Great Dates

 

For more great places to take a date, check out "Friday Night Cocktails."

CLASSICS

By Charles Monagan

Dancing, antiquing, house hopping, whale watching—they’re all reliable dating scenes.

Stepping Out
What’s a classic date if not dinner and dancing? With that in mind, check out Hartford Swing Dance, an organization devoted to . . . well, you can probably guess. If you’re shy about the steps, a beginner East Coast Swing lesson is provided from 7:30 to 8:30. General dancing follows.

Another tactic would be to check out the schedule for Eight to the Bar, one of Connecticut’s most beloved bands. They can play all styles, but swing is, as their name implies, their specialty. Don’t miss a chance to dance to them live. havetodance.com/hartfordswing or eighttothebar.com.
 

Something Old
 “I want you to help me find the perfect bowl for my dining room table” is the way this date begins. What follows is a pleasant weekend drive along Route 6 (also known as Main Street) in Woodbury, Connecticut’s designated Antiques Trail and one of the best in America, with more than 30 dealers to choose from. Whether you find the bowl or not is immaterial; it’s the browsing that’s key. Check out the painted cupboards at Monique Shay, the weathervanes at Wayne Mattox Antiques or the Best of Connecticut-winning goods (mostly French) at Country Loft. You might also consider the cluster of restaurants near the intersection of Rtes. 6 and 64: Carole Peck’s Good News Cafe, John’s Café, Dottie’s Diner, Carmen Anthony Fishhouse and others. antiqueswoodbury.com.

House Tour
Connecticut is well-known for its outstanding residential architecture. Some of our historic homes—Mark Twain House, Gillette Castle, Roseland Cottage, Heublein Tower—are worthy of their own tours. But for a date, we’ll suggest Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan. It’s set on a 45-acre property and surrounded by a surprising number of fascinating, eccentric outbuildings. The tours don’t start up till May, but we mention it now because tickets are on sale and they get snapped up briskly. Get your tickets in hand, then you can work on finding an appropriate companion. philipjohnsonglasshouse.org.

Deep Thoughts
Aquariums are cool places for dates, aren’t they? Take the Mystic Aquarium Institute for Exploration, for example. You can’t really go wrong viewing the adorable African penguins you’ll find there, or the beluga whales, or sea lions and seals, or the fish swimming hypnotically in the big central tank. The Deep Sea 3D Motion Ride puts you in a submersible as it prowls the depths alongside whales and giant squid. The Challenge of the Deep takes you to the most remote ocean floors of the world. When you finally come up for air, you may have an entirely new view of each other. mysticaquarium.org.
 

 

DINNER &  ....

By Valerie Schroth

The evening begins with dinner (and we’ve got suggestions). Where it goes from there is strictly up to you.

Dinner and a Movie
Dinner-and-a-movie has long been a date-night favorite—but this Bethel twosome has a special charm. Intimate Cádiz, with its all-tapas menu, is perfect because you can customize your meal to suit the occasion, your pocketbook and your appetites. The roster includes tasty soups, salads, meat, poultry and seafood options, as well as lots of vegetarian dishes. (A few examples: Kobe beef sliders, stuffed piquillo peppers, grilled tandoori chicken kebabs and avocado-and-mango salad.) Follow that up with a movie at Bethel Cinema (four screens and popcorn with real butter), which often has hard-to-find art-house films. Best of all, you don’t have to brave blustering winds to get there—the movie house is right next door to Cádiz, and can be entered via an internal door. What’s not to like? This combo works well for a lingering romantic lunch on the weekend, too! Cádiz: 203/790-4433, bethelcinema.com
 

Late Lunch
Food Network groupies all over the country know chocolatier Franz Knipschildt from his appearances on “Chopped,” “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” and “Food Network Challenge,” but we’re so glad Knipschildt chose Connecticut to start his now renowned chocolate business and Chocopologie Café (in SoNo). The café is inviting, with cozy, shabby-chic decor, dim lighting and a wide-ranging menu of appealing wintertime dishes like cheese fondue, coq au vin and cocoa-braised short ribs, as well as the don’t-miss French Steak Dip (sliced strip steak, caramelized onions, mushrooms and melted Grûyère on a demi baguette). Then, it’s on to the pièce de résistance—amble up to a glass showcase filled with small wonders of the confectionary kind. Share one with your honey—the Bailey’s Dome is guaranteed to put a gleam in his eye—or try a couple of Knipschildt’s wondrous handmade chocolates. You can watch them being made a few steps away. BTW - Chocopologie seems to be catching on: There will soon be a second location—in Dubai. 203/854-4754; knipschildt.com
 

