Bartenders at popular Tinder date go-tos have seen countless romantic interactions transpire over the years, making them a surprisingly well-informed group to dole out dating advice.
We asked bartenders across the city to share a few tips for your next first date.
If you arrive first, order a drink — and be nice to the bar staff
“There are nights where every single person in here is on a date, whether it be the first, third or 10th,” says Lee Evans, bar manager of Cocktail Bar on Dundas St. W. “It makes me happy to see that people feel at home here. It’s a sign that we’re doing a good job.”
For those that arrive first for their Tinder date, Evans encourages them to order a drink while they’re waiting. “It makes you look comfortable,” he says. “You’re not tapping your feet waiting for the other person to arrive.”
An oft-forgotten but important part of a successful first date is to be nice to the people around you — especially the bar staff. He recalls the story of a man on a first date that repeatedly referred to Evans as “barkeep” in a mocking tone. “I think he thought that it was a funny running joke but I could see that his date did not necessarily appreciate that.” Evans claims that the man’s date abandoned him in the middle of the evening, leaving him with the bill.
You can make friends with water
As one of the more upscale spots around Church and Wellesley, Boutique Bar has hosted its fair share of first dates, says general manager Peter Bovolaneas. But many of the bar’s crafted concoctions pack a punch, which leads to his tip for preventing either party from devolving into a “hot mess” — “A piece of advice is: cocktail, water, cocktail, water,” Bovolaneas says. “Pace yourself. You don’t want to get wasted in front of the other person and lose any form of semblance.”
He recalls a time where one person ordered a couple shots for himself and his guest. But when his date politely declined, the nervous man took all three shots. “He was just soused.”
Get creative with your drink choice
Northwood’s vintage vibes and soft candle lighting make the Christie Pits hot spot a perennial first-date favourite. “We’ve had a number of couples happily let us know that their first date was at Northwood, and at least one couple say they got engaged after meeting here for the first time,” says bartender Emily Copeland.
She believes that the bar’s creative cocktail menu and extensive beer list makes it ideal for creative ordering. “Have fun choosing a drink to try,” Copeland says. She suggesting finding an interesting beer in a large bottle to share or sampling each other’s cocktails. “If it goes well, you’ll find some common ground.”
Don’t fight over the bill
Part of what makes Hitch a cosy east-end spot for first dates is its low lighting. “It’s especially dark when I’m working so I think that lends a level of intimacy,” says bartender Neil Rankin. “I basically keep it as low as it can be without the lights being off.”
For Rankin, he advises couples to avoid playing into outdated gender stereotypes. If either party offers to split or cover the bill, go with the flow. “I’ve had people wrench the bill from my hand before the other person can even look at it,” he says. “It just makes it awkward for everyone.”
Go where you feel comfortable — and have a friend at the bar
For laid-back first dates, AAA Bar’s graffiti-covered walls make the Old Toronto watering hole a great spot to gauge a potential partner’s casual demeanour. “If she tells you it’s a cool, divey bar and to dress casual, don’t show up in a Van Heusen dress shirt,” says AAA co-owner Racquel Youtzy.
Like Cocktail Bar’s Evans, Youtzy believes that befriending your bartender will yield positive results. “Get there early and make friends with the bartender or server,” she says. “They have your back either way and you can ask their opinion when your date goes to the bathroom.”
People that feel comfortable at her bar, or any bar, shouldn’t be afraid of returning to the same spot where they know the staff. “For serial daters, it’s fun to use the same bar for each date,” says Youtzy. “This way you always feel safe and have backup opinion at the ready.”
Feeling uncomfortable? Ask for help
A first date can be a fun and rewarding experience. But meeting up with a stranger can also lead to some awkward situations.
Some bars are coming up with discreet ways for patrons to seek help, if needed. Through signs in the ladies’ washrooms, a recent campaign in Lincolnshire, England alerts women that they can “Ask for Angela” at the bar for help getting out of an unsafe situation. A similar campaign has also started in a Florida bar advising women to order an “Angel Shot” when they need assistance.
While the campaign isn’t yet well-known in Toronto, it’s a good reminder that you can seek help from bar staff if you need it.
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