Guest post by Mackenize Cruz (@Mackpaigecruz)
I love food. I hate first dates.
Whether you’re on Tinder, OKCupid, HER, Hinge, Grinder, Bumble, FarmersOnly or eHarmony everybody eventually faces the same dilemma – after you’ve run out of things to say via text – where to finally meet? You’ve done all the flirting and exhaustive, yet necessary, small talk and now it’s time for the official first meet-up. The process of planning for, and following through with that first date is one that very few people ever become comfortable with. I don’t care how many first dates you have been on, they will almost always feel weird and awkward for the first few minutes or worse…for the entire date.
My philosophy for dating is simple. You’re going to get to meet a lot of intriguing (or not so intriguing) people before you find someone worth tackling the hopefully less-awkward second date with. So, you may as well make the dates fun and engaging. Not only can you meet new potential partners, but you kill two birds with one stone and also try a new restaurant at the same time.
To preface, I am usually uncomfortable with sitting across from someone I am crushing on hard and just chatting. I get butterflies on steroids— actually I get mammoth moths I’m so nervous sometimes. I literally think about the craziest things like ‘what do I do with my hands because I somehow forget what I normally do with my hands’ and ‘am I staring at their face too long’ or ‘am I blinking enough…how many seconds has it been since my last blink?!?!’
Thank goodness nobody knows any of this. After years of dating in Spokane, I have found that nothing takes away the nervous jitters of a first date better than playing games, snacking on something delicious, or trying new drinks in unique and inviting spaces. The secret to a good first date location is finding a place that balances good prices with easily prolongable (is that a word?) snacks, food, or games. But the most important feature, is being able to shorten the date at a moment’s notice if you’re just not feeling it with some quick tasty drinks instead. In the words of Ariana Grande, ‘Thank u, next.’ right?!
Here is a list of some of my good time guaranteed, go-to spots for the dreaded first date. And if you are lucky enough to have already found your soul mate, then try this advice on meeting up with new friends or just take yourself out on a date once in a while!
The Volstead Act
12 N Post St, Spokane, WA 99201 // 509.808.2516
Do you love handcrafted libations made with fresh ingredients in prohibition-era bars? If so, then Volstead is the place for you! In case you were about to google Volstead, let me save you some time. In 1919, the Volstead Act attempted to enforce certain prohibition era goals such as stopping the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. This place will take you back in time to the 1920s speakeasies with a modern twist and the irony that Volstead is now this lovely places name. The ambiance itself is enough to get conversation with your date flowing. The bartenders, Jake and the crew, are passionate about what they do and never make me feel bad about my limited alcohol knowledge. They also have a creative and eclectic inventory and always have great suggestions when I want to try a new cocktail.
This place has a sophisticated yet comfy and intimate feel. Did I mention they have free popcorn with every kind of topping in the universe?! Cheesy powder wins every time. My favorite drinks on the menu right now would have to be the Mate Picchu ($9) and Kind of a BIG DILL ($10). But really I am a sucker for anything with egg whites in it. There are also lots of games to choose from to keep your hands busy while you are getting to know each other, tasty popcorn options to munch on, and drinks you will be talking about all week long (i.e. In the summertime, fresh edible flowers in the drinks that make your tongue tingle).
Why this place works for a first date: They always have great music, it’s central to downtown, and you can pull off almost any kind of outfit here – casual or classy you will fit in just fine. It’s also close to a bunch of really fantastic food spots so if the date is going well, you can suggest some nice nearby options for dinner. But most of all, how can you be nervous on a date when all you’re thinking about is how to destroy your date in Battleship, Uno, or one of the many games available to play?!
825 N Monroe St, Spokane, WA 99201 // 509.443.5606
Yes, this is indeed the place that Guy Fieri reviewed on his show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. If you want an intimate dinner, fine-dining feel without any of the extravaganza then this is the place for you! Imagine an order at the counter, seat yourself, quirky diner feel, with curt service and delicious tapas-style dishes. Located right by the courthouse, the rotating menu changes every month or so, allowing your palate to have a totally different experience each time you get the pleasure of dining here. It is hard for me to single out one menu item as being the best because the menu changes so much, but rest assured, I have never had anything but a fantastic experience every time I go. If you like the adventure of trying new dishes or tasty renditions on your favorites, then check this place out STAT! If you want something more casual and predictable head over on a Monday evening for their McRuins burger night ($8-9), but be prepared for it to be packed. In my opinion, they have one of the best burgers in town and don’t forget to order some of their famous crispy Dirty Fries ($7) that are topped with roasted pork shoulder, house-made aioli, and salsa verde. And in Guy Fieri’s words, “This is something you have for your last meal.”