A Pub in the Country
This wonderful country pub has become something of a destination in the Litchfield Hills, and it’s not hard to see why. The welcome is warm at The White Horse Tavern, and there’s always a big fire crackling on the raised hearth. Then, whether you dine in the atmospheric tavern or a dining room practically on top of the East Aspetuck River, you’re sure to find something to love on the menu—chicken potpie, perhaps? Guinness beef stew, bangers and mash, (truly superior) fish-and-chips? The highest price on the menu, for the New York Steak, is $18.75. As you may have guessed by now, owner John Harris is an expatriate Brit—and just wait till you see the “Ridiculously Good” desserts—bourbon bread pudding, crêpes Princesse (renamed “crêpes Suzette” by the Prince of Wales “after one of his favorite dinner companions”) and Banoffi Pie (“a banana, toffee, cream pie kind of thing favored by the royals”).

But I won’t have done my duty by you, dear readers, if I don’t mention the pub’s signature burger, a half pound of Black Angus sirloin, brisket and short rib topped with applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions and sage derby blue cheese sauce on a toasted buttered brioche. 860/868-1469, whitehorse-countrypub.com
 

 

 

GET ACTIVE

By Lauren Brancato

It’s good to think outside the dating box by getting physical in a whole different way.

Roll ‘Em
Good, old-fashioned competition is a great way to keep the fun alive, and fun is what you’re sure to have at High Rollers, Foxwoods’ brand-new bowling complex. It’s not just any bowling alley—it oozes a retro Vegas vibe, with glamorous black-and-white photos lining the walls, elegant chandeliers and plush banquettes. Each of the 20 PBA-approved regulation-size lanes (six of which are VIP) include an oversized screen showcasing music videos and sporting events. After finding out which of you is the better bowler, why not go head-to-head in a game of billiards or shuffleboard, also available here. And, of course, whoever loses has to buy dinner at the café, which includes an array of appetizers, sandwiches, pizzas and salads, as well as a selection of easy-to-share dishes. Top it off with a martini, signature drink, beer or glass of wine from the bar. 860/312-BOWL; highrollersfoxwoods.com.
 

The White Stuff
For the couple that loves the white stuff, skiing and snowboarding are great ways to bond. The 1,600-foot Mohawk Mountain, located in quiet Cornwall, is the perfect spot for this. Located amid the beauty of the southern Berkshires, it features 24 trail of varying difficulties on on 350 scenic acres of state forest. If you’re beginners, sign up for a ski or snowboard package before hitting the slopes, both of which include a lift ticket and a one-and-a-half-hour lesson. Be sure to stop in at the Pine Lodge Restaurant, a ski-in, ski-out full-service restaurant located partway up the mountain on the Pine Trail. Sip a warm drink and eat hearty, delicious fare in the cozy atmosphere. 800/895-5222; mohawkmtn.com.
 

Prime Club
If you’re both adventure lovers but it’s just a little too cold outside, you can still find your thrill indoors at Prime Climb in Wallingford. The state’s premier indoor challenge course offers two rooms (one for beginners, one for more experienced climbers) and 15,000 square feet of rock climbing surfaces, the highest reaching 40 feet. Gear up and climb to the top, and build your trust by guiding each other along the way. 203/265-7880; primeclimb.com.
 

Winter Wonders
Enjoy the winter air, the waters of Long Island Sound and some superadorable animals on one of the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s Winter Creature Cruises. Bundle up and board the research vessel Oceanic, where guides will point out the harbor seals, gray seals and occasionally even harp seals that journey to the Sound each winter, as well as buffleheads, mergansers, old squaws and other winter waterfowl. Don’t forget your binoculars, as you won’t want to miss a thing on the invigorating two-and-a-half-hour journey. 203/852-0700; maritimeaquarium.org/cruises_winter.html.
 

 

GEEK TREATS

By Ray Bendici

Two minds can be a terrible thing to waste on a typical date. Here are some alternatives.

It’s All in the Chemistry
When you get right down to it, love is just a bunch of biological events, from chemical reactions in your brain to electrical impulses dancing along your synapses, so what better place to celebrate that than the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford? Sure, you might think this is a place for kids, but there’s more than enough for a pair of fun-loving adults to explore (especially those who are young at heart)—build your own robots and pit them against each other, create your own music (a love ballad, perhaps?), challenge each other’s scientific knowledge or climb into a stylish simulator for two and gaze at the stars during a hypnotic tour of the universe. The sixth floor offers captivating views of the Connecticut River and surrounding areas, or there’s the 3-D theater, featuring a 30-by-40-foot screen and 18,000-watt Dolby sound system, perfect for a megadose of scientific entertainment as well as a little hand-holding time in the dark. 860/SCIENCE; ctsciencecenter.org.
 

