During my second year of college, I went on my first adult date — you know, the kind where you dress up and sip booze that isn't jungle juice or Natty Light. It was Valentine's Day and we drank too much red wine before dinner and I can't remember what I ordered or what we talked about. I can tell you now, in hindsight and with a few more first dates under my belt, I would've much rather dined alone.
Though Orson Welles would beg to differ, I say — we're never really alone. We have books and podcasts and Instagram and long reads about the state of the world and whether stationary bikes are inherently sinister, sentient beings. And then there are the humans we encounter every day, from buoyant co-workers to stone-faced cashiers.
Though the best — and undoubtedly most entertaining — humans, I've found, reside in neighborhood bars and restaurants. I don't remember what I ate that ill-fated first date, but I do remember that my server tactfully ignored my wine-stained dress.
This year, yearning to be alone together with fellow solitude seekers, I decided to take myself on a few dates in advance of V-Day, sitting at the bar of three very different establishments: Delaney Oyster House, Tattooed Moose, and Spanglish Cocina + Bar.
Kevin King, Delaney's general manager, leads the beverage program at the 19th century single house; one of his most intriguing offerings is a mini bottle and caviar service. The mini bottles are a "playful nod," to the state's history of requiring bars to only stock mini bottles, from the dark ages of 1973-2005. The 1.7-ounce bottle arrives chilled, propped up in a tiny bucket of ice.
I let King choose which caviar to pair with the hard liquor. On my early evening date I sample 1 ounce of Tennessee Paddlefish and 80-proof Hangar One vodka. "American with American," King notes.
Pro tip: Don't treat yourself to this fine pairing on an empty stomach. It may work wonders for the Russians, but sipping straight vodka feels like … sipping straight vodka. Still, the fluffy blini and salty/buttery fish eggs are a delight. Meant for two, I can say with confidence that the caviar may be consumed, happily, by one.
My next date was more of a work meeting. Believe it or not, Tattooed Moose Johns Island is a great place to knock out some emails — the long wooden bar and dim lighting are the pefect backdrop for beer-fueled office hours settled in at a corner stool with a wireless hotspot. On these kinds of dates, I like to spend a little over an hour sipping a couple of beers before ordering a burger to-go.
My final night out was spent on a Wednesday evening at Spanglish Cocina + Bar. The hot pink bar and charming staff welcomed me as I hopped into the coveted corner seat. The restaurant, run by Lynda and Tomas Prado, recently secured their liquor license; they'd operated their first months with a BYOB policy. While lugging your favorite six-pack around is perhaps more economical, thank god they can now serve up their own rum-forward libations.
I sipped my daiquiri, called my mother, and lingered over the Cuban-inspired menu. The fish of the day was perfectly seared with a creamy lime sauce and pickled jalapenos, served with a side of aromatic arroz blanco. "See you next week!" a couple of regulars cheerily called back to Tomas in the kitchen.
I ordered a cafecito, thought about it, then ordered empanadas to go. I couldn't wait — I grabbed one of the piping hot, doughy pockets, clumsily knocking the lid off the plastic container of aioli. I bite into a crisp corner, eating my empanada in the dark parking lot, blisfully alone.