Going on a first date are ya? Getting all dressed up and giving yourself a side-parting and cleaning the inside of your legs, are ya? Stomach rumbling, is it? Forehead sweating? Ability to hold a conversation wavering? Eyes having an absolute fit, are they? Knees knocking? Bum squeaking? Heart seconds from exploding and seeping through your nose? Yeah, it sounds like it: you’re definitely going on a first date.
There’s a lot to think about when embarking on this rite of passage - what do you wear? What do you say? Do you pull out the chair for them? Do you actively be yourself or a fabrication of your true personality? And most importantly: what do you buy for your first drink?
I’m presuming, perhaps archaically, that your first date will include alcoholic drinks of some kind - it’s the easiest, most casual option and offers ample opportunity to bail should you spot a big knife in their handbag or something. So, you’re getting drinks, but what does your ‘first date drink’ say about you?
To find out, I asked a bartender who must clearly have the nation’s most experience with regards to first date etiquette: Merlin from First Dates (and this week’s Celebrity First Dates). So we gathered up a list of our most common go-to bevvies, and asked him to judge them, and by proxy, us and you
I’ll let Merlin take it from here:
A pint of beer
“Nothing wrong with a pint on a first date, and nothing wrong with supporting the Great British pub as your choice of venue! And make it cask ale instead of a generic lager; cask ales, well maintained and served, are wonderful to enjoy and support local business too. If you’re new to them find out a bit more from Camra – maybe even join and show your date your passion for ale, many pubs offer a discount for Camra members along with tasting flights of beer to find your perfect match.”
“Or two, to be sure. Perfect if you forgot that your date coincided with St. Patrick’s day…
“Just avoid the gimmicky green Guinness and look for a place renowned for its black stuff. If the date is going really well grab an Irish Whiskey afterwards, preferably a Redbreast 21 year old.”
A gin and tonic
“England’s favourite aperitif, gin just keeps going from strength to strength. With so many to choose from these days, getting the right one is almost as hard as finding the perfect partner. But once you find it a good G&T is hard to beat. And if gin is really your thing, get thee to the Ginstitute on Portobello Road in North Kensington for a truly memorable date.”
A vodka soda lime
“Vodka is still the most popular spirit in the UK. Jazz it up with fresh lime over cordial, and a dash of Angostura Bitters for good measure. This is a good alternative if you don’t like the bitterness of tonic. If you’re in the right place with your date push the boat out and scrap the mixers altogether, opting instead for chilled neat vodka and some good caviar. I’ve heard it said that if you don’t like caviar, you’ve clearly not drunk enough vodka! Or was that the other way around…”
An Old Fashioned (or similarly 'adult' cocktail)
“So, you’ve chosen a pretty serious bar for your date then? Let the bartender loose on your OF or similar and help you both explore new flavours as you chat the night away with your date. Just go easy on them, tasty as they can be, an Old Fashioned (like many classic cocktails) is largely neat spirit. You have been warned.”
“One of those dates is it? Well, if slamming back the shots and partying the night away in a loud bar or club helps you get to know each other…
“If you’re in a nice restaurant on the other hand, I probably wouldn’t. If you really must drink Jägermeister on a date, have it neat (served frozen) at the end of a meal to help with digestion.”
A tequila (or similarly ridiculous shot that you pretend to like even though you HATE)
“Fine if you’ve chosen a Mexican restaurant to go to. If not, I feel it could send out the wrong message to your date. Plenty of good tequila joints in London to go to though. My favourites being Café Pacifico (Covent Garden) and El Camion / Pink Chihuahua (Brewer Street), both great for a lively Tequila-fueled evening.
“As far as shots on the whole go, I’ve seen it work and not work at the beginning of a date. My jury is out (on the town), if your date is game for a shot I don’t see why not.”
A glass of wine
“Whether it’s Blue Nun in the park with a picnic or a fine Bordeaux at a Michelin starred eatery, wine probably offers the broadest choice of flavour to match the occasion. If you’re a bit of a wine buff it’s a chance to show off to your date. Or you could cadge some notes from the sommelier while your date’s not looking to bluff your way through too!”
A pint of cider
“Oo-arr or oo-er? Honestly, I’m a fan of home brew style scrumpy ciders. But like most things, you have to find a place that really knows its stuff to get the good gear. Amazing choice for a countryside summer evening date I’d say, followed by a walk through the fields to see the sunset.”
A Pina Colada (or similarly delicious and extravagant Del Boy-style glass of nonsense)
“If you’re a flamboyant character and really want your date to know it why not! In practice just about everybody secretly likes a Pina Colada, I feel. If your date is on the shy side these sort of holiday and Tiki drinks could really break the ice. Trailer Happiness on Portobello Road for the win here. Massive selection of rum, a relaxed atmosphere and flamboyant cocktails galore.”
A Bloody Mary
“Nobody said, ‘You can’t have a date on a Sunday morning’ did they? Although fans of eye-watering spice might want to check they’re not visually suffering in front of their date. So yes, all hail the easy Sunday morning brunch or roast lunch date kicked off with a Bloody Mary. You’re spoilt for choice here with most places doing a signature Mary of some kind, but if you’ve got a few bob, some spare air-miles and really like to impress, take a quick impromptu flight to New York and see Naren Young at Caffe Dante for a superlative Mary. Or just make your own at home.”
“Whatever you recommend”
“In all honesty, the worst call to give a bartender. You see, we all have preferences, and the house preference may not be to your liking. You want your date to start well, and that doesn’t include returning the £15 masterpiece because, as it happens, you don’t like rare single estate mezcal after all. If you really have to go this route, at least give some indication as to the type of flavours you like and whether you want a short or long drink.
“Unless you’re coming to the First Dates restaurant, it’s unlikely you’d choose your date this way.”
“Class. In my humble opinion you really can’t go wrong with some bubbles to kick off a date. And why stop at Champagne? There is also some exceptional Prosecco, Cremant and Cava to be had too, and they don’t necessarily break the bank. Start things with a ‘pop’ and share a drop, excellent idea.”
Anything with energy drink in it
“While it’s fairly useful to be awake and alert for your date, I’d probably get the energy boost in beforehand. Or are you going on a gym date?”
A nice cold glass of Nesquik
“Aw, a play date. How sweet.
“But really, there are some pretty freaking amazing milkshakes to be had in London these days. Classic malt shakes from Ed’s to towering extreme shakes oozing with unguent calories. This sort of date is going to get messy very quickly… As Fred would say, ‘Don’t be naughty!’”
“At the end of the day, there really isn’t a right or wrong call when it comes to a first drink on a first date. It’s all about where you are and who you’re with. So many drinks are inherently tied to certain occasions, times of day, moods and places, that finding the right one to match is all a matter of personal taste. By way of example one of my favourite off-beat matches involves treating myself to a proper hot towel shave at a decent barber followed by a dry martini at the nearest good bar, makes you feel amazing!
“But I’ll tell you one thing for free from behind the stick; wherever and whomever you’re dating, always be polite to the staff. Trust me when I say however nice you are to your date, if they see that you’re rude to others, it won’t go so well. Good luck and don’t forget to tip!”
So there you go: straight from the bartender’s very knowledgeable mouth. Not that paying attention to his advice is going to help you though - no fancy show-off drink is going to impress your date when it’s all over the floor after you tripped on your shoelace on the way to the table.
“A pint of VELCRO please, barkeep” is what you need. Lost cause, you are, sheesh.
Catch the First Dates Celebrity Special for Stand up To Cancer on 2 November at 21:00 on Channel 4 and the rest of the series Mondays at 10pm.
(Images: Channel 4/iStock)