Conversations
Good conversation can be quite stimulating, and there may be no better public discourse found than at The Connecticut Forum. Politics, education, religion, economics—the subjects debated are as varied as the panelists invited: Former guests range from Christopher Buckley to Bucky Dent, Al Franken to Newt Gingrich, and Benazir Bhutto to Gloria Steinem. A discussion of the brain by brainy people is sure to be rife with intellectual thrusts and verbal parries, and once that gray matter is invigorated, who knows what can happen next? 860/509-0909; ctforum.org.
 

Hitting the Books
Many a couple have fallen in love over a good book, so an afternoon or evening spent together browsing the shelves of a local bookstore can be an ideal date. At R.J. Julia there are plenty of shelves and books to peruse together—no doubt there should be a romantic story or two among the staff recommendations this month. A date can also be coordinated around any of the numerous book signings, celebrity visits and special events; check the website for the full schedule. Be sure to “book” some time for a stop at the RJ Cafe—nothing says sweet romance better than canoodling over coffee while sharing an award-winning cupcake (or two) from La Rosticceria. If you want to take it further, you can also head across the street to the Madison Art Cinemas, where you might even find a cinematic adaptation of one of the books found on the shelves of R.J. Julia. 203/245-3959; rjjulia.com.

 

 

ART WATCH

By Cathy P. Ross

For many, it’s culture that quickens the pulse, and determines who likes what—and why. 

Making Beautiful Music
Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on!” Sweep your beloved away to hear the beat of the music (and your hearts) in the Litchfield Hills at Infinity Hall & Bistro in Norfolk. Few experiences can match the intimacy of a concert at this beautiful old opera house. Stained glass and wood reflect an amber glow in the 320-seat hall, where more than 200 artists perform each year. The 125-year-old proscenium stage provides a spectacular view from any seat in the house, and a state-of-the-art sound system makes for easy listening. Cocktails served during the show or dinner in the mezzanine add romance to your evening. But if you prefer to sup before the concert, enjoy sumptuous fare at a cozy table for two at the Infinity Bistro, located on the first floor of the music hall. 866/666-6306; infinityhall.com.
 

Artful Romance
Connect with your sweetheart through great art at the New Britain Museum of American Art. The first museum in the country dedicated exclusively to American art showcases a huge range of art from impressionist to abstract, and spans from Colonial times to the present. Different periods are showcased in 12 separate galleries. Visit each one and imagine your romance within the period it represents. One gallery showcases painter Thomas Hart Benton’s “The Arts of Life in America,” a series of murals that captures life during the Great Depression era. Currently on view is WomenArtists@NewBritainMuseum, a multimedia exhibition of 80 works, all selected from the museum’s permanent collection. Gaze at paintings and sculpture by Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Dorothea Lange, Louise Nevelson and contemporary artists Nina Bentley, Ellen Carey and Lisa Hoke. Hoke was commissioned to create “The Gravity of Color” for the museum. The exhibit runs through March 20. 860/229-0257; nbmaa.org.
 

 

VALUE$

By Pat Grandjean

You don’t have to be cheap to enjoy a good cheap date. “Sensible” might be a better word.

Universal Love
So you believe your romance is written in the stars? Then you might want to head for the next free, public planetarium show and celestial observation at Central Connecticut State University’s Copernican Observatory and Planetarium—not to have such silly superstitions confirmed but to get a peek at the real thing. Planetarium shows are scheduled the first and third Saturday of every month at 8 p.m., followed by an observation session (if skies are clear). Here’s hoping the planets align for your visit. 860/832-3399; ccsu.edu/astronomy.
 

Flying High
There are a zillion reasons to admire the superiority of the bald eagle. Eagles are masters of the coolest aerial courtship rituals ever, including one maneuver—a talon-locking, death-defying free-fall dive—that makes a shared bungee jump look pretty wimpy. They mate for life, but still live in the now: You don’t see eagle widow(er)s hanging around the assisted-living roost looking bereft. And the male is truly evolved, helping in the construction of the family nest (renovated each year) and staying in to incubate the eggs when his mate wants to go hunting with the girls. Anyway, you won’t necessarily scope the whole domestic 411 by going to a bald-eagle observation at Southbury’s Shepaug Dam, held Wed., Sat. & Sun. 9-1. But February is the ideal time to see their winter fishing technique at the dam, a prime spot because the onsite hydroelectric station keeps that stretch of the Shepaug River from freezing solid. Since the observation area opened in 1986, more than 130,000 bird lovers have visited; last year, they were rewarded with sightings of up to 20 eagles a day. 800/ 368-8954; shepaugeagles.info.
 

