The emotionally stunted malcontents here at City Pages may be unable to sustain “meaningful adult relationships,” but that doesn’t just give us something to unpack with our therapists! It also means that, collectively, we’ve been on hundreds of first dates.
We’re the Scorceses of small talk. The Fitzgeralds of first impressions. (The Beatles of blowing it after three months.) By now, when it comes to first dates, we know exactly how to plan an at-least semi-successful one. An outing that isn’t garbage, even if it turns out your Tinder match is, and that won’t drain your bank account for some stranger who swiped right. And because we care about you, we’ve decided to share our hard-earned wisdom.
Outdoor cat or indoor cat, marathon runner or movie marathoner, there’s a not-totally awful first-date idea in here for you.
Good luck out there.
1. Books, beers, and pizza are objectively good things—catch a reading at Moon Palace and enjoy all three at once.
2. It’s baby raptor season, and is anything more erotic than squawking balls of lint that could rip your eyes out? Head to the U of M Raptor Center and watch their big siblings—who have wingspans longer than you are tall—as they tear apart their lunch. Nothing brings two souls together like a good nature-humbling.
3. Admire the probably-out-of-your-price-range furniture at Golden Age Design or Covet Consign or Findfurnish as you dream up a whole fake future together. Like the IKEA scene in 500 Days of Summer, but not insufferable.
4. Drink Miller High Lifes (Millers High Life?) and play Big Buck Hunter at the CC Club.
5. Sneak into a speakeasy like Volstead’s Emporium, Marvel Bar, Al’s Place, or the Back Bar at Young Joni—recently named one of Esquire’s Best Bars in America. Just do your recon first, because while being in the know about a semi-secret watering hole looks cool, fumbling around for the hidden entrance does not.
6. Enjoy a high-in-the-sky view of downtown Minneapolis as you and your date navigate the 10 whimsical, artist-designed holes of the Walker’s rooftop mini-golf course. If all goes well, the 10th hole might not be the last time you sink a putt that night.
7. It’s a mere five bucks per berm ticket to a St. Paul Saints game, leaving you with lots of leftover cash to spend at the nearby Craft Beer Corner. Keep an eye out for fly balls and Bill Murray.
8. A first date at BJ’s Liquor Lounge—no, seriously, trust us—is a ton of topless fun. One caveat: You’ve gotta get to this wonderfully divey strip club before the end of the year, when the joint’s adult entertainment license runs out. Bring someone sexy.
9. Wednesdays at the Cardinal Bar, Thursdays at Elsie’s, Fridays at Half Time Rec—pick the place you like best, and drop in for the weekly meat raffle. Winning means you’ve got your second date set: figuring out what to cook with a heaping pile of shrink-wrapped meat.
10. The half-mile trail winding beyond Minnehaha Falls down to the Mississippi is secluded enough that two people can get to know each other, but public enough that you can feel safe strolling with some rando you’ve never encountered IRL. Awaiting you at the end: sandstone caves where you can get cozy and a scenic rocky perch overlooking the river.
11. We dunno, there’s just something about seeing a person smack a ball with all their might that makes people totally horny. Chicks dig the long ball, Chevy Chase’s Caddyshack character can get it, and we’ve heard at least a few women have been into Tiger Woods. Head to Top Golf and swing away.
12. Wander the U of M’s Biological Sciences Greenhouse, where an industrial setting hides nine rooms covering the world’s biomes. Take in the swamp peppered with bald cyprus before meandering to the desert, where cacti grow from sand alongside a quaint little patio table someone left specifically for you.
13. In the summer, $3 scores you admission to late-night movies at Riverview, and another $3 gets you some popcorn to share. (Swing by an ATM first.) Catch masterpieces of yore like The Shining, Moulin Rouge!, and Jaws—because nothing says romance like watching a giant shark eat people.
14. The value of learning your date’s musical taste early on cannot be overstated, and at delightful neighborhood bar Bull’s Horn, that priceless info will cost you only a quarter per trio of tunes. After you take turns making selections from the well-curated jukebox (a gorgeous refurbished Wurlitzer Zodiac), you can move on to the pull tab booth and see how lucky the night is looking.
