It's your third date, so forget the $200 dinner: You can impress at a much lower cost in Chicago. Don't kill your budget for the month (and possibly jeopardize a fifth date by setting the bar a bit higher than high) by blowing your wad on one over-price splurge. Or at least, before you do, consider your options. Because, after all, there are some things money just can't buy.
File under: Lounge explosion
Thursday nights with Kelly Hogan & The Wooden Leg kicks off at 9:45 p.m. at The Hideout; admission is free, though the doorman welcomes donations. If you've never heard Hogan wail, you and your date are in for a legitimate treat, for Hogan is not only one of the finest bartenders in Chitown, she also happens to be its most compelling torch singer. This chic has it, and her silvery vocal and witty repartee will no doubt leave you and your date melting into each other's arms. Yikes…
File under: What can we get for $5
The Abbey Pub quietly reigns as one of the best live venues in the city, and many folks have passed through its doors to witness the live music, often only dipping into the "other pub" to kill time before the doors open. Third daters looking to drink and dine on Saturday night would be wise to sup from the Abbey's $5 pasta dinners and sip on its $4 Absolut Bloody Marys (with the added bonus of being able to surprise an extra-worthy date with tix to that night's show). There's a good crowd on Saturdays, but not overwhelming, and third-date talk can go down more or less unmolested by the rest of the folks boozing it up in the Abbey. Daters with a little more cashish to blow might come a night early for the $7.95 all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry, but you might want to pass on the vinegar.
File under: Cheapest carry out
The Dominick's on Canal runs a stellar Friday night special, namely its $4.99 take-out pizza. For five bones, it's amazingly tasty. The pies can be cooked right in the store per order, or carried out in an uncooked state (which is all that's available after 10 p.m.). While other Dominick's feature the same deal, the Canal location dishes the tastiest goods. When combined with quality movies from Facets Videoteque (1517 W. Fullerton; (773) 281-9075), this is a sure-fire pleaser of a frumpy Friday on the couch. Sure you could get Netflix and Domino's, but so can folks in Idaho. Like Netflix, Facets charges a monthly rate of $24 that allows members to keep three movies out at a time, sans late-fees. It also affords unlimited free access to film screenings in the Cinematheque with one guest in tow (Note: two free passes per showing equals a good idea for your next date). Check with "your Dominick's," as the $4.99 pizza special is only offered at locations featuring a Cafe.
File under: Indie apropos
The Rainbo and its infamous photo booth provide a wonderful backdrop for the experienced third dater. Here you can revel in the arse-to-elbow crowd, take in duly appropriate indie music fare, spot notable musicians from bands like Tortoise and Head Of Femur and, most importantly, hit the photo booth. Much like "Girls Gone Wild" opened the eyes of a million frat boys, the Rainbo photo booth is a hipster's guaranteed "cheap ride," replete with photographic evidence to fully render what your beer soaked memory may not. Even Sad Simons and Shy Sarahs will loosen up when given the proper photo booth prompting. But be warned, small talk may be difficult over the din, though the noise-induced proximity may prove more a effective aphrodisiac than the cheap booze served up by the accommodating staff. And be a little bit careful in the photo booth, or your picture just might live on in the Rainbo's calendar.
File under: The old standard
Margie's Candies and Guthrie's Tavern
For folks who flock to the tried-and-true side of dating, nothing is as proven as dessert at Margie's Candies followed by booze and board games at Guthrie's Tavern. Margie's is sort of like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, only without all the death and funky fresh Umpa Lumpas. Get an ice cream float, two straws, some chocolate sprinkles and voila: four eyes filled with stars. (It's even more date-worthy when you realize that somebody's grandparents probably proposed in this very location). Top it all off with a quick jog up to Wrigleyville, where the dating dynamo that is Guthrie's can be found. From the intricately arted-up drop ceilings to the vast selection of mostly beer-stain-free board games, the innocent soda jerk can woo his Mustang Sally over a rousing round of Battleship. Just don't expect a quiet night free of crowds. After all, these two locales are signposts of Chicago dating, so you'll no doubt be bellying up with a chorus of other couples. A quick check to determine if there is a Cubs night game is a must, as the tow trucks will be out in full force, and the blue clad bleacher bums will be soused if the Cubbies are playing.
File under: Love in the afternoon
Sweet Maple Cafe
Breakfasting at the Sweet Maple Cafe is an ideal way to for two love-struck third daters to kill an afternoon. The Sweet Maple closes at 3 p.m., and on the weekends it's CROWDED, so you might want to work this one into a weekday lunch date. Forget Wishbone, folks. The Sweet Maple's got the bonafide Southern goodies, with cheesy grits, huge pancakes, scrumptious blueberry muffins and bacon slabs to die for. Come early on Fridays for the catfish nuggets. After all, it goes without saying that a full stomach is a sure-fire shortcut to the heart of your beloved. Just don't eat too much, because with food this rich and filling, you may have to let your belt out a notch or two, a mood-kill no matter how you frame it.
File under: Sunday morning coming down
The Chopping Block
On most Sundays, you'll find a divine delight for the third date palate: cooking at the Chopping Block's Lincoln Square location. Hosted by one of Chicagoland's finest providers of cooking classes for the non-professional, the Chopping Block wheels out some of its finest brunch. While couples won't get to pitch in, they do get to line up at the counter and observe some of the area's finest culinary arteests at the top of their game. Expect plenty of witty banter amongst fellow brunchketeers, since it's the best way to cover a growling tummy. Keep in mind, reservations are essential, and, at $20 a head, this one tops the list as our priciest third date suggestion (unless of course you chugalug too much at Rainbo or Guthries). Expect at least two or three solid courses.
File under: Grittier gaming
Newport Bar and Grill
For third daters in love with boardgames, beers and Burgers, but without the baggage of more high profile establishments like Guthrie's, the answer's right around the corner. The Newport Bar and Grill doubles as Laundromat (perhaps that's where you met, in which case you may skip this one…). Strangely, despite its Wrigleyville location, the Newport is rarely packed. More often than not the bar's about half full, which is perfect for actual third date chatter while buying hotels on Park Place. Think: a baker's dozen 21-inch televisions of varying ages, the sounds of 1997 on the jukebox, clean laundry and some of the finest burgers on the North Side.
File under: Free flicks
Each Tuesday, Smartbar screens films in "Wrigleyville's best basement." The first film begins at 8:15 p.m., the second at 10:15 p.m. Movies in a bar are nothing new to Lakeview, as The Vic has been running the Brew and View for many moons. But the movies there are more of the guilty pleasure variety. At Smartbar the films are more often than not of the art house variety, featuring contemporary staples such as "Amelie," "American Beauty" and "Run, Lola, Run," cult classics like "Monty Python and The Holy Grail," "Brazil" and "A Clockwork Orange," and the entire series of "The Office" in one night. Plus, it's free, with $3 Stella Artois bottles and Bacardi cocktails rounding out the bargain experience. This third date might just provide the most bang for your buck.