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One of my favorite cheap dates this time of year is to take a blanket and some treats to one of the many outdoor movie screenings that take place all over Philly all through the summer months.  I said it once, and I’ll say it again: There is something undeniably romantic about cuddling up after the sun goes down, sharing some candy and maybe a clandestine bottle of wine or beer, and taking in an outdoor movie on a hot summer night.
And from the looks of this handy-dandy list I’ve prepared − complete with titles and times! – this is a date you can enjoy almost any given night of the summer! Choose from Blockbusters at Penn’s Landing, classic favorites at Schuylkill Banks and Liberty Lands Park, Indie hits at the Piazza, films with local ties at Headhouse Square and more!  There is literally something happening almost every single night, and they are all FREE to attend.
Just BYO blankets and bottles and enjoy the show − and your date!
And if that’s not enough celluloid for you, Bistro La Minette, a quaint french bistro in Queen Village, screens French films every Monday, Thursday, and Friday in its back patio for its “Dinner and a Movie Al Fresco” series.  The shows start at 8:30pm (Fridays at 9:30pm) and reservations are recommended, but you can keep it a cheap date by sharing a pichet of wine or having desert and coffee instead of a full dinner.  There’s a different movie each week. Click here for the roster.
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The Beneluxx Tasting Room in Old City is easy to miss, but for those looking for romance on a budget, its wine, cheese, beer, and chocolate are well-worth discovering.  Read the full review at Drink Philly and find out why!

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On the first Friday of every month, Philadelphia’s art galleries stay open late and welcome everyone — from casual passerby to serious collectors — to come in and peruse their current curations.  The aptly dubbed “First Friday” has been happening, rain or shine, since 1991, and has become one of the city’s most visible and popular events.  Although historically focused on the 40+ galleries between Front and Vine and Market and 3rd streets in Old City, First Friday open houses are now hosted by galleries all over the city, from Space 1026 in Chinatown to the Projects Gallery in Northern Liberties to Highwire in Fishtown.  The best thing about this expansion is that, even though every First Friday shares the same core elements, depending on who’s showing what where, you can have a radically different experience every single time.

How cheap we talkin’: FREE!

Why this will impress your date: Because you can show you are as comfortable around refined oil portraits as you are around avante-garde video art.  This is a good thing, I promise.

The Inside Game: If you want to know who’s showing where, need to plan a route, or find galleries in a particular neighborhood, there are a lot of great resources for planning ahead, like this linked list of Philly art galleries.  Another great resource is Phrequency’s “DIY First Friday” list, conveniently organized by neighborhood. The Philadelphia Weekly also shares its pick of noteworthy exhibitions each month in its Arts and Culture section.

Score Extra Points: By doing a little homework before hand (see above) and then leading the way. Strolling from gallery to gallery is perfect for hand-holding.

Next date: Friday April 1, 2011! And then the first Friday of every month, all year round (approximately 5-9pm).

Keep reading for highlights from First Fridays past, and where to find the galleries that still have free booze!

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Bob & Barbara’s, located at 1509 South Street, is not only a classic dive bar, but practically a Philadelphia historic landmark. If you haven’t been there yet, chances are you’ve at least heard of it, and if you’re the one introducing your date to Bob and Barbara’s for the first time, it’s going to be a date to remember. With walls heavy with vintage Pabst’s Blue Ribbon beer paraphernalia, a rowdy bar, and a venerable jazz tradition going back over twenty years, weekends at Bob and Barbara’s may feel more like a rite of passage than a date.  For example, a PBR pounder and shot of Jim Bean might not be the classiest of choices on most dates, but at Bob and Barbara’s it’s just what you order – every time.  It’s also a great spot for a group date, as my cohort discovered on a recent Friday night.

How cheap we talkin’: Entry is FREE! The “special” (a PBR and shot of Jim Beam) is only $3. Don’t call it the Citywide. It’s just the special here. (And no judgment, but if this is a first date, I recommend sticking to one per person).

Why this will impress your date: The musicians, the musicians, the musicians. Utterly unfazed by any of the nonsense that occurs in a packed bar with cheap drinks, these guys are the real deal. Fridays and Saturdays they play more of a familiar jazz repertoire, while Sundays they host a jam session.

The Inside Game: Bob and Barbara’s can pretty crowded, so getting served can take awhile.  If you’re getting your date a drink, go together to the bar so you can still chat.  Otherwise, make sure your date is comfortable with what could be a long wait for your return!

Score Extra Points: By treating your date to a late-night snack. The night we were there the guys from Coup de Taco were set up in a corner dishing up their inventive, non-traditional taco combinations like Sweet Thai chicken with peanut sauce, pulled pork, or castro-style rice and beans with Sofrito sauce, $3.50 each or two for $6.  Between specials, it really hit the spot.

Next Date: Friday, Saturday, or Sunday!

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Meg poses with a Santa we encountered at Suburban Station

My date’s stats:

 Blog: PhilaDate — Hot Spots for Great Dates in Illadel!

Age: Started blogging in October 2010.

Likes: Walking the city, singing, jazz and blues, and being the go-to source for her friends (especially her guy friends) for date ideas sure to impress the ladies.

Dislikes: Negative Feedback. (Who doesn’t?)