Why this place works for a first date: Because the menu is always rotating between themes like Eastern European, Thai, French, and other great food cultures you will always have a different memory each time you go. The creative dishes are fine dining quality, but with affordable price tags. I love ordering a few dishes and sharing them and what is more romantic than sharing delicious food with the cutie sitting across from you?!
Durkin’s Liquor Bar
415 W Main Ave, Spokane, WA 99201 // 509.863.9501
What an amazing place to start or end the night! It’s located smack in the middle of downtown, right across from Auntie’s Book Store. With an upstairs AND totally different downstairs bar vibe, you are in for a real treat. Grab a drink downstairs in their speakeasy atmosphere, and let those first-date jitters melt away, and when you’ve broken the ice, go ahead and mosey on upstairs to take in their tasteful and classy, yet laid-back vibe for some delicious food. My favorite item on their upstairs menu is their Single Burger ($16) with their House cut garlic aioli fries ($6)—if you’re ordering this on a date bring some breath-fresheners! If you want something light and refreshing, the Radicchio Salad ($12) is a tasty option.
Why this place works for a first date: On the weekends, Durkin’s can be packed and loud, which on a first date can be a plus to fill those awkward first-date silences. The dimly lit, cozy energy sets a nice tone for the evening and the couches downstairs are more intimate than directly sitting across from someone at a table in a staring contest. And, when you feel more comfortable you act more comfortable! It’s also fun to sit at the bar, sip on a drink and chat with the friendly bartenders. From the bar top, you and your date can watch the chefs assemble your meal of choice—the crew here is impressive!
The Gilded Unicorn
110 South N Monroe St, Spokane, WA 99201 // 509.309.3698
Oh my goodness the food here is pure heaven, melt in your mouth, eat-all-night-till-you’re-stuffed, bliss. If you’re not hesitant to show your date your more indulgent side, this is for sure your place. Anyone that has been in Spokane long probably remembers when Catacombs were in business- this is where Gilded Unicorn is today and that oddly-welcoming brick wall basement atmosphere is still here. If you are looking for a magical place to share Modern American Classic handcrafted foods and drinks, then look no further.
Gilded Unicorn is located in downtown Spokane in the historic Montvale Hotel, and the chefs and mixologists are taking a modern delicious twist on classic dishes and cocktails. My faves right now and really have always been, the Deviled Eggs with smoky whipped yolks, maple chili and applewood bacon ($6) and their Crispy Duck Wings with Korean butter sauce and house-made Kimchi (3 for $11, 6 for $16). And if you are really feeling the date, you can turn it into a 3 or 5 course dinner ($30, $50) called the Unicorn Feast and each dish is a surprise determined by the chef. Research studies have shown doing extreme sports brings people closer together—that includes trying new foods together, right?
Why this place works for a first date: It’s warm and inviting vibes have a great first date feel. It’s an easy place to just grab drinks to pre-funk or settle in for a full dinner—the choice is yours depending on how the date is going! Basically, you can cut it short or draw it out. If you are not a big drinker, their mocktails menu has plenty to offer. Their happy hour is well priced for appetizers and drinks and if you wanted to go do an Escape room, bar hop around, or catch a concert at the Knitting Factory afterwards, it’s all within walking distance.
Hogwash Whiskey Den
304 W Pacific Ave, Spokane, WA 99201 // 509.464.6541
This trendy hipster gem is nestled in the basement of the rustic historic Washington Cracker Building that hosts a variety of businesses including the Overbluff Cellars, Anvil Coffee, and Inland Pacific Kitchen. For food, they have awesome salads and sandwiches to choose from like their popular Chicken and Waffles ($12), Hogwash Burger ($15), Grilled Cheese ($11) with goat cheese, beet aioli, and caramelized onions on it or the Bagel ($11) with ham, cheddar, and pickled jalapeno. I almost don’t want to recommend a drink because they are all awesome in their own way – it’s hard to go wrong with them. Recently though, I originally ordered the ‘I Drink and I Know Things’ ($12) for the name (yes, I’m that person), and it was stiff and delicious. My favorite food to peruse is their ‘Snacks and Bites’ including their House Potato Chips ($5) with garlic, cheddar, and celery seed aioli, Skillet Cornbread ($4), or their Sautéed Cauliflower and Chorizo ($8).
Why this place works for a first date: Cozy booths, stiff drinks, stellar bartenders, savory food, and a grown-up whiskey atmosphere is what Hogwash guarantees.
So swipe right, invite that date, get hungry, and head on down to some finger-licking good finds! And if the date isn’t good at least the food will be!
About the author: Mackenzie is from Spokane, graduated from WSU, and currently is working at Sacred Heart Medical Center. She has done both Cardiac Transplant and Intensive Care Unit nursing. When she isn’t trying new restaurants around town she is traveling, hiking, weight lifting, or cooking.