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The bowling date is a classic, and one of my personal favorites. While not generally recommended for a first date (it can be a bit stilted trying to get to know someone in alternating 30 second increments while the pins reset) it is great for a group date, or for couples who enjoy a little friendly competition every now and again. “Social bowling” has experienced a resurgence in popularity recently, giving rise to slick and cavernous enterprises which seem to cater to large parties or corporate events, complete with fancy finger food, flashing lights, and frenetic music. That’s fine, but for a date it can be a little overwhelming, not to mention expensive. That’s why I was so thrilled to discover PEP Bowl at 1200 Broad street in South Philly. Small and laid-back, this six-lane establishment opened in 2009, but dates back to the 1950’s and maintains a retro-ambiance that is both winning and romantic in its charm. At the same time, its scoring mechanism, lanes, shoes and equipment are all modern and well-maintained, guaranteed to satisfy even the most serious of recreational bowlers. It’s also 100% handicapped accessible.

How cheap we talkin’: $3.50 per game per person and $3.00 shoe rental. Tuesdays they do one better, with $2.50 shoe rental and games from 5-11pm. And it’s BYO!

Why this will impress your date: At PEP, you are also bowling for a good cause. Patronage of PEP Bowl helps support PEP’s mission to provide education, recreation, vocational training, and job placement services to people with disabilities.

Score extra points: By throwing a gutter ball at least once. Now that may seem counter-intuitive, but it depends what kind of points you are really trying to score.

The Inside Game: Because there are only 6 lanes, it’s a good idea to call ahead and reserve one. 215 952-BOWL.

Next Date: Anytime! Well, almost. Lanes are reserved some early evenings for league play hours. Check here for the complete schedule, and here for special deals.

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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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Every Friday at noon, you can go to World Cafe Live and see a free concert.  The performances are recorded and broadcast live on WXPN, complete with on-air announcements, so it’s really a fun thing to be a part of, and definitely a notch above the usual “lunch date.”  I recently met a date there to see Drink Up Buttercup, an energetic, psychedelic, PA-based garage band that has been gaining momentum both locally and nationally. Performances reliably start at noon and end about 30 minutes later, leaving plenty of time to actually enjoy lunch, too.  If you want to stay in-house, World Cafe has $8 pre-fixe lunch specials, but we opted instead to walk two blocks North on Walnut street to the more casual Picnic, which offers an inventive inventory of freshly made sandwiches, salads, soups, and desserts.

How much we talkin’: The show is FREE. (Optional) drink at World Cafe Live is $5 (+ tip). Salad or sandwich at Picnic, $8 or less.

Why this will impress your date: Show you’re not just a slave to the man by indulging in a drink on your lunch hour. A real one.

The inside game: These shows can and do reach capacity, especially for larger national acts, and XPN makes registration available to its members before the general public.  If you’re not a member, check the free-at-noon events page to see who’s coming the next Friday and if space is available.  Registration is a simple matter of providing your name and email, and one person can RSVP for two or more guests.

Score extra points: By showing your date up to the balcony, accessible by the stairs on the second level.

Next date: Friday at noon! Find out who’s playing this week here.

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There is something kind of exhilarating about having the daylights scared out of you, especially when you have a date’s hand to cling to in the dark.  In October, through Halloween, haunted houses pop up all over Philly and the surrounding area.  These spook shows are fun, for sure –  but they’re not cheap.  Tickets to Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary during off-peak hours are $20, and go up from there.  But, as I discovered on a recent date, this dilapidated prison fortress in Fairmount is pretty darn creepy all by itself, even in daylight hours.  Get your imagination going by trading ghost stories over a cup of coffee at Mugshots across the street, then go walk the long, ghostly halls of Eastern State, which many believe to be haunted. If you dare.

Why this will impress your date: Because being scared on a date is kind of sexy.  (Note: Being scared of your date is not).

The Inside Game: If you need something warmer than your date’s hand to hold onto, Eastern State will let you bring in your coffee.

Score Extra Points: By being able to give your date goose bumps with a great ghost story. Don’t have any? Borrow one fromTrue Ghost Stories or Your Ghost Stories. Both sites feature real stories of hauntings and other paranormal happenings.

