10+ Fun spots to meet up for a first date

Food is the ultimate bonding experience, and getting to know someone is always easier over a shared meal or well-crafted cocktail. But picking the perfect location for a first date is a delicate balance.

Photo courtesy of Portal Cocktails on Instagram

Photo courtesy of Portal Cocktails on Instagram

This is especially true when said date is initiated via a dating app, and what you’re planning is actually the first in-person impression.

Hot tip:  There’s nothing worse than kicking it off with an awkward, “nothing for me, thanks.” Make sure things get off on the right foot and find out if your date has any preferences. Are they vegetarian, sober, gluten-free, or just particularly picky? There are options around town for all!

Bay Horse Tavern

2802 E. Grant Rd.
Photo courtesy of Bay Horse Tavern on Instagram

Photo courtesy of Bay Horse Tavern on Instagram

Sometimes you want to go casual, and Bay Horse is just that — a conveniently-located, very informal dive bar. Established in 1948 and located under its landmark sign on Grant Road since 1958, it’s a local institution with no shortage of character. Should you decide to step things up a notch, Kingfisher and Dante’s Fire are just a quick walk west. (Jello shots are not optional.)

Profile Interests: Dive bars

For more information, follow Bay Horse Tavern on Instagram

Ceres Pasta

77 W. Washington St.
Cacio e pepe at CERES

Cacio e pepe at CERES (Credit: Jackie Tran)

If you’re looking for a lunch date destination, head directly to the Ceres Pasta walk-up window. While it is technically take-out, you can enjoy your meal in the La Cocina courtyard and follow it up with a walk through the Tucson Museum of Art. You’re cultured!

Profile Interests: Museums & Galleries, Art, Dessert

For more information, visit cerestucson.square.site

The Monica 

40 E. Congress St.
Photo courtesy of The Monica

Photo courtesy of The Monica

Open from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m., The Monica is a great option to fit any schedule — or diet. It’s the newest concept from the Charro family of restaurants and offers menu items for plant-based, keto, and gluten-free diets. Catch the happy hour between 2 – 6 p.m. for specials and a selection of shareable dishes.

Profile Interests: Vegetarian, Keto

For more information, visit themonicatucson.com

Nightjar

347 S. Meyer Ave.
Nightjar at The Coronet (Photo by Anna Smirnova)

Nightjar at The Coronet (Photo by Anna Smirnova)

Possibly the trifecta of date essentials — late-night food, movies, and games all in one spot. Complemented by a unique cocktail menu, you’ll never hit a lull at Nightjar. With the kitchen open until 11:30 p.m., you can catch some favorite dishes from its sister restaurant The Coronet, like Thai Mussels and Coronet Burger.

Profile Interests: Trying new restaurants, Espresso Martinis, Film

For more information, visit coronettucson.com

Read our September 2022 article, “Culinary-driven cocktails & late-night eats at downtown’s Nightjar.”

Owl’s Club

236 S. Scott Ave.
Photo courtesy of Owl's Club

Photo courtesy of Owl’s Club

Tucked into the former chapel of the Brings Mortuary on South Scott Avenue, Owl’s Club offers a gothic aesthetic and a roster of knowledgeable bartenders. A few nights a month, the bar turns into an intimate venue for live music from local artists. When it fills up inside, grab seats by the cozy fire pits outside.

Profile Interests: Craft cocktails, Spooky vibes, Live music

For more information, visit owlsclubwest.com

Penca Restaurante

50 E. Broadway Blvd.
Penca Restaurante

Photo courtesy of Penca Restaurante

Delicious food, a dimly lit atmosphere, and some of the best sangria in town all make Penca a top choice for any dinner date. Highly recommend meeting at Pearly Baker Fermentables next door for a quick browse, then settling in and getting more acquainted over a few courses of elevated Mexican cuisine.

