The pub’s great for wintry first dates. If you aren’t seduced by the warmth of a pub fire, the dark wood of the room, a couple of beers on the table and a couple of other people’s dogs sprawled on the floor – maybe there’s no seducing you at all. But are you really falling for each other, or are you both just falling for the pub?
We’ve assembled a few of London’s lesser-known, best first date plans. The ones designed to leave you in no doubt about how much you want that second date.
The rules we’ve worked to are: it can’t be a one-off. For this to be a perfect first date it has to be there when you need it, or at least a regular thing. No limited-edition dinners, no never to be repeated gigs, no Wes Anderson marathon screenings that come but once a year.
Why: Ignore the kids’ party connotations: this is serious business. You just met. You don’t know if he’s sportsmanlike, just here for good, wholesome fun. You don’t know if he plays so dirty it’d make Game of Thrones look like a civilised tea party.
Maybe you don’t even know which of those you want. But you’re about to find out.
Where: There’s woefully little choice in London. Star Command in Whitechapel’s your best bet and also, one of your only bets. Just go patronise it hard, so that it doesn’t close and leave you with zero places in London to show your future True Love what you’re made of.
Where to go after: If you’ve done laser tag right you’ll be ravenous – so Chicken Shop, just round the corner and full of rotisserie smells and animal hunger.
Star Command, 22-36, Raven Row, Whitechapel, E1 2EG
Street Fighter II
Why: If they can’t handle you at your just-lost-Street-Fighter they don’t deserve you at your just-crushed-it-at-Mario-Kart.
And vice versa, important insight into your date’s darker side. Is he going to go full Trump when he loses at two-player Goldeneye? Is she going to throw her controls at the wall and storm out when Donkey Kong lets her down on the tight turns? And will you still like them after you’ve seen them run a victory lap of the bar with their shirt pulled over their head? Time and a few 50p pieces will tell.
Where: Our favourite’s the Four Quarters in Peckham, a concrete and neon dive bar with a late licence.
Or if you find yourself north or east of the river and with a bad need for beat-‘em-ups Loading Bar has venues in Dalston and Stratford.
Where to go after: No need to move. They’re open till 2am at weekends and do hot dogs and bar snacks. But if you want to talk without the backing track of tinny bleeping and pinball go for the railway arches of Peckham Rye station for the Brick Brewery taproom and pizza at Bar Story.
The Four Quarters, 187, Rye Lane, SE15 4TP
Why: See our review of a date at Lucha Libre World here. Basically, a great night that lets you address those key relationship questions – would you try to protect me if 95 kg of flying, masked wrestler looked set to hit me square in the face? – in a really natural way.
Where: Lucha Libre World’s an annual event, but Lucha Britannia, their local element, have shows on a smaller scale every two weeks in Bethnal Green. Marvel at how much neon, spandex and unexpectedly acrobatic panto violence they can fit into one small railway arch.
Where to go after: Stick to your theme with burritos and margaritas at DF Mexico on Hanbury Street, or unwind after all that adrenaline and brightness with cocktails in the shadowy calm of theNatural Philosopher.
Lucha Britannia, the Resistance Gallery, 265, Poyser Street, E2 9RF
Stargazing and Firepits
Why: Just because. They’re both nice, aren’t they? Stars and campfires.
And it’s much easier not to talk work sitting around a campfire than at a City bar. This is the sort of evening that strips people back to whatever they are underneath layers of office. Any hand checking your phone for work emails is a hand that could be toasting marshmallows or curled around a mulled beer.
Where: Midnight Apothecary, on the roof at the Brunel Museum. The name’s a bit deceptive: it only runs till 10:30pm, but by that time if all’s going well you’ll be so spellbound by the alchemy of the firelight, the night sky and each other – also, whisky cocktails – that it’ll be the ideal time to slope off hand in hand for a darker and warmer corner somewhere inside.
It’s at the Brunel Museum every Friday and Saturday night in the summer, and coming back frequently in autumn for Halloween, Bonfire Night, a head start at Christmas – any excuse.
Where to go after: It’ll be late and you’ll be getting cold. Carry on watching the skies from the warmth of the Mondrian Hotel’s Rumpus Room bar, not far west along the river.
Midnight Apothecary, Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, SE1 4LF