First dates: when anxiety and exhilaration robustly collide in a public setting. But you can squash those forthcoming heart palpitations by easing into the night with a stress-free cocktail selection. Bartenders from around the country shared 11 picks for distinctive first-date-approved libations. Plot your rendezvous at one of these atmospheric joints, and you might just get lucky.
Ordering with confidence, says GreenRiver’s head bartender Julia Momose, is one way of highlighting strong respect-inducing convictions. “Know what you want to drink and stay true to it,” she says. For those who covet the timeless Old Fashioned, she recommends this boozy, herbal riff, made with Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony whisky, Yellow Chartreuse, Zucca amaro, mimosa flower syrup and grapefruit expression garnish: “It’s served on a hand-chipped sphere of ice and is perfect for getting the evening started.”
(image: Kailley Lindman)
This is one seductive mix of liquids: rye whiskey, amontillado sherry, Royal Combier Grande liqueur and calamus bitters. Because of its witty name, springing for this drink while actually in the midst of an inaugural romp unleashes a bit of welcome humor. “When we drop it off to a table, we ask, ‘On a date?’ They say, ‘Yes, we are,’” says Left Door partner Mick Perrigo. In the aftermath of the bartender’s presence, the nerve-racking scenario thankfully morphs into a low-pressure one.
“Drinks on a first date can be a great way to connect with someone and break the ice,” says Midnight Rambler proprietor Chad Solomon. But, he warns, “if you get too cranked up, the date can go sideways, which isn’t a good look.” Instead, he suggests a visually striking, banter-provoking concoction like his own 1000w Thumper, made with Tanqueray gin, fresh lime, mineral simple syrup, watermelon juice, Angostura bitters, mineral saline, electric matcha and a watermelon spear garnish—“not overly strong to allow for sustainable, coherent conversation.”
When Natalie Jacob makes one of her tall, colorful Lincoln Park Swizzles at the Archer, guests “always stop and ask, ‘What’s that drink?’” she says. The refreshing and easy-on-the-eyes quaff, made with Laird’s white apple brandy, lime juice, cinnamon syrup, falernum, mint, and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, “will surely be one to remember” on any date.
(image: Natalie Jacob)
Pisco, according to Spoon and Stable beverage director Robb Jones, “has a very complex flavor and very humble roots.” Ordering this drink, featuring Macchu pisco and made with Licor 43, simple syrup, orange flower water, egg white, fresh lemon and pineapple juice, and flowers for garnish, “shows you're mildly cultured and know some stuff—that you appreciate uniqueness and humility and you're grounded and don't just go for the flashy billboard spirits or hot new thing,” according to Jones.
Ernest Hemingway loved guzzling his tart double-the-rum Daiquiris. At Prohibition Taproom, manager Melissa Coloma swaps out the sweet maraschino liqueur that’s become a hallmark of the Hemingway Daiquiri for floral St-Germain liqueur, added to the rum, grapefruit and lime juice, and a twist of lime for garnish. “Who doesn’t love Hemingway, a famous writer, fierce drinker and tireless lover with a tragic end? After ordering his namesake drink, there are so many ways to parlay it into any conversation you desire,” says. A suitor who can intelligently discuss the nuances of The Sun Also Rises may just be worthy of a second outing.
Someone who seeks out this caffeinated version of the Americano knows exactly what they want: a bracing, bitter Negroni-esque tipple that reveals to their new companion they have an adventurous palate. But Compère Lapin’s head bartender Abigail Gullo has a more practical reason for considering it a first-date savior: It’s low in alcohol and caffeinated—made with cold-brew coffee, Campari, sweet vermouth, a pinch of salt and an orange wheel for garnish. “What better way to keep you awake if your date is boring,” she says, or “keep your wits about you if he or she is predatory.”
Invented by The Violet Hour co-founder Toby Maloney, the Juliet & Romeo, made with Beefeater gin, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, rosewater, Angostura bitters, cucumber slices, a pinch of salt and a mint sprig for garnish, is “refreshing, crisp and sure to delight everyone involved,” according to manager Benjamin Smith. While “it’s bright and clean and just the thing to get romantic while looking classy,” he says, don’t fret. He promises there’s “a solid helping of gin in there to buff the edges off” those inevitable jitters.
(image: Cassandra Stadnicki)
The ÉPICE, says Le Boudoir beverage director Franky Marshall, “is a good indicator of where the relationship will go.” Parties can playfully plunge into couples territory by both choosing this cocktail with different spirits—whether brandy, gin, mezcal, tequila or vodka—and made with cantaloupe-jalapeño syrup, Green Chartreuse, celery bitters, lime juice and a dehydrated jalapeño for garnish. “Yay, you like the same things, but you’re your own person,” she says. “Taste each others’—sharing is key on a first date. If they don't want to share, lose ’em, then discuss why you like your version best. Being able to justify your decisions will come in handy if you go into relationship mode. After having one ÉPICE apiece, your dating future will be decided.”
Beverage director Melissa Pinkerton observes many first dates unfolding at The Betty. She believes the alluringly interactive Club Service section of the menu is propelling the bar’s popularity for such trysts because “these setups will always be able to give you some insight into who you are on a date with,” she says. For instance, The Betty Old Fashioned—made with WhistlePig 10-year-old rye, maple syrup, Angostura bitters and a lemon, orange coin and luxardo cherry garnish—comes prepared in a mini bottle, accompanied by ice, bitters and a DIY dropper of the maple syrup. “If he drinks the Old Fashioned as it's classically prepared, I would be able to tell if he's simplistic. If he adds a little more maple, he might like sweeter options—or he's from Vermont,” she says. “Adding more bitters would be impressive to me. I like someone who wants to spice things up.”
(image: Ranson Photography)
“Ignore those tales about cardamom heating up the libido for a sec,” says Bellota bar manager Collin Nicholas. His reason for gravitating toward the Tierra Verde—made with cardamom, vodka, lime, bay leaf, falernum, sherry and cucumber—on date No. 1 is far tamer. “It's elegant, cheerful and just the kind of optimism in a glass you want for a promising night out,” he says. That aforementioned jolt of spice, of course, can only help amplify the stirring of sparks.
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