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By Steph Trengrove
March 26, 2015
By Steph Trengrove
March 26, 2015

The match of a lifetime on Tinder, the exchange of numbers in a crowded bar, the accidental meeting in the halls of uni… These first sparks of love can only begin to flame with the passing of the initial hurdle – the first date.

First dates are much like jumping into an ocean of unknown temperature. They can be either a delightful experience which leaves the jumper breathless for more, or so awful and uncomfortable that unknown speed is realised in the desperate attempt to leave the water as quickly as possible. Whilst dates of the latter calibre make for hilarious banter for years to come, the former is really the preferred outcome. Choosing the right destination for one's romantic rendezvous can be instrumental in ensuring the success of your future relationship, so here are the top ten first date destinations in Wellington for you to cement your fledgling love.

(Plus, even if they don't prevent the date from going down in a fiery inferno of disaster, at least great food and drink will be on hand to help with the pain.)


1. Spruce Goose

Sometimes dinner is just too formal a meeting for ye old first date. In that case, Spruce Goose is the ideal destination. Named in homage to the biggest aircraft ever built (which only ever flew once in 1947,  but still), Spruce Goose is located in close proximity to both the airport and Lyall Bay meaning you can get to know one another while watching the waves break and planes take off while reclining on your beanbags. It also allows for a more casual vibe with its daytime menu and cabinet of goodies. (Get the blueberry cheesecake ($6). Just do it. Guaranteed to be the highlight of the date.)

Feel like making things a bit more formal though? Spruce Goose has that covered too, staying open for dinner and offering options such as the pan fried fish fillet with crispy onion rings, leek frittata and salsa verde ($27), which is sure to have stomachs as happy as two hearts in love. (Should the first date go awry, you know where the cheesecake is.)

Cnr Moa Point Rd & Cochrane St, Lyall Bay


2. Monterey

Picture this; two hearts brought together by an overly-competitive Connect Four tournament, or through a charming game of Pictionary, accompanied by some ridiculously delicious fare. All of the above are very real possibilities at Newtown's Monterey.

Monterey is a bar and diner inspired by the Californian writers' huts of the mid-20th Century, established in 2010. It is nostalgia personified, with tables that one can draw on, all vinyl music, strange old books and an impressive selection of board games. The hidden courtyard out the back ("Wayward"), is the perfect place to snuggle up in a corner under some fairy lights, and cements one's love over a halloumi and onion ring burger ($14).

For those too nervous to lock into the commitment of a full meal, go for a Monterey liquored iced soda ($10), and nibble on some fried pickles with smoky yoghurt ($6) - perhaps letting your fingers gently brush as you both reach for the next bit of fried, pickly goodness… Romance at its finest.

4 Rintoul Street, Newtown


3. CGR Merchant

Keen on skipping the meal altogether? No problem. CGR Merchant is the place for all you star-crossed lovers who require that little bit of social lubrication. I mean, just look at that fantastic selection of infused spirits (pictured above).

CGR (it stands for coffee, gin and rum) Merchant is a little oasis of class that one could almost miss in the overwhelming splat of debauchery that is Courtenay Place. Heading up the narrow stairs sees punters transported to an elegant mid-century outpost in the Caribbean, characterised by all the best aspects of elegance, mystery and adventure (all crucial elements of a first date, it must be said).

If the atmosphere alone isn't enough to rustle up those vibes, then a glass of the salted caramel rum on ice ($10) will definitely do it. It's renowned for being the best tasting rum in town, and with good reason; its sweet and salty, alcoholic goodness is sure to warm ones insides, and hopefully raise the temperature of a first date to boot.

46 Courtenay Place, Te Aro


4. Hawthorn Lounge

Jazz piano rolls gently in the background, with the shaking of cocktails acting as a perfect percussion. Voices murmur over poker tables, and punters recline in lavish armchairs. Plush velvet and dimmed lights abound and a code of behaviour demanding chivalry is displayed at the door; Hawthorn Lounge is not only straight out of the 1930's, it is the perfect destination for a quirky (yet awesome) first date.

That's without even mentioning the drinks, and they are well worth mentioning. One of Wellington's most renowned shrines of mixed liquor, the bartenders, under the helm of Peter Lowry, offer literally anything you or your date could want to sip on. Literally is no exaggeration either – if it's not on the menu (which is extensive already) it will be made up to fulfil your tastebud's needs.

Glamour, class and cocktails; if that doesn't make for a perfect first date it's unlikely anything will.

82 Tory Street, Te Aro


5. The Crab Shack

A view that has one staring over bobbing vessels and the odd swooping seagull, an interior that is charismatic in its beachy, Cape Cod style, and staff who are relaxed, yet maintain impeccable service, Crab Shack could not be a better fit for a first date destination. That's without even mentioning the fun factor of getting down and dirty with bibs and a big ol' crab (bonding at its finest – nothing brings two nervous lovebirds together like an enormous sea creature).

Don't trust yourself not to make a mess of the whole crab eating business? Don't fret, other options are plentiful, such as the Cajun catch of the day ($24) which is mouth-wateringly good. Washed down with one of their cocktails (give the passionfruit caipirinha ($14) a whirl, it's delightfully refreshing on a first-date-nervous palette), you'll wonder why you and your love-to-be didn't scuttle there sooner.