Little Known Fact: Also writes Songs That Won’t Make You Vomit, where she details the ups and downs of her dating life as it relates to, and reminds her of favorite songs.

Favorite Cheap Date:  Brunch at Fitzwater Café.

Meg Mirzoff is a 27 year old “self proclaimed dating pro” and the author of PhilaDate, a relatively new (October 2010) blog that highlights fun date spots culled from Meg’s own extensive experience with both dating and Philadelphia. A lifelong area resident, her twitter profile quips positively that “Philly is a hotbed for the singles… you just gotta put yourself out there!” And that is exactly what Meg did when she agreed to meet me for a blind date after I pitched my I’m Seeing Other Blogs idea to her via email.

Of course, as soon as we met I realized that Meg really never had a moment’s hesitation – a spirit of adventure is just a part of who she is.  Outgoing and enthusiastic, her fun-loving personality comes across in her blog as well.  For example, for a date with “heat” she recommends following a meal of tacos with a night out dancing at a salsa club, and she isn’t afraid of proposing ideas for a 24-hour long date (for some “serious” quality time).

Her idea for our Cheap Date was equally adventuresome: an afternoon Busker-hunting in and around Suburban Station, followed by drinks at Village Whiskey.  For those that don’t know (I didn’t), “Busking” is the act of performing in public while soliciting tips or gratuities (i.e. passing the hat).  Those engaged in Busking are called “Buskers,” also known as street performers, street musicians, minstrels, or troubadours.  I’ve passed by countless such performers before − on South Street, in Rittenhouse, and in the subway stations – but it hadn’t occurred to me that intentionally seeking out these performances could make for a highly entertaining afternoon and a great cheap date.

How cheap we talkin’:  $1-5 in tips for the Buskers; Approx. $6 for a beer at Village Whiskey.

Why this will impress your date: Not only does Busking have a long history dating back to at least the 1860’s, but today’s Buskers have their own culture involving unspoken but understood rules and customs about who gets to play when, and where.

Score Extra Points: By ordering tater tots to share at Village Whiskey. They are only $3 and they are delicious.

The Inside Game: All Buskers are entertainers, but not all are equally entertaining. For a nice profile of various Philly Buskers and their stomping grounds, check out this article from Penn music blog God Save the Beat, or this blog by local Busker David Richenbacher.  

Next Date: Anytime! But Saturday and Sunday afternoons are a pretty safe bet at Suburban Station, as well as early evenings weeknights (rush hour).

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Traditions are what make holidays special.  (They can play a pretty big part in relationships, too). There is probably no holiday ritual more iconic in Philadelphia than the John Wanamaker (now Macy’s) Christmas Light Show. Since 1955, this dazzling display of lights and music (with narration by the equally iconic Julie Andrews) has delighted children and adults alike. At least it delighted my date and I (two consenting adults) when we went to see it together last week. Add to the experience two thick and decadent hot chocolates from nearby Naked Chocolate (which we surreptitiously spiked with shots of liquor) and this was a holiday date worth making a tradition.

How cheap we talkin’: The light show is FREE! An “Indulgent” sized hot chocolate at Naked Chocolate is $5.00.  A single-serving shot of liquor (optional) is $2-3. (We used 3).

Why this will impress your date:  Because nothing beats feeling like a kid again. Except feeling like a kid who’s snuck into the liquor cabinet.

The Inside Game: Up the decadence factor by getting your chocolate “European style.”  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed (but your personal trainer might). 

Score Extra Points: By planning your visit to coincide with one of the daily concerts on the famous Wanamaker organ (it’s one of the largest working organs in the world). View the full schedule here.

Next Date:  The 2010 Christmas Light Show runs every hour on the hour, 10am to 8pm, from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve day.

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Now that Baltimore Avenue’s $1 Dollar Stroll series is done for the winter, why not head down to South Street instead?  That’s what my date and I did on a recent afternoon, and as it turns out, this underappreciated thoroughfare has lots to see and do, for next to nothing.  We checked out artwork on the walls in the Bean Café, had a competition for who could find the most hilarious album cover in the fifty-cent record bins at Repo Records, made friends with the store cat at Mineralistic, browsed shops with everything from edible underwear to x-rated comic books, and stuffed ourselves with South street must-haves: slices from Lorenzo’s and ice cream (well, frozen yoghurt) from Phileo.

How cheap we talkin’: $2.75 for slices, $2 for coffee or tea, $5-7 for yoghurt (it’s sold by weight – so be careful not to overdo it!)

Why this will impress your date: Because South Street is an iconic Philly attraction that has been referenced by everyone from the Dead Milkmen to Boys II Men.

Wait for it……around 50 seconds in…Yes!

The Inside Game: Do not try this within 2 hours after an Eagles or Phillies win.  (Unless getting shoved around by crowds of cheering fans and possibly getting thrown up on is your idea of romance).

Score Extra Points: By buying your date a little gift along the way, like a $1 trinket from the dispensers in Atomic City Comics, or a folkart tchotske from Eyes Gallery.

Next date: Anytime, day or night!  Lorenzo’s serves until at least 4am most nights, the Bean Café stays open until midnight every night, and Phileo is open until 11 on weekends and 10 most weekdays. 

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