15. Actually, low-stakes bar gambling is a good way to get to know a new person pretty much anywhere. We’re partial to poppin’ rippies at the 1029 in Nordeast or Dark Horse in Lowertown, where you can also sip fine scotch while you tear away.
16. The downside to a Comedy Corner Underground show is you won’t be the funniest or most charming person in the room. The upside is you’ll get a read on your date’s sense of humor, and learn what their real laugh sounds like.
17. With ever-rotating decor and a drink list that shifts to match the theme—summer camp in the sunny months, spooky shit in October, Santa stuff during the holidays—Lawless is one of the most amusing cocktail rooms around. Come on a Tuesday to catch the guest bartender series, when there’s always Mucci’s frozen pizza and you might meet a pro-wrestling frog.
18. Commandeer the TouchTunes and split a Heggies at the CC Club.
19. Can your date navigate public transportation? Are they good in a crowd of strangers? Do they know where to get and/or be drunk in St. Paul? Find out all that and more by swishing up and down University Avenue on a Light Rail bar crawl.
20. Every Monday from 6 p.m. to midnight, Bryant-Lake Bowl offers a special for lovebirds. For $28 total, you’ll both get an entree, two tap beers each (or a bottle of wine to share), and a round of bowling. If you can figure out how to hand-score the game together, you two can get through anything.
21. The Lyndale Park Rose Garden is hella stacked—home to 3,000 plants in 100 varieties—though it’s best to go when things are in bloom or you’ll be looking at thorny bushes. If that happens, simply reroute to the always lovely Peace Garden, stop by the giant fountain, and try to spot a butterfly in the perennial garden, all mere steps away.
22. You’ve probably both wondered about the basement aquarium at the Mall of America. Why not check it off your bucket list together?
23. Raunchy dancing, bawdy jokes, pop songs, cleavage... a drag show at LUSH has it all. Consider trying out a brunch-time date and show. If things go well, adjourn to the spacious bar next door. (Though you may not need to, after downing the legitimately bottomless mimosas.)
24. House of Balls, the West Bank’s resident wonder emporium, is a magical place that’ll teach you to see a little differently. You may find a bikeable polar bear, a plasma-cut throne hewn from old pipes and a tea service, or silly hats. Bring your most boring Tinder match and fix it, fast.
25. On weekends, Surdyk’s typically offers a variety of samples throughout the store. Break the ice by snacking and getting a little buzzed, then pick out some wine and cheese and stroll south for a picnic near the river.
26. The Walker’s Free Thursday Nights and Mia’s Third Thursdays welcome you to explore the galleries, drink from cash bars, and listen to live music. If you love art, you’ll have a lot to talk about as you make your way through the galleries. If you hate art, you’ll have plenty to talk about, too.
27. Bike to the Martin Olav Sabo and crack a few bridge brews together. (Should anyone ask, we didn’t send you.)
28. Theater Latte Da in Northeast is surrounded by promising restaurants for an early dinner—Northeast Social, Erte, Young Joni—and bars for post-show discussion of which actress stole the show and which actor was hottest.
29. Or catch a Mixed Blood Theatre production, where part of their commitment to “Radical Hospitality” means there’s almost always free entry to the super-cool firehouse-turned-arts-space in Cedar-Riverside.
30. Shoot pool and down a pitcher at the CC Club.
31. At a Timberwolves game, you might spend all night muttering to yourself about “Jimmy fucking Butler.” That’s not fun. What is fun is watching the Lynx—Minnesota’s most successful franchise—kick ass, which they nearly always do. High five your way to booty.
32. There’s no better way to get over whatever self-conscious first-date jitters you might have than screaming like a demented idiot in a movie theater. You can do precisely that at Scream It Off Screen, the recurring short-film competition held at the newly refurbished Parkway in south Minneapolis. Three minutes into each selection, you get to holler at the top of your lungs for them to shut it off or to let it play.