Shed 5, Queens Wharf


6. Nicolini's

No one does romance quite like the Italians do. Whilst a whirlwind trip to the Tuscan plains might be a little over the top, Nicolini's is a little piece of Italia right in the heart of Wellington, and is, we opine, one of the best places for a first date with a little amore (note: this is the date where you can seamlessly (without looking like a jerk) incorporate stories from your European OE, or casually mention how you speak fluent Italian).

It's hard to make Italian food taste bad; but few make it taste as good as Nicolini's does. The Bruschetta ($9.50), beautifully crisp bread topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil is the perfect way to start, followed by the ricotta and pesto ravioli with blue cheese, cream and walnut sauce ($20.50) which is quite simply cheesy, soft, pasta deliciousness on a plate.

Almost invisible to the naked eye, Nicolini's is hidden down the bottom end of Courtenay Place; a beautifully intimate bar and bistro which whisks one instantly away from the hustle and bustle outside, and straight into a Roman backstreet. The interior is delightfully rustic, the service is excellent and the entire feel of the place is charming from everything to candles in wine bottles in every table, to the Italian fun facts on every page of the menu. One would be hard pressed to find a better place to fall in love. Cue the Italian love songs.

26 Courtenay Place, Te Aro


7. Olive

Sometimes, a first date has to be a lunch date. Maybe you want to keep it slightly more casual, maybe it's just more convenient; whatever the reason, Olive is the perfect place to go for your midday romantic rendezvous.

The cafe holds pride of place at the top of Cuba as one of the street's most renowned eateries, although you wouldn't guess it from the outside. Its unassuming exterior gives little hint of the sleek and light feel of inside, or give any indication of the Mediterranean courtyard tucked away out the back. That's without even mentioning the food.

The menu makes it almost impossible to choose a lunch option, but the house-smoked Ora King salmon with cherry tomatoes, rocket, green beans, hazelnuts and crème fraiche ($22) is in a word, delectable; fresh, flavoursome and light without being meagre. When washed down with an All Good White Grapefruit Sparkling Water ($6), you have on your hands a lunch as relaxed yet charming as the setting itself; perfect for formalities to turn to flirtation, and lunchtime into love.

170 Cuba Street, Te Aro


8. Mount Vic Chippery

What could possibly be first-datey about a fish and chips joint you ask? Well, my little loved up protégées, this is not just any fish and chip shop. No, this is royalty among all F&C establishments. The emperor of all fried sea creature and root vegetable vendors. Mount Vic Chippery is, quite simply, the best.

There's an expansive blackboard menu that offers everything from the pork sandwich ($10) to the fish burger ($10), seemingly endless options for the staples; fish (blue warehou, lemon fish, moki, trevally and kingfish to name a few) and chips (handcut agria, crinkle cut, kumara, beer battered and curly), and every sauce that a fish and chip fiend could want.

Plus, its close proximity to both Mount Victoria and the Waterfront make it not just a delicious date destination, but a cute one too. Take your boxes of fried goodness to either one of the two iconic and idyllic Wellington spots, and let love bloom.

5 Majoribanks Street, Mount Victoria

9. Duke Carvell's Emporium

So your first date is a Tinder/blind/otherwise potentially awkward arrangement that you may need to have over with as quickly as possible? No worries. Duke Carvell's has got you covered, being a fantastic venue for a date that can be as long or as short as the quality of your potential partner dictates.

At number 6 Swan Lane, just off Cuba Street, Duke Carvell's pays its eccentric homage to a swashbuckling adventurer, its interior reminiscent of times gone by, but its food and beverages well and truly in the present. For one thing, they have some of the best hot chocolates in town ($6). Order one of those, and you can then decide to sip away as you enjoy the quality chat your date is putting forward, or scull as quickly as possible as they butcher all hope of conversation. Either way, that milky, chocolate-y goodness is still going to go down a treat.

If things start looking like they're going well, get amongst some triple cooked hand cut chips with garlic and thyme, and potentially order one of their many, delightful looking cocktails. The outdoor patio is the perfect place to let one cocktail become two, then three, and let the haze of love (or alcohol, often it's hard to tell) take over.

3 Swan Lane, Te Aro


10. Havana Bar

Leading a potential partner down a dark alleyway brings with it many assumptions, very few of them being classy or romantic. However, if you're leading them down an alleyway to Havana Bar, class and romance (and first date success) are sure to follow.

Situated in colourful historic cottages on alleyway-esque Wigan Street, Havana is an award-winning cocktail bar and restaurant which serves a diverse range of Spanish inspired tapas and seasonal plates. Inside, its informal air is great for two nervous lovers to ease their trepidation and relax into getting to know each other.

Alcohol can also aid relaxation, and Havana Bar certainly knows what it's doing on that front. The range of options is vast, and if they're all as good as the flower bomb cocktail ($16), any nervousness will have evaporated in no time and nothing but tipsy flirtation will remain.

32 Wigan Street, Te Aro

Published on March 26, 2015 by Steph Trengrove


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