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DATE NIGHT

TESS NICHOL has been on and off dating apps for 10 years. In that time she has been on countless first dates, a vanishingly small number of second dates, and fallen in love twice with men she met somewhere else entirely. This is her guide to the best place for a first date in Auckland.

DATE NIGHT

Dec 11, 2023 Bars

To facilitate a good date, a bar must have four key attributes. One, it must be relatively close to where both parties either live or work, so that, should the date go badly, neither feels aggrieved that they had to drive across the Harbour Bridge in heavy traffic just to exchange pleasantries for an hour or so before declaring, “Well, I’m driving, so I probably shouldn’t have another but it was lovely to meet you.” This usually means meeting in the central city or surrounding suburbs, as most of us still tend to work in town. (Where this is not possible, it is imperative to get the upper hand and suggest somewhere that is more convenient for you before the other person does — ruthless, but all’s fair in love and war.)

Second, it should be a bar you go to sometimes, but that isn’t your go-to place for meeting friends or grabbing an after-work drink. While spending time and money to frequent an establishment you’d never usually darken the doors of is an annoying way to spend an evening, neither do you want to muddy the pristine waters of your favourite drinking hole with bad memories. Plus, seeing anyone you know (including a bartender you’ve got rapport with) while on a first date is just real bad vibes. First dates — and here I mean dates facilitated by dating apps — should exist in a separate realm from the rest of your life. Sorry to persist with a deficit mindset here, but let’s get real: most first dates are duds, and best forgotten about by all involved — which ideally is just the two of you.

Third, the set-up should allow for some sense of privacy and intimate conversation. Many people’s voices are surprisingly loud, which can be a gamble when you have no idea what will be coming out of their mouths. Much like when you take a personal phone call in a busy office, it quickly becomes clear that speaking freely is tricky when other people may be listening in. (This is not fixed by somewhere playing blaringly loud music, BTW; you just end up shouting at one another, which is also bad.) 

Per my previous point about not getting clocked on a first date by a person from your real life, ideally you’d also feel in some way ‘tucked in’ and slightly hidden, whether in a booth or a little nook or cranny. I once, foolishly, suggested Galbraith’s for a date. I cannot overstate how exposing and vulnerable it feels to meet someone for the first time at a brightly lit table in the middle of an enormous open room. There’s a reason Galbraith’s is the place you choose for a short-notice birthday party or leaving drinks, and we’d all do well to remember it.

Last, wherever you meet should be relatively cheap. It’s hard to assess someone else’s financial situation before you meet them, and the decent thing to do on a first date is to buy drinks in rounds. Given that most places that meet the requirements above have decided that $17 is the going rate for a glass of wine, it can feel a bit like inviting financial ruin to offer this off the bat to someone whom — sorry — you will more than likely never want to see again. 

Happy hours or discounted nights like cheap Tuesdays can help, which brings me to my personal recommendation for the best bar in Auckland for a first date: Conch Kitchen & Bar on Ponsonby Rd. It ticks all the boxes: central, with a warm and welcoming vibe and an aesthetic on the cosy side of hip without being pretentious; wooden booths out the back for maximum chat-privacy; and extremely reasonable prices. It manages to be casual while still feeling special, and the staff are usually low key but lovely. The only tricky thing may be that, because it’s so appealing, it has a high chance of being your regular, thereby failing requirement two. Closed for the better part of a year following a fire in 2021, Conch is blessedly open again and offering happy-hour drinks from $9 from 4pm till 6pm on weekdays. (Aperol spritzes are included on the happy-hour menu!)

I have been on so many first dates here, and Conch always delivers. Not always good outcomes romantically, but elements of a nice time nonetheless. For example, the last date I had here turned out to be with someone who argued you should need a licence to have children, based on your education levels. He strongly believed this because he was adamant climate change was caused solely by overpopulation. Terrible stuff, but at least I enjoyed the part of my evening that involved drinking a glass of $9 tempranillo while sitting tucked inside a rustic wooden booth on a chilly winter night. The date before that was one of those insane ones you go on way too soon after a break-up, and I ended the night crying in my car while thinking about how much I missed my ex. Sounds like a bad time, right? Not entirely: before the crying we had shared some beef tacos and they were delicious. The guy was also pretty nice, in general and about the crying — it was really lovely to meet him, even though I never want to see him again.

 

Best First-Date Bar
CONCH
This relaxed Ponsonby Rd spot with its South Ameri- can-style snacks is good for many a catch-up occasion, but for its particular excellence for awkward first dates, see the above guide to first-date meet-up tactics.
115A Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

Best No-One-Can-See-Us Date Spot
TASCA
Tasca on Dominion Rd has this not-very-talked-about courtyard out the back that is very sizeable and perfect for a blind date when you’re not sure what the other person looks like or if you can’t afford to be seen with them (yikes, please evaluate this). (Plus, one of our sub editors was dumped here once and can attest that the quiet privacy allows you to reel in peace.)
338 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden

Best Mood(y)
CANDELA
It’s all red and dim in there like Eyes Wide Shut, and the lighting really enfolds you into the prevailing mood in which it’s 10pm in Spain and you need a “foraged martini” (delish) in your hand asap and some obligatory olives on the side. There’s also Barcita tucked away out the back, which is open sometimes, and available to rent out for functions — we like it there.
155 Karangahape Rd, Newton

Best 132nd Date Spot
APÉRO
Sophisticated and pretty much engineered to impress anyone you bring, Apéro’s almost certainly a place some- one’s been proposed to at. It’s a wine bar that’s also a restaurant, with plenty of vino expertise happily deployed from its front-of-house. It’s not really the sort of spot you spill into from the street at 11pm — you book, and you sip, and you eat.
280 Karangahape Rd, Newton

Best Bar to Break Up in
MEZZE BAR
It’s dark; there are a few little nooks to shield your- selves from public view; it’s big enough that you can conceivably get away with causing a few tears; and, once the deed is done, you can rush down those stairs into the heart of Auckland city and never go back there again.
9 Durham St East, Central City

 

This story was part of the Metro Nightlife Special,
supported by Campari
Published in Metro N°440.
Available here.

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