20-something guys in NYC have it rough. Unless their first name precedes "Kennedy" or "Rockefeller," or they have "trust fund" stamped to their foreheads, this city makes it difficult for little fishes to impress the ladies swimming around this big island. Can't afford the food at Le Cirque? Too underwhelming to get a reservation at Minetta Tavern? Give yourself some time, you've got years to make your mark in this town. Until then, here's a couple of no frills date night suggestions...
Bridge Cafe. 279 Water Street. A hidden gem tucked under the Manhattan edge of the Brooklyn Bridge, this little 20 table cafe has excellent ambiance and delicious food. Housed in the oldest wooden building still standing in New York, the semi-hidden nature of the Bridge Cafe keeps it low-key, and an excellent date spot. Be sure to say hi to Joe, the executive chef.
Turks & Frogs. 458 Greenwich Street. Beyond having an excellent name, this Grecco-Turkish delight has a diverse menu and an impressively extensive wine list. The dark red walls, low lighting, and formal wood dining tables insure that any date will be impressed. It doesn't hurt that the food is simply sublime. As one friend put it, "this seems like a wonderful place to go when one does not want to be found out."
Angel's Share. 8 Stuyvesant Street. Truly a hidden spot, Angel's Share is an elegant drink parlor tucked away inside a Japanese restaurant. There won't be many people inside, as they are rather draconian about enforcing number limits (no groups larger than four). The cocktails are to die for, if a little on the pricey side, but then again, you're not on a date to get loaded, are you?
Le Gigot. 18 Cornelia Street. Le Gigot is, arguably, the perfect date spot. It's a little veritable slice of Paris in the West Village, with cozy tables, and a pleasing proprietress with generous wine pours. I recommend sharing the remarkable chocolate cake at the end of a meal.
Barrio Chino. 253 Broome Street. Delicious Mexican food can be difficult to find in New York, so impress your date when you deliver her to this Mexican place in the Lower East Side. Barrio Chino has excellent Habanero Grapefruit margaritas (especially if Irene's behind the bar), and their enchiladas are killer.
Raoul's Restaurant. 180 Prince Street. When on the search for the old soul of SoHo, Raoul's might be the only place to go. Aim for a table in the garden section, get the Foie Gras, and if you're lucky, the tarot lady will be going around, and you can get a quick reading at the end of your meal and check out your future with your date.
Lil' Frankies. 19 1st Avenue. Lil' Frankies has a warm homey feel, and serves Italian food that makes me wish my mother was Italian. The decor is soothing, and compliments the feeling of being at someone's home. The classic pizza margherita is wafer thin and crispy, but the real highlight of Lil' Frankies is the pillowy soft Gnocchi.
Boqueria. 52 W 19th Street. Boqueria is a tapas place featuring a menu full of their unique creations, and tapas are an excellent way to start off a date, as nothing brings you closer than sharing your food. The ambiance is rather dramatic, but it fits the food. Dim lit with the buzz of sangria glasses being emptied. Whatever you do, save room for dessert. The Churros Con Chocolate cannot be missed.
Wine and Roses. 286 Columbus Avenue. Quite possibly the cutest wine bar in the city, Wine and Roses lives up to it's name admirably. With roses on every table and an impressively long list of premium wines, there is also an abundance of romantic ambiance that magically blends coziness with sophistication. I highly recommend their panninis, with a soft spot for their champagne mustard.
Mé Bar. 17 W 32nd Street. Right under the Empire State Building lording over Korea Town is hidden the roof top Me Bar. Strangely situated in the La Quinta hotel, the views from the Me Bar are not easily beaten. The bar is a calm cozy oasis in the madness that can swirl around midtown. There's indoor and outdoor seating, making it great year round, just watch out as there's only a single unisex bathroom for the whole bar.
Kuma Inn. 113 Ludlow Street. Kuma Inn's spartan decor might leave something to be desired, but its top-tier Chinese tapas more than make up for it. Rabid foodies constantly praise this place, which has resulted in a constantly packed (and very small) house, so call ahead. If you're stuck with a wait, head downstairs to the raucous Mehenata Bulgarian Bar. You can afford to buy some drinks here, since Kuma Inn is BYO.
Flea Market Cafe. 131 Avenue A. Across the street from Tompkins Square Park, with dimly lit walls lined with antique bric-a-brac, Flea Market Cafe is perfect for bohemians whose wallets haven't yet caught up with their creative ambition. Even more enticing are the French bistro's almost too-good-to-be-true weekly deals: a complimentary bottle of wine for parties of four on Mondays, unlimited moules frites (with a beer or wine) for $18.50 on Tuesdays and daily "sunset menus" from 5-7pm where 3 courses and 1 drinks can be had for $17.
Mama's Food Shop. 200 E. 3rd Street. This East Village staple is about as cheap and unpretentious as it gets. Load up on comfort food like meatloaf, fried chicken and tilapia, all of which come with a side (including mashed potatoes and mac n' cheese) for $12. Save room for desserts like banana cream pie and seasonal cobblers. With these prices and a BYO policy you can afford it, even if your stomach can't.
Essex. 120 Essex Street. If things went really well on the big night, you'll be able to whisk your date to Essex's industrial digs for brunch the next morning. For $18, you'll not only get a great meal but, in a return to what got you lucky in the first place, three magnificently stiff drinks. Afternoon delight, anyone?
Shopsins. 120 Essex Street. Head here if you want to impress a date with some no-nonsense New York City attitude. Legendarily cantankerous owner Kenny Shopsin will kick you to the curb for looking at him funny (or, God help you, requesting substitutions). But even though Kenny is straight out of central casting. he hasn't scared off the actual Hollywood set: famous waif Natalie Portman recently brought a date here to sample Shopsins' novella-length menu.
This post was a joint effort by GofG's William Gray and Eric Ugland. Main photo via NYMag.