6 Romantic (and Trendy) Chicago Spots for That Crucial First Date

Whether it's a casual meet-up, a heart-fluttering full-tilt swoon, or a lucky, lucky chance to reveal your true intentions, why wing that first date? We've put together a tidy little list of six can't-miss Chicago watering holes and cozy restaurants to breeze through the ritual.

Photo via The Refinery It's brick and industrial, like dining in a beautiful loft. The Refinery debuted in July on the shopping strip in Old Town, so it still has a fresh-paint feel. Plan a low-pressure date, the kind with someone that's less a stranger but not quite familiar. The food mingles the terrain between comfort and curious: deviled eggs with truffle and bacon starters, lamb burger small platters, pork belly with creamed corn and cornbread main courses, and a chocolate pretzel bar with pretzel ice cream for dessert. Chef Lawrence Letrero, formerly of Untitled, heads the team. Points for late nights: open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and 3 a.m. on Saturdays. Talk all night and feel full. Located at 1209 N. Wells St.

First dates, and first impressions on dates, can fizzle or ignite interest in 20 minutes or less, according to a Texas University study. And a 2009 speed-dating survey from the University of Indiana showed decisions about pursuing a love-thing (or sample and move on), are made within seconds. Who pays is still a sore spot: In an NBCnews.com study of more than 17,000 singles, 44 percent of men said they would dump a woman if she didn’t offer to chip in on dates, and 44 percent of women were annoyed(!) when asked to pay. Here’s a novel solution: Settle that up front. 

Those stats shocked us. But we kept wondering where these people coupled up. Now, this is unscientific, but doesn’t it figure that the way to gain some evolutionary advantage on the first meeting-of-the-minds is a stellar venue? Natch. And Chicago has them in spades.

Confession: These selections are whittled from dozens of potentials or this would have ballooned into a Zagat guide; if your favorite is absent, it’s not personal. From the Fulton River District to Lincoln Park to a new restaurant in Old Town, we tried to accommodate a menu of date vibes: hip, young, fun and a wee bit loud is represented; quiet rooms for handholding and gazing; sophisticated cuisine for the experimental; vegetarians, we thought of you, too (you’ll find something delectable and meatless).

One caveat: These six aren’t bulletproof; that is, we can’t guarantee that great food and superb ambiance can overcome date bombs like flirting with the cutie at another table, licking your plate, self-absorbed chatter about your exes, or texting-while-wooing. Barring that (please), perhaps one of these spots could nudge you into the Second Date Finals and not exiled (yet) to the “friend” zone.




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