33. Is love in the cards? Take turns getting a Tarot reading at Eye of Horus for a little insight into your future. Or lack thereof.
34. Hit up the Hexagon on a Saturday night for free admission, cheap beer, and loud bands. Sharing butts and downing Hamm’s outside between sets gives you plenty of time to see if there’s a connection.
35. Elsewhere in free admission, cheap beer, and loud bands, there’s the 331 Club in Northeast, where there’s never a cover and always something cool going on.
36. Catch Cornbread Harris performing literally anywhere. The 92-year-old piano man has spent a lifetime seducing the keys into making pretty sounds. Looking for a chance to reach for your date’s hand? He’ll give you plenty.
37. A round of lawn bowling makes for a great double date. Form two teams of two, and take to Brit’s grassy lawn. This is a game that’s easy to play while inebriated, and as a bonus, Brit’s skyline views are some of the best in Minneapolis.
38. For about a century up through the 1950s, St. Paul’s Swede Hollow Park was a crowded, plumbing- and electricity-free immigrant community. Now it’s a low-lying, underused urban oasis with a creek running through it. Non-history buffs can skip the lesson and soak in the quiet beauty. Continue your stroll past the neighborhood’s quaint gingerbread-house homes to the adorable Swede Hollow Cafe for coffee, or head for a beer at St. Paul Brewing in the adjacent historic Hamm’s building.
39. Yeah, we rolled our eyes at the whole axe-throwing trend too... until we tried it, and had to begrudgingly admit how satisfying it is to huck weapons at wooden targets. Invite a Babe and free your inner Bunyan at FlannelJax’s in St. Paul or Bad Axe in Northeast.
40. Eat fancy French food on the cheap with Grand Cafe’s $50 six-course Snack Attack; eat fancy new American food on the cheap with Tongue in Cheek’s $69 (nice) Get Some Lovin deal; eat fancy Italian food on the cheap with Broders’ Pasta Bar’s $45 late-night date special.
41. Pick a pinball spot based on your date’s personality. Up-Down, TILT, Mortimer’s, Sisyphus Brewing, Caffetto Coffee House, Can Can Wonderland, Eastlake Craft Brewery—all these spots (and then some) have cabinets to satisfy the Uptown bro/craft beer nerd/Powderhorn punk/actual pinball aficionado you’re meeting up with.
42. Hang out on the smoking patio at the CC Club.
43. You probably haven’t played Seven Minutes in Heaven as an adult. But if you wanted to, you could at the Local on Nicollet Mall, which has a “kissing booth” in the back of the bar for those looking to make out in a tiny room, in-public-but-not-in-public, behind the privacy of two swinging doors.
44. Bring a blanket to sit on, put some booze and snacks in a cooler, and hit up a free movie in the park. The shittier the flick, the more you’ll have to talk about while smacking away bugs.
45. Show off your Super Mario Bros. skills at Chatterbox Pub, where an old-school Nintendo (and a ton of other vintage games) awaits. Nostalgia is a hell of an aphrodisiac.
46. Scamper to the white sand beach along the Mississippi, where the only competition for an epic skyline view framed by the Franklin bridge comes from (technically unsanctioned) evening bonfires. Look for the trail peeling off West River Road a bit south of the train bridge, and be intrepid—and open to strangers joining you.
47. Try standup paddleboarding on Lake of the Isles. If you can get through the physical awkwardness and wobbling, there’s a lot of potential for laughter here.
48. Some people run screaming from karaoke. Some people also run from love. Grab life by the microphone at the Uptown VFW, where there’s karaoke every night of the week. If you bomb up there and your date still gives you a “whooooo!” at the end, you’ve got a keeper.
49. Your date has a good haircut, killer style, and a slammin’ body. But! Do they, like, know anything? Can they name songs? Seen any good movies? You can find out at any old trivia night, but you’ll have a more memorable time at Amsterdam Bar’s Sunday brunch trivia.
50. Avoid making eye contact with every other person you’ve ever been on a first date with at the CC Club.