, might as well get the competitive ones going too. As a sports guy, I like to know if my date is, you know, a good sport. Plus, it’s just a really cool and creative way to get to know someone without simply sitting on a bar stool. In addition to quintessential bar foods such as pizza, nachos and burgers, Black Jack has reasonably priced mussels and po’boys. I totally appreciate the latter since one of my favorite date spots in town (Bayou) recently closed. Drinks are priced where you’d expect; cocktails are $12 and beers max out at $8. (WTOP/Rob Woodfork) (Rob Woodfork/WTOP)
Iron Gate
You may recall Iron Gate made Rachel Nania’s list of the 10 most romantic restaurants in D.C. I can confirm this Mediterranean spot on N Street NW near Dupont Circle deserves to be on there. Much like Dirty Habit, Iron Gate is probably best suited for dates later in the relationship. It’s also easy to miss if you’re not actively searching for it. Iron Gate has a modern and open layout indoors, and a rustic outdoor courtyard so popular, you have to make a reservation to ensure a shot at enjoying it. No matter where you sit, the ambiance is perfect for date night and the food is good, but “ballers on a budget” shouldn’t go there hungry. The most cost-friendly options are small plates, so sharing a couple of them with your date is the most affordable route. (WTOP/Rob Woodfork)
(Rob Woodfork/WTOP)
Co Co. Sala If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to a woman’s involves chocolate. This cool lounge on F Street NW near Chinatown has happy hour prices every bit as sweet as the treats it serves. Since you’re basically there for dessert, Co Co. Sala offers three-course and five-course dessert experiences — plus the cocktails are more like alcoholic desserts. I can personally testify that Fetish — the strawberry/chocolate fusion cocktail — is so delicious, it’s worth the risk of the diabetes and/or liver damage that’s sure to come from drinking this all day, every day. For small bites, I recommend the lamb meatball lollies. (WTOP/Rob Woodfork) (Rob Woodfork/WTOP)
St. Arnold’s Mussel Bar
I know the Cleveland Park restaurant scene is struggling, but this spot seems to be doing just fine. St. Arnold’s sits right on the southeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Ordway Street in Northwest, and remains one of the best outdoor spots on the block. If you’re meeting someone for a light bite and some drinks, it’s hard to do better than mussels and wine — especially on Mondays when you can get half-off selected half-liter specialty beer and Tuesdays when you can get a bottle of wine for half-price as part of their all-day happy hour specials. Sitting topside on a nice evening means the side doors open so you can enjoy your treats alfresco. (WTOP/Rob Woodfork)
(Rob Woodfork/WTOP)
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