Best East Bay Dates
From drag queen bingo to line dancing, here are 28 ways to have fun when the sun goes down.
Seven Surprising Nights
These activities are easy yet out-of-the-box, physical and intellectual, hilarious and artistic—and most of all, fun.
Bored with blockbuster movies at the multiplex? Are you over the sports bar scene? Here are some suggestions for entirely new adventures—whether you’re going out with your sweetheart or a group of your best buds. And now, for something completely different . . .
Revenge of the Nerds
Grab your black-rimmed glasses, and head to Nerd Nite East Bay, where you’ll find in-the-know hosts’ presentations on everything from home coffee roasting, to how fusion works, to why Disney World’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride had to be shut down. The events, held at Oakland’s Club 21, are often accompanied with dinners and desserts from local food vendors that reflect the topics. (January’s talk on the history of gumbo was accompanied by, yep, you guessed it.) The last Monday of the month, $8 in advance, $10 at the door, eastbay.nerdnite.com.
Kick It Up
Bend it like Beckham in a contest of FootGolf at Las Positas Golf Course in Livermore. An area on the course has been equipped with holes large enough to fit a soccer ball. All you have to do is grab your friends, kick, run, laugh, and repeat. Enjoy an early-evening nine-hole round before drinks or dinner at Beeb’s Sports Bar and Grill by the clubhouse. Daily during the course’s open hours, $10 per person/$3 ball rental (or bring your own), laspositasgolfcourse.com/-footgolf.
Love on Wheels
Looking for an excuse to hold hands? Try a night of old-fashioned skating with your sweetie at San Ramon’s The Golden Skate. Wednesday 18-and-up adult nights feature a DJ and light show. Toss out your latest diet, and feast on snack bar faves such as hot dogs, nachos, and cotton candy. Wednesdays, 7:30–10 p.m., $12, $5 quad/inline skate rental or bring your own, thegoldenskate.com.
PaintIng under the influence
Whether your artistic abilities lean more toward Picasso’s Blue Period, in-your-face Banksy, or paint by numbers, you and your bestie can create an original masterpiece at Pinot’s Palette in Danville. Enjoy a fine wine from the bar’s many choices, as a local artist leads you step-by-step in producing your own fine work of art to take home. Classes are usually held Thursday through Sunday, $39–65, pinotspalette.com/danville.
Recent studies suggest couples who laugh together last longer, so get a little professional help for your relationship: Head to comedy night at Sanctuary Ultra Lounge in Livermore. The Thursday night showcases feature a lineup of comedians who no doubt share some of your problems—but see them in a much funnier light. Eats and drinks are also available, including a top-notch selection of Livermore Valley wines. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., free, sanctuaryultralounge.com.
Drag Queen Bingo
Warning: This is not your grandma’s bingo game. Get a group of your most fun-loving friends, and head to Club 1220 in Walnut Creek for BS Bingo night, when entertainers in drag put on a show and spin the cage. Prizes! Drinks! Glitz and glamour! You may already be a winner. Don’t be late for special deals on bodacious cocktails, powerful sake bombs, and tasty sushi. No boas required. First Tuesday of the month, 7–9 p.m., no cover, club1220.com.
Shake Things Up
Serve date night up neat by attending the bartending basics class at Livermore’s The Last Word gastropub. You and a few classmates will have the whole restaurant to yourselves for Cocktails 101, the class you always really wanted to take in school. Owners Rick and Theresa Dobbs will teach you the basics of drink making—including each drink’s history, pro tips on mixing, and food and drink pairings—so you can wow your friends at your next soiree. Here’s to you. Classes are usually scheduled on the third Monday of the month, check website for details, drinkeatgather.com. —Linda Lenhoff
We search for the East Bay’s best karaoke experience.
I come from a family of karaoke connoisseurs.
We take our singing-in-public habit very seriously: We have a list of crowd-pleasing songs and even plan harmonies for our duets. There’s also a list of critical criteria that a great karaoke venue must meet. The DJ should have a range of music (everything from Billie Holiday to
Billy Idol), the crowd should be encouraging to both regulars and newcomers, and the sound system needs to be top quality.
Our typical go-to spot has been Farrington’s Bar in Pleasant Hill (farringtonsbar.com), which offers karaoke every Wednesday and Sunday. It’s a popular place: In fact, it can get a little too crowded and rowdy, so I took up the hunt for a new stage. I found four spots with an active singing scene, and used the family parameters to pick a winner.
First, I hit Walnut Creek’s Massés Sports Bar and Grill (masseswc.com) on a Tuesday night. I was surprised to find that a live band accompanies each singer, which was exciting. However, the band’s song list was lacking. Another Walnut Creek hot spot, The Greenery Restaurant at Diablo Hills Golf Course (diablohillsgolfcourse.com/greenery-restaurant), always gets a big turnout for karaoke Thursdays through Sundays. Despite an abundant song selection, I found the room to be too big and bright, as opposed to the intimate bar atmosphere I prefer.