A Toast for Two
You drink plenty of wine in the spring, summer and fall; what you may not realize is that a winter weekend is a gloriously romantic time to visit Connecticut’s vineyards to enjoy a wine tasting—especially when their fields are covered in a pure blanket of white. Here are two highlights of the state’s wine trail: At Hopkins Vineyard, set on the northern shore of Lake Waramaug in New Preston, you can try seven wines for $6 per person, including a recent American Wine Society gold-medal winner, the 2008 estate-bottled, semisweet Westwind. Goshen’s Sunset Meadow Vineyards offers a tasting of five wines for $5.50; recommendations include the Grand Harvest International medal winner Cayuga White. 860/868-7954, hopkinsvineyard.com; or 860/201-4654, sunsetmeadowvineyards.com.
 

 

OVERNIGHTS

by Dale B. Salm

You can offer the moon and the stars, but you’re more likely to end up in a really nice hotel room.

Country Chic
It’s easy to kindle, or rekindle, romance at the lovingly restored Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton, now with 22 guest rooms—four in the original 1889 Victorian house, nine each in the onetime carriage house and two-year-old Comstock House. The latter is evocative of an English country home, with a sweeping double staircase setting just the right gracious-living tone. You’ll settle in comfortably in your well-appointed room (with some furnishings from NYC’s late-great Hotel Pierre), wash your cares away in a luxurious marble bath (“Quaint ends at the bathroom door,” believes innkeeper Ian Phillips), perhaps snuggle up in the cuddly robes provided (in your king-size bed or in your cozy sitting area). An overnight here, coupled with dinner at the inn’s award-winning Brasserie Pip, is a sure Rx for relaxation and romance. Before or after your stay, the low-key charms of the river-valley towns of Essex and Chester await. 860/767-0330; copperbeechinn.com.
 

City Smart 
Whether or not you met and fell in love at Yale (and some of you no doubt did), the 124-room Study at Yale Hotel is a great place to reconnect with the romance—and energy—of New Haven. The in-town campus-side location comes through in a sleek contemporary lobby/living room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chapel Street and shelves stocked with books from NYC’s Strand Bookstore. Upstairs, guest rooms invite you to relax in a comfy leather chair (with more books from the Strand), bathe in a steamy shower (with a champagne setting), then dream in a lofty featherbed (dressed in Frette linens). Top views are from rooms overlooking Pierson Quad. Downstairs, Heirloom restaurant awaits, and you’re walking distance from New Haven’s restaurant central (Miya’s, Scoozzi, Ibiza, Union League Café, Zinc, Basta et al) and culture central (Yale Rep, Yale Art Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, Shubert Theatre). 203/503-3900; studyhotels.com
 

Seaside Romantic
Capturing that elusive balance between luxury and homeyness, the 18-room 10-year-old Inn at Stonington is the antidote to the frenzy of the fast lane. With therapeutic water (Stonington Harbor) views, even in winter, it’s an ideal base of operations for exploring Stonington Borough, the quintessential “away from it all” destination in the off season. After checking out the borough’s eclectic shops (Clad-In and Indigo Blue for women’s clothing, A.K. Dasher for jewelry, Next for just about everything), Velvet Mill Studios (a mill converted into artists’ studios) and restaurants (notably, Noah’s and the Water Street Café), you’ll be ready to head to the inn, commune with your fellow guests over complimentary wine and cheese in the living room and proceed upstairs to your own room. Think “innish by design but with every modern convenience,” with most rooms boasting a bath-cum-Jacuzzi and a gas fireplace for cozying up by. Bliss in the borough. 860/535-2000; innatstonington.com.
 

Cottage Colony Extraordinaire
The phrase “one-of-a-kind” just begins to describe this AAA five-star (for both lodging and dining) Relais & Chateaux resort in the Litchfield Hills. Extraordinary in every way, Winvian is a community of 18 cottages set on 113 acres, each designed by a different architect, each with a different theme—to wit, the Helicopter cottage (yes, there’s one—a restored 1968 Sikorsky—inside), Golf (you can chip and putt away indoors to your heart’s content), Treehouse (a two-story adult model with full bar), Beaver Lodge (complete with lookout nook), Greenhouse (bird-watching and stargazing encouraged) and Woodlands (forest and then some, i.e., a bedside waterfall and tree-trunk sinks). These are fantasy cottages to the nth power, the counterpoint being the historic Gordon Brown House, the gathering spot (should you wish to gather) and home to the resort’s intimate, candle-lit fireside restaurant. Not to leave any base uncovered, there’s also a lovely on-site spa. 860/567-9600; winvian.com.
 

Great Dates

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