Complain all you want about being single on Valentine’s day, but those of us with dates have issues too: Being surrounded by hundreds, nay thousands of couples competing for dinner reservations, deciding between chocolates and roses, and perhaps most stressful: Affording it all. As the Times shockingly revealed on Sunday, college isn’t cheap. For most of us, it just isn’t feasible to pay for the lavish set of chocolates and roses gifted over a romantic candle-lit dinner you arrived at by limousine and whose ambiance is only amplified by the table-side violinist you hired to serenade you and your beau.
Luckily, we live in New York City, a place which anyone who’s seen Half Baked knows is a haven for
cheapskates the less-than-wealthy who still want to have a good time on a date. Here are our top five activities to have a great Valentine’s day on a budget.
Cost for Two: $20-30
Your main cash sink Valentine’s Day will undoubtedly be the meal. Restaurants know this is the biggest date night of the year, and will be offering cheesy Valentine’s-themed prix fixe menus, for which they will somehow justify charging you an arm and a leg and possibly another appendage if they’re really vicious.
A fun way to avoid the V-Day dinner rush and save big on cash is to cook together. The major pitfall of this strategy is roommates: Having the creep you found on Craigslist who never leaves his room hover over your shoulder can turn a fairytale meal into a nightmare nosh. Make sure you’ll have the apartment — or at least the kitchen — to yourself. And remember that while cooking together is a fun activity, navigating the hell that is New York City grocery stores — especially Trader Joe’s (I’m looking at you, Palladium residents) — is a torture we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. Decide with your date what you’d like to cook beforehand, and handle the shopping yourself. That way, when Thursday night arrives, you’re prepped and ready to go, just like they do it on the Food Network.
Cost for Two: Free!
Spanning sixty blocks from Midtown to Harlem, Central Park is a perfect place to head after dining almost anywhere north of 59th Street. Despite what your parents may have told you, Central Park is super safe at night — crime is down to about 2% of what it was in the 80’s. Resist the urge to “ironically” hop in a horse-drawn carriage like tourists. Instead, if you’re on the south side of the park, head towards the Mall, which runs on the East Side from 67th to 72nd, and is well-lit and usually fairly bustling with people. If you’ve dined out on the UWS or UES, head to the Reservoir, which spans pretty much the entire park from 86th to 96th, and is surrounded by a pleasant, well-lit path which is sure to make for a romantic evening stroll.
Cost for Two: $6-$15
If you want something a little more casual, try out Fat Cat on Christopher Street. A mix between an informal jazz club and your friend’s totally-decked-out basement from high school, this all ages club is perfect for NYU students. $3 cover fees will get you and your date in to this basement hangout, where you can listen to all the jazz you want. A bar serves up cheap beers if you are of age. And the best part? All of Fat Cat’s space that’s not taken up by musicians is used to play host to all of your favorite games: Ping pong, billiards, foosball and shuffleboard tables are all available. If board games are more your thing, head to the bar where you can rent Scrabble, chess, checkers and backgammon sets.
Cost for Two: $4.50
For the adventurous set, sitting back and enjoying a show doesn’t make the cut for fun evening activities. If your idea of a great date is getting out and exploring the city, try taking a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram. This enclosed cable car will lift you high above the East River as it travels to Roosevelt Island from 59th street.
Lasting about 5 minutes, the trip affords great views of Midtown Manhattan and will cost you one swipe of a Metrocard, $2.25. Once you’re on Roosevelt Island, stroll south to FDR Four Freedoms Park, which was recently opened in a ceremony attended by Bill Clinton and Governor Cuomo. At the southern end of the park you’ll find a neat old abandoned house. If you can handle a bit of a longer walk, head to the north end of the island, where you’ll find a lighthouse that looks out onto Randall’s Island.
Hit the Dance Floor
Cost for Two: $0-10
Now, we admit that sweating it out while dancing wildly in a club might not match your idea of High Romance, but for some, getting intimate with their dates while dancing to a DJ or band will make for a classic night. We recommend checking out MyFreeConcert.com or OhMyRockness for a list of cheap shows around the city. Whether you’re looking to check out a club where you might end up doing lines of coke in the bathroom, or just catch an up-and-coming “Brooklyn band” in a venue where people will be wearing “cardigans,” it’s a good bet you’ll find a show to attend on those sites.
Have any more tips for a cheap but fun Valentine’s day? Let us know in the comments!