What do men and women want from date night? We all want different things. A friend of mine likes to go old-school: making a reservation, opening various doors for his lady, and ordering for her like Don Draper did for Betty before they split. Then there’s the lesbian couple I know whose idea of a good time involves paintball and Taco Bell. Perhaps the only common denominator is the need to veer off script now and then to keep things interesting. And if Barack and Michelle can do it, there’s hope for the rest of us. You know it’s an enlightened era when the POTUS and his best girl shake things up by going to a Jay-Z concert.
This date says: “All this culture is fine, but none of it’s as fine as you.” (And yes, use that line.) Start this arty St. Paul excursion at Nevermind Gallery (651-292-1623, nevermindgallery.com) on West 7th to admire gig posters and pop surrealist paintings. Then head to Lowertown for a Farm Girl ale at Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar (651-228-9274, blackdogstpaul.com), a friendly place with art shows and live music. If it’s the second Friday of the month, stay for Community Pool, a musical showcase hosted by Happy Apple’s Erik Fratzke, among others. Cap things off by slurping bivalves and champagne cocktails at Meritage Oyster Bar (651-222-5670, meritage-stpaul.com) like Hemingway at a Parisian bistro.
This date says: “How about a little high-brow eroticism to get you in the mood?” Your evening on Lyndale and Lake begins innocently enough with a quick meal at Muddy Waters (612-872-2232, muddywatersmpls.com). Avoid the gaggle of hipsters at the bar and sit in the candlelit nook in back. Order fried chicken thighs with dirty rice and sweet potato chips. After dinner, walk to the Jungle Theater (612-822-7063, jungletheater.com)for Venus in Fur, playwright David Ives’s Tony Award–winning rumination on love, sex, and S&M. It’s the thinking couple’s Fifty Shades of Grey, so be prepared to bag dessert plans at Lucia’s (612-825-1572, lucias.com).
This date says: “Road trip!” If the other outings on this page feel too familiar, well, hats off to you, date master. I suppose you’ve also snowshoed with your sweetheart by the light of the moon at Wild River State Park (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/wild_river/index) on the St. Croix River before cooking up a nice steak outside of your heated camper cabin. Man, I can’t stump you! I guess the only thing that’s left for you is a double date with the Obamas at a Jay-Z concert. Others should take the scenic route through Stillwater and stop at Brine’s Market-Deli (651-439-7556, brines-stillwater.com) for rib eyes and sides. The park hosts a guided “Full Moon and Folklore Snowshoe” event on Feb. 16. Reserve your spot and cabin in advance.
This date says: “No, really, Twin Cities Reptiles is an excellent place to start a date. Also, happy Chinese New Year!” Kick off the year of the snake on Feb. 10 with an offbeat outing to Twin Cities Reptiles (651-647-4479, twincitiesreptiles.net) on University Avenue in St. Paul. You might not be in the market for a cold-blooded roommate, but no matter. With an impressive collection of multicolored pythons, boas, and colubrids, this 6,000-square-foot specialty pet shop is like a dang snake zoo! Continue your Chinese New Year festivities up the street at Shuang Hur Oriental Market (651-251-2196) for incense (more on that in a second) and Little Szechuan (651-222-1333, littleszechuan.com) for takeout (you’re getting the dandan, China’s answer to spaghetti). Back at home, light the incense to ward off evil spirits in 2013, then dig into your dandan and slurp the noodles like Lady and the Tramp. Or don’t. Your relationship might not be on that level yet.
This date says: “Love me for my impeccable taste in music, food, and hotel bars.” Start at Dakota Jazz Club (612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com) in downtown Minneapolis, renowned for its live music and unfussy American cuisine. Alt-country queen Lucinda Williams plays four nights this month. Bask in her dark, dusty brand of Americana. Then head to the under-the-radar Normandy Kitchen (612-370-1400, normandykitchen.com) in the Best Western Plus that looks like a chalet. Inside, you’ll find a dimly lit bar serving amazing homemade pie. Order slices of apple and a round of Maker’s Mark, and thank your lucky stars that your lives aren’t as messed up as the ones in Ms. Williams’s songs. And if they are, I’m sorry. But, hey, really good pie.