Profile Interests: Wine, Exploring new cities

For more information, visit pencarestaurante.com

Read our June 2022 article, “Penca Restaurante: A fresh take for a hot summer (PHOTOS).”

Portal Cocktails

220 N. Fourth Ave.
Portal Cocktails (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Interior at Portal Cocktails (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Arguably one of the coolest bars in town, Portal’s modern design and intricate menu are sure to impress. Its location inside Ermanos Bar on Fourth Avenue makes it easy to hop to another bar or restaurant to continue the night together. Or, you can head out separately to find friends if the connection falls short. 

Profile Interests: Craft cocktails, Design

For more information, visit portalcocktails.com.

The Scented Leaf Tea House & Lounge

943 E. University Blvd. #165 • 308 E. Congress St.
Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Ideal for a day date, The Scented Leaf Tea House offers locations downtown and by the UA campus. Their vast array of blends ensures a fit for any tea drinker, while both the Congress Street and University Avenue locations offer easy walks to take your teas on the go.

Profile Interests: Cafe-hopping, Tea, Coffee

For more information, visit thescentedleaf.com

The Scented Leaf is also dog-friendly. Read our September 2022 article, “Drinking Doggedly: A dozen top sipping spots in Tucson.”

The Shelter Cocktail Lounge

4155 E. Grant Rd.
The Shelter Cocktail Lounge

Photo courtesy of The Shelter Cocktail Lounge on Facebook

Don’t let the new sign fool you — The Shelter is still the staple it’s been since 1961. The vintage lounge, equipped with a smoking room and ‘60s decor, is one of the most unique bars in town. Play pinball or pool together and sink into a cushioned booth with one of their signature martinis. 

Profile Interests: Gin, Vintage

For more information, follow The Shelter on Facebook

Sidecar

139 S. Eastbourne
Photo courtesy of Sidecar on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Sidecar on Facebook

Meeting for a drink as opposed to a full meal relieves some pressure when you’ve yet to meet face-to-face. Sidecar is intimate, unpretentious, and tucked away from the crowds downtown and on Fourth Avenue. Plus, it boasts a solid traditional cocktail program. When you hit it off and want to continue the conversation, suggest sharing a pizza from neighboring Falora.

Profile Interests: Craft cocktails, Pizza

For more information, visit barsidecar.com

Snake & Barrel 

118 E. Congress St.
Assorted cocktails at Snake & Barrel (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Shut It, Karen cocktail at Snake & Barrel (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

As Tucson’s newest basement bar, odds are your date hasn’t been introduced to Snake & Barrel downtown. Find it under Batch (but by way of its own entrance).

Profile Interests: Trying new restaurants, Whisky, Doughnuts

For more information, visit batchtucson.com and follow Snake & Barrel on Instagram

Read our December 2022 article, “Snake & Barrel: Superior spirits in a subterranean speakeasy.”

Tap & Bottle North

7254 N. Oracle Rd.
Photo courtesy of Tap & Bottle North on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Tap & Bottle North on Facebook

For those on the north side of town, Tap & Bottle North is a go-to for its beer selection and low-key atmosphere. Breaking the ice is significantly easier over an activity, and Tap & Bottle has a wide selection of games to choose from. Head to the downtown location, found at 403 N. Sixth Ave., for an equally impressive drink selection and live music.

Profile Interests: Craft beer, Live music

For more information, visit thetapandbottle.com.

Tough Luck Club

101 E. Pennington St.
Tough Luck Club

Photo courtesy of Tough Luck Club on Instagram

While TLC has become an establishment downtown, there’s still an alluring air of mystery in heading to the former mortuary’s embalming room. Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink‘s stone cellar makes for a surprisingly cozy atmosphere while you enjoy a sophisticated cocktail or the classic Coors & Whiskey Shot combo.

Profile Interests: Whisky, Pizza

For more information, follow Tough Luck Club on Instagram

Theresa is a copywriter, food explorer and pursuer of all things creative. Find her at theresadelaney.com.

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