Next date: Anytime. Eastern State Penitentiary is open 10-5pm, every day, year round.

How cheap we talkin’: $12 for daytime admission to Eastern State; 2$ for coffee or tea at Mugshots.

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On a Friday night, Old City can sometimes seem a bit overrun by heavy drinkers, flashy dressers, and unruly crowds – not necessarily the most inviting atmosphere for a date.  But that’s only if you don’t know where to go (or where not to go).  For an Old City date with old-fashioned charm, start with homemade ice cream from Franklin Fountain, then take in the concert and fireworks at Penn’s Landing. (Concert starts at 7:30, fireworks at 9:15).  After the big show, head to Sassafras International Cafe (and bar) at 48 S.2nd between Market and Walnut.  With painted tin ceilings, a faux fireplace, and international beer list, this intimate and classy joint is a welcoming respite from the mayhem of the club scene.  That is, if you can make it past the throngs on the street.

How cheap we talkin’: $5-7pp for ice cream (it gets pricey fast if you opt for the waffle cones like we did!) and $6 for drafts at Sassafras (plus tip!).

Why this will impress your date: Because there is something even more awesome about fireworks when it’s not the Fourth of July.

Score Extra Points: By splurging for the waffle cone at Franklin Fountain. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The Inside Game: There is a full sized couch in the ladies room at Sassafras.  And a lock on the door.  Just sayin.’

Next Date: Ice cream and drinks are available anytime, but the last Friday for fireworks is September 3, 2010.

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The boat ride scene has long been a staple of the romantic film genre (case in point, anyone remember the Chicago Ferry slow-dance scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding?).  But truly, what is more romantic than a boat ride?  Watching the wind tousle your date’s hair, listening to the waves slap rhythmically against the side of the boat, and exalting in the subtle danger of being so far from solid ground.  Didn’t think you could experience this in Philadelphia? Enter the River Link Ferry.  For only $7 round trip, my date and I cruised the Delaware across and back, and during our layover in Camden, found a place to enjoy a cold beer near the waterfront.

How cheap we talkin’: $7 for round trip tickets on the River Ferry. $2-4 for beer and optional $4.50 for fries to split.

Why this will impress your date: I talked about the hair tousling, right?

Score extra points: With this move:

Classic.

The inside game: The Camden waterfront has some nice benches and green space to sit.  The rest of Camden does not.  So for a nicer time (and a cheaper date), maybe skip the beers and bring a picnic instead.

Next date: Anytime! (between Memorial Day and Labor Day). Season regular hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with departures from Philadelphia every hour on the hour beginning at 10:00 a.m. Departures from Camden are every hour on the half hour beginning at 9:30 a.m.

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Since its renovation in 2006, Franklin Square Park has been transformed into a vibrant amusement park, complete with a carousel, two playgrounds, the impressive and historic Franklin Square Fountain, and the perfect Cheap Date diversion: an 18-hole miniature golf course designed around iconic Philadelphia landmarks like Love Park and the Liberty Bell. After battling it out on the green, my date and I cooled off by getting frosty treats from Square Burger, the park’s freestanding snack stand, and taking them on a stroll (part-way) across the breezy and beautiful Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

How cheap we talkin’: $8 for a round of golf ($7 if you have a Septa pass!)$3.50-$4.75 for a rootbeer float or shake from Square Burger.

Why this will impress your date: By showing that you can be a gracious winner. Or loser.

Score extra points: By offering to be the one to keep score. (Do not literally score extra points by cheating).

The inside game: Access to the Ben Franklin Bridge closes at 9pm, and is not reputed to be the safest after dark, so make sure you are finished walking well before sundown.

Next date: Anytime! Well, almost. The course is open from 10am to 9pm every day May 28th through September 7th.  Then, through October 23rd, you can golf Tuesday through Saturday 9am-9pm (although from October 1st – 31st the hours Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are 11am-8pm).  The course is also open Columbus Day, and November 26th-28th, 5-8pm.  December 4th-19th golf Saturday and Sunday 5-8pm.  December 27th-31st golf every day 5-8pm.  Then the course will close until daily hours resume March 26th. Whew! Did you get all that???

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