What do I want from a date? The basic building blocks are art, alcohol, and some sort of hands-on activity. Another thing: As the default planners and multitaskers of the world, women like the occasional date we didn’t have to orchestrate ourselves. So show some initiative with themed dates, private chef demonstrations, and tickets for sold-out concerts we didn’t have time to procure. The keys are a personal touch, tackling a new adventure, and indulging in sensual pleasures, be they beautiful music, dancing, or fine red wine. Or how about a pedicure?
This date says: “You work hard, and I know how to spoil you.” Make a five o’clock appointment for a couples pedicure at Denny Kemp Salon (612-676-0300, dennykempsalon.com) in Northeast Minneapolis. This special-request date treatment includes a private room, deluxe leather massage chairs, and a spread of sweet-smelling oils, lotions, and other relaxing treatments. You bring the beverages. Pick up a splurge bottle of Billecart Brut Rose (superb pink bubbly) from nearby Surdyk’s (612-379-3232, surdyks.com) on your way. Afterward, let those well-groomed digits carry you to nearby Wilde Roast (612-331-4544, wilderoastcafe.com), where you’ll split a healthy slice of red velvet cake.
This date says: “The weather outside is frightful, but it’s getting steamy in here.” Ah, February in Minnesota. Time to book flights to SoBe or at least take a mini-staycation with an evening of tacos, tequila, and salsa dancing. Your trip through Minneapolis hot spots begins at Barrio (612-333-9953, barriotequila.com) downtown with a round of proper margaritas—with Cointreau, on the rocks. Then hit the city’s most surprising salsa hot spot: Famous Dave’s BBQ & Blues (612-822-9900, famousdaves.com) in Uptown, where the seven-piece Sensacion Latina heats up the room every Tuesday at 9 pm for a crowd of devoted salsa lovers. Get warmed up with the practiced regulars, then hit the floor with your date.
This date says: “Nothing compares to you.” Take your amour for an afternoon run along the Big Rivers Regional Trail (952-891-7000, www.co.dakota.mn.us/parks/parksTrails/BigRivers) in Mendota Heights, the prettiest, most awe-inspiring running trail in the Twin Cities any time of year. Nestled beneath dramatic limestone bluffs, the four-and-a-half-mile paved trail hugs the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. You don’t want to get too sweaty (at least not yet), so start at the trailhead near the Pool & Yacht Club in Lilydale and trot for 20 minutes before tracking back. Afterward, head to St. Paul’s Highland Park and warm up with pour-over coffees and baked goods from Patisserie 46 at Quixotic Coffee (651-699-5448, quixoticcoffee.com), where heart-shaped latte art is the norm.
This date says: “I’m too cultured for my shirt.” First off, get tickets to the Feb. 4 concert by Accordo (schubert.org/accordo), the top-notch chamber music ensemble composed of locked-out members of the Minnesota Orchestra and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Treat your date to a nostalgic program of Bach-inspired music, including pieces by Mozart and Brahms, performed in the architectural gem that is Christ Church Lutheran (612-721-6611, christchurchluth.org). Designed by Eilel and Eero Saarinen, the Finnish father-and-son super-designers, the modernist church and sanctuary is buried in a residential south Minneapolis neighborhood. The evening ends with a late supper (as the musicians do) at the ever-dignified La Belle Vie (612-874-6440, labellevie.us). Don’t bother with reservations; instead have the tasting menu served to you in the more laid-back lounge.
This date says: “I’m hot and crafty.” Schedule a “Couple’s Special” glass-blowing class at Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts (612-623-3624, mnglassart.org), a scrappy nonprofit arts center tucked within the tangle of ugly warehouses in Northeast Minneapolis. Because what’s sexier than manipulating scalding orbs of molten glass with your mouth? Arrange for a class any day of the week between 9 am and 7 pm. Ask to study under member-artist Alan Honn, who makes richly detailed and vaguely Gothic goblets of clear glass. Wouldn’t it be lovely to emerge with two decent enough glasses of your own, just in time for an early evening toast with a bottle of Albe Barolo (a lusty Italian red) and goat’s milk Gouda (from Switzerland, slightly sweet) from France 44 Wine & Spirits (612-925-3252, france44.com)?