Where to Go on a First Date With Someone You’re Only Sorta Into

Cafes, bars, and casual restaurants for when you might need an escape hatch — or at least the possibility of leaving after thirty minutes.

philadelphia bars

A drink at American Sardine Bar / Photograph by Ted Nghiem

I recently heard about a woman who goes on dates in Philadelphia and, if she knows within the first 10 minutes that the dynamic isn’t working, will simply say that she doesn’t think it’s going anywhere, pay her bill, and leave. After just 10 minutes.

This approach is at once impressive and rude. Impressive because: the directness, the comfort with uncomfortable conversations (who among us hasn’t wished they could do this?). Rude because: how does someone on the receiving end recover from that kind of rejection?

That energy — the idea of pondering whether you’re going to walk out on your date after 10 minutes, even if you don’t actually do it — is what this list is about. Consider these excellent first-date spots for when you’re feeling a little skeptical of how things are going to pan out with someone. That’s not to say these restaurants, bars, and cafes aren’t wonderful establishments — they are. But they’re all casual enough for a situation when you might need an escape hatch. Many are appropriate for a daytime date, some don’t involve alcohol at all, and, most importantly, you can be in and out in 90 minutes or less.

Separatist Beer, East Passyunk
Nothing says “I’m indifferent about this romantic journey of ours” quite like meeting up for a beer. Even if you hate beer and still want nonchalance, go to Separatist. Their draft list is extensive and they also make a few great cocktails, including a coffee old fashioned. There’s no kitchen, which is positive news for you first-date skeptics since eating food tends to prolong these things.

Rally Coffee, Bella Vista
Suggesting a coffee date with someone you may or may not be attracted to? Classic. Rally on Bainbridge uses high-quality beans from Blind Tiger Coffee. Plus there’s plenty of seating and a calming energy that will soothe your nerves.

El Chingon, East Passyunk
El Chingon is an exceptional Mexican restaurant, but it’s not somewhere you’re going to want to linger with a first date. For one thing, there’s no booze. People are always shuffling in and out, thanks to some very good cemitas and a casual, corner-shop energy. You can get in, eat a sandwich stuffed with chicken milanesa, and then keep it moving — either home, or for a drink at Fountain Porter or the Jim if your hopes have been exceeded.

Talula’s Daily, Washington Square West
On a date where you aren’t sure about this person yet, you want to be able to choose to opt in or out of sexiness. Lunch works well for this, since it’s categorically not as hot as a nighttime meal. But, having lunch at a cozy place like Talula’s Daily means you can quickly transition into an energy that says, “I’m feeling good, actually. Maybe I like you and will kiss your face one day.” Make a little small talk over a Caesar salad and a spicy chicken sandwich, then go on your merry way.

International BarFishtown
If things get brutally dull on a first date at International Bar, turn to the bartenders: They’re nice, chatty, and might help fill in any awkward silences. Alternatively, the first floor is generally loud enough that you don’t really need to know what your date is talking about, or if they’re talking at all.

Manakeesh CafeUniversity City
One thing that you should never do is have a bad meal just because you’re maybe going to have a bad date. And one thing that can save a bad date, potentially, is really good food: have it at Manakeesh Cafe. More specifically, eat kafta kabobs, spicy fish platters, Lebanese halva, and cinnamon-vanilla lattes.

American Sardine Bar, Point Breeze
Simply put, American Sardine Bar exemplifies the category of our city’s perfect, straightforward bars. It’s comfortable without being too sleek or lounge-y, and therefore good for low-pressure conversation over local beer and snacks like mushroom macaroni and cheese, salt-and-pepper fries, and onion rings.

The Breakfast Den, Grad Hospital
Another lunch option is the Breakfast Den, where you can sit together at a small tables, sip coffee and nibble on banh mi and scrambled eggs, and test your date by asking if they’re willing to split pancakes for the table. (If not, you’ll be out pretty quick.)

StargazyEast Passyunk
Stargazy serves incredible British pies starting at noon, making this an ideal destination for a casual, middle-of-the-afternoon hang. “Who suggests a meat-pie shop on a first date?” your suitor will wonder about you as you sit with a mini sausage roll. If they’re a good match, they’ll also wonder other interesting Philly spots you have up your sleeve.

If you’re worried about trying to get through stilted conversation, choose a place with built-in conversation topics. Exploring the many, many beers in the cases at Rybrew will keep you and this date occupied for quite a while before settling into a high-top table and enjoying your sandwiches.

Mighty Bread, East Passyunk
On weekdays, Mighty Bread stays consistently relaxed. Whereas things get a bit crowded on weekend mornings. Try going around 1 p.m. for a slightly chiller experience (when you’re sure to get a table), and bond over doughnuts, grilled cheese, and chocolate chip cookies.

Hardena, Point Breeze
Incredible food in a low-pressure, counter-service environment is typically a good recipe for a first date where you’re not sure how things will turn out between you two. At this Indonesian restaurant, you’ll pick your own food off the steam table, grab a seat in the small dining room, and discuss how incredible your goat curry, corn fritters and stewed eggplant are as you eat. If you have a nice time, you can move the party to Second District. If not, you had a totally delicious meal that took no longer than one hour.