Dear Glutton: First Date Spots for Non-Drinkers

Finding a place to drink with teetotaling options


Virgin cocktail at Rio Rita (Photo by John Anderson)

Dear Glutton,

I'm a person who doesn't drink who recently started dating again after breaking up with my partner of five years. I've got my "I don't drink" spiel down, but I'd rather not have to trot it out every time someone on Tinder suggests meeting at a bar. Can you help me find a good go-to bar where I can get interesting nonalcoholic things that will also meet the beer needs of my prospective dates?

– Sober


Dear Sober,

The appeal of meeting at a bar for a first date is obvious; people make each other nervous, alcohol makes people less nervous, so we all just suggest drinks, then hold our breath and hope that these things cancel each other out. This is probably a little bit of a dysfunctional approach in a lot of ways, but it's what we do.

There's also the issue of practicality. No one wants to be that creep asking every Tinder stranger they match with out for dinner. It either comes off like you're trying to scam a free meal (seriously, I had a friend who once went on a date with a guy who ordered two entrées then pulled the "I forgot my wallet") or like you think if you buy someone a 10-dollar sandwich you've somehow paid for permanent access to their underpants. Either way, not a good look. And coffee is OK, but it feels a little too platonic, the one-hour afternoon window feeling more like a business meeting or an awkward social encounter with an acquaintance than an opportunity for romance. Bars tend to be cozily lit and full of friendly strangers, and springing for a $2 Lone Star won't leave anyone feeling like they're on the hook. It does make some sense.

So bars are a good first date spot after all. And you're the kind of non-drinking person that's OK with hanging around in bars, so I'm sure you have spots in town that you like, but I'd imagine that all that Topo Chico has to get old after a while. I called a few bars to ask on your behalf, and it turns out that most bartenders in today's artisanal ingredient-obsessed landscape would be more than happy to make you something interesting off menu. In the past, you would have been stuck with a virgin margarita or some kind of horrible watered-down sour mix concoction, but nearly every bar in town has a rack full of small-batch bitters and a bowl of fresh citrus in back, ready and waiting for you. The good people at Weather Up are, in my experience, particularly good at finding out what flavors you like and making something interesting to match. But if you just want to order without having to give anyone the "I don't drink" talk, this isn't exactly what you're looking for.

Fortunately for you, the only thing this city has more of than bars are bar/coffee shops! Rio Rita is a good one, and their iced coffee, Bloody Marys, and the eclectic thrift store vibes are equally stellar. The spangled Victorian lampshades and disco balls give off a flattering glow, and if you sit close enough on those battered velvet settees you can amuse yourself by pretending you're a misbehaving visitor in the parlor of a women's boarding house. OK, I might be the only person who does that, but trust me, it's a good move. The new space on Chicon is a bit of a change for us old-timers, but the atmosphere is still inviting, the vibes are still on point, and their lemonade is still some of the best in town. So cozy up on that settee and ask your date some personal questions. Maybe next time they'll be brave enough to expose themselves to you in natural light.

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