It’s the weekend and a date night is long overdue. All week you’ve battled traffic to and from school, homework, bath time, diapers, baby formula, and hand-cleaning bottles, all while quickly slamming half-eaten spaghetti or chugging weeks-old wine just to get through the night.
So having called your go-to babysitter, asked a favor of a friend, or recruited abuelita with a bribe that includes attending Sunday’s mass, it’s time to make plans and head out. But what’s the catch? You’re on the clock – meaning as soon as you step foot out of your castle, the meter is running on that babysitter ($12 an hour?) or on abuelita’s time. There is no time to waste on this date night – you need maximum R.O.F. (Return On Fun).
So here are our choices for the best spots in South Florida that can handle a date night on the clock (#DNOC) and make you wish you had more hours of sleep the next morning.
Friday Night Happy Hour at The Forge
This may be our top choice for #DNOC but the biggest challenge is that it takes place on Friday’s only. From 6 – 9 p.m. at the bar at The Forge enjoy the Veuve Cliquot happy hour, where bottles of the iconic Yellow Label champagne are a mere $50 ($10 a glass). Couple this with a spectacular bar menu with shareable plates such as the colossal shrimp cocktail (market price) and mini salmon tartare tacos ($10) and the BBQ pork baby back ribs ($12) you could end up making this your dinner. Of course, if you prefer wine there are plenty of enomatic dispensers around the bar ready to tempt your empty glass with red or white. The music (think ‘Bonita Applebaum’ by A Tribe Called Quest, ‘Pass The Dutchy’ by Musical Youth and Prince’s ‘Erotic City’) gets cranking by around 7:30 p.m., so when the happy hour specials transition into the regular evening, it will feel like you’ve been dancing the night away.
The Forge, 432 W 41st St, Miami Beach; 305-538-8533
Saturday Night Champagne Saber at the St. Regis Bar
Heading out on a date to a bar can be fun – just the sound of something other than the ‘Frozen’ soundtrack is wonderful bliss. But you’re on the clock, so you want something more than just flat screens showing sports highlights and bartenders flinging your favorite cocktail. This is why the weekly champagne sabering at the St. Regis bar is among our top choices. Each Saturday between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. two of the hotels master sommeliers appear at the hotel bar, provide some history of champagne sabering, and then, whoosh, open the bottle of bubbly by slicing through the neck of the bottle with a shiny, silver saber. The tradition signals that the evening has started. Even better, everyone in attendance gets a small pour in a glass, compliments of the St. Regis. The whole show takes about 20 minutes, so get their early, grab a seat at the bar or adjacent cocktail lounge, and once it’s over, stick around for a cocktail and enjoy the sexy live band that plays jazz versions of current pop hits.
St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, 9703 Collins Ave, Bal Harbour; 305-993-3300
Dinner at Drunken Dragon
You are going to need to plan ahead and make reservations for this speakeasy-style Asian restaurant (it’s housed inside a former convenience store along Alton Road). But once you’ve found it and are inside, you will feel transported into a dark, hip space (perfect if your date starts early and the sun is still out) where you won’t be able to decide between sitting at a table or sitting at the bar. Enjoy Crispy Bok Choy ($5) or BBQ Tenderloin ($15), imbibe in a craft cocktail or enjoy local brews like Wynwood Brewing Company’s La Rubia. If you go with another set of couples (group date night) try to get one of the BBQ tables where you can cook your own food. The atmosphere is relaxed but your social street cred will feel renewed upon departing.
Drunken Dragon, 1424 Alton Rd, Miami Beach; 305-397-8556
The Rooftop at Cibo South Beach
Whether you arrive for an early or late dinner date, there may not be a better spot during the breezy spring and summer days than the rooftop at Cibo Wine Bar on South Beach. The mega restaurant and lounge is three stories tall, has open kitchen stations in the main dining room and a bar and lounge area that could rival the size of some South Beach nightclubs. But the optimum spot, to be transported into a parental bliss of tranquility and relaxation, is the Cibo rooftop. Wooden tables, ceramic pot lighting, and the constant breeze off the nearby waters of Government Cut (a.k.a. cruiseship runway) create the perfect setting for a glass of wine, some local beer and a selection of pastas, pizzas or fresh salads that will make you think you’re relaxing in a spa with lots of food.
Cibo Wine Bar, 200 South Pointe Dr., Miami Beach; 305-987-6060
Charming Newcomer at Crust
Tucked away in the Miami River area, Crust Pizza USA makes more than just amazing pizzas. Chef Klime Kovaceski (formerly of Crystal Cafe and Trio on the Bay) displays the depth of his talents with a menu that serves everything (in large portions) from solid fettucine alfredo and meatball dishes, savory garlic rolls, fresh kale or Mediterranean salads and seafood dishes like pecan crusted trout and mahi mahi ‘francese style’ that tickle the tastebuds. The space is romantic in an eclectic way, with mixed-matched seating and a large wine bar, and the free valet parking is a plus — a true hideaway where conversation can take place and isn’t drowned by loud music. The chef’s wife, Anita, greets you upon arrival with such warmth, you would think you are being invited into their home — a secret restaurant known only to their best friends.
Crust, 668 NW Fifth St., Miami; 305-371-7065
Waterfront Dining at Modern Garden
What’s a date night without a water view in Miami. But this time, we’re not talking about the ocean but instead the Miami River. Over at Seaspice’s sister restaurant you can take in the views in a much more interactive setting. The dining room is intimate, featuring indoor trees that are more like works of art made out of wood. The menu is based on hot-stone cooking and crudos, so cooking dinner with your date (on an 850-degree volcanic stone slab) takes on a whole new meaning. Among our favorites were the purple watercress salad, the salmon rosettes crudo and the strips of wagyu beef and Elysian lamb for the hot stone. Reservations are a must, and the earlier the better so you can enjoy the sunset and watch the Magic City’s skyline transition into night.
Modern Garden, 422 NW North River Dr., Miami; 305-440-4200
Trubador Sounds at Casa Juancho
Ready for some old school Cuban culture, complete with a trio of trubadors ready to sing and play your requests, tableside? Then head to Calle Ocho in Little Havana for this one-of-a-kind date night experience. Upon entering you will think you are in a Spanish chalet, complete with rustic woodwork reminiscent of the 1800s. The tip here is to enjoy the sangria, among the best in Miami, and share small plates with your date – they’ll come out quick, since time is of the esse
nce. Dinner portions are big, so if you are still hungry share that, too. Friday and Saturday nights are live music night, so make sure to make a reservation.
Casa Juancho, 2436 SW 8th St, Miami; 305-642-2452
Pizza Time at Ironside
Tucked away in the Little River area of Miami, this hidden gem of a pizza place is perfect for a date as long as you arrive after 9:30 p.m. Before then it is a family favorite, especially on Friday night’s, considering the outdoor seating faces a large, enclosed courtyard which becomes a perfect spot for children to run around and burn some energy before dinner is served. Among the wood fire pizzas are the house specialities – Margherita (tomato, mozzarella fiordialatte, basil – $11) and the Formaggi (mozarella fiodilatte, pecorino, gorgonzola – $14). Pair that with a caprese salad ($10) or some of the freshest bruschetta ($8) we’ve tasted in some time. Plenty of wines and a few Italian beers are available to wash it all down.
Ironside Pizza, 7580 NE 4th Ct., Miami; 305-531-5055
Photos by Jade Fernandez