Lafayette’s Roundup Saloon (925-284-4817) offers karaoke on Wednesday and Saturday nights, and the DJ has songs from just about every genre. The big drawback is that the bar’s regulars tie up the song queue early in the evening, so it can be difficult for a newbie to grab the mic.
My hunt ended at Sunshine Saloon in Pleasanton (sunshinesaloon.com), where karaoke rules on Thursdays and Saturdays. A good third of the bar is dedicated to the karaoke stage; the dozens of TVs showing sports did not overwhelm the music; and the DJ had my go-to song by Emeli Sandé, which was a major plus. I waited a half hour to sing, but the enthusiastic cheers I received from the crowd after belting out “Next to Me” made it worth the wait—and confirmed that Sunshine Saloon was the winner. —Rachelle Cihonski
Great Date: Big Buck Hunter
This test of character will hit the target on date night.
As someone who’s staunchly against real-life hunting, it’s a little weird that my date night of choice involves pumping a stream of dollar bills into Big Buck Hunter, an arcade game that rewards you for mercilessly mowing down woodland creatures. But it worked as an excellent icebreaker—and test of character—in the troubled dating years of my early twenties, and continues to serve as a date-night diversion deep into my long-term relationship.
The basics of the game are simple: Shoot the bucks, avoid the does, reload the large plastic rifle between shots. But its implications on your dating life can run much deeper.
As a first date, a night of Big Buck Hunter skirts awkward small talk, gives your hands something to do, and allows you to check out your potential paramour on the sly. You can shake out any lingering nerves with each frantic pump to reload the ammo of your fake firearm. Plus, the game offers the perfect opportunity to predict how your date will react to stress, confusion, frustration, and ultimately, disappointment: You haven’t experienced true despair until you’ve accidentally blasted a doe and been banned from finishing the rest of a round.
But even established couples can benefit from a night of beers and Big Buck. For a no-stress outing, head to Elliott’s Bar in Danville, plunk down $7 for two longnecks, and hit up the game. Elliott’s Big Buck Hunter machine is decidedly high-tech, with options ranging from the traditional game play to zombie and Duck Dynasty versions.
Work tension, carpool stress, and life’s other worries fade into the background when you’re forced to pinpoint an erratic deer running across a wooded landscape. It’s a cheap night out, during which you’ll laugh, bond, and feel the sweet joy of besting your partner—or losing with dignity. What could be more romantic than that? (925) 837-9955. —Kristen Haney
Hot Game: Cornhole Fever
If you’ve ever enjoyed an afternoon rolling bocce balls, you might want to give Cornhole a try: You’ll just have to change your drink. While bocce pairs well with wine, Cornhole is best enjoyed with beer.
“It’s a very social game. You spend a lot of time talking with the other players,” says Nick Renevitz, California’s reigning champion in organized singles’ competitions. “It’s the perfect game to play with a beer in one hand.”
To play, teams of two take turns lobbing four beanbags at wooden targets spaced 27 feet apart. Stick the bag on the wooden slab, and you get one point; drop it through the hole on the target, and you get three. The opposing team can neutralize points by sticking bags on the target or by knocking opponents’ bags off the wooden plank. First to get 21 points wins.
San Ramon’s Renevitz, who was featured on an ESPN “Sport Science” segment examining the physics of the game, says Cornhole is trending in Tri-Valley beer bars.
Dublin’s Three Sheets Craft Beer Bar (threesheetscraftbeer.com) and Livermore’s Tap 25 (tap-25.com) both have Cornhole boards for patrons to use, free of charge, and also schedule competitive tournaments. —Peter Crooks
Passport To Deliciousness
The tastes of Gay Paree, Bangkok street food, and the high Himalayas are a one-block walk from Concord’s Todos Santos park.
Looking for international cuisine without having to exchange currency to pay for it? Concord’s Todos Santos Plaza is the place for you. A wide world of food is within walking distance of the charming park, and there’s no need to visit an airport or strain your wallet. Here’s a brief travel guide.
Start the exploration at La Piñata—if only for its outstanding selection of tequilas and margaritas. Try the Soltero, one of many specialty margaritas available in the lively bar, and enjoy chips and guacamole while watching Mexican soccer. lapinataconcord.com.
Luna looks like just another low-cost option from the outside. But inside, there’s surprising flair and outstanding Italian cuisine. The veal is scrumptious, the fish is fresh, and the lasagna—with pasta made in house—is particularly good. lunaristorante.us.
La Sen Bistro
La Sen’s menu features escargot, boeuf bourguignon, and entrecôte frites, all from the classic French cookbook. In fact, the restaurant sells its own cookbook so you can learn how to make this cozy bistro’s dishes at home. lasenbistro.com.
Woung Luang thai cuisine
This small eatery’s longevity speaks to its quality, but the Thai street food portion of the menu is as current as you’ll find in newer restaurants. The spicy eggplant and Atlantic salmon curry are reasonably priced winners, but we’ve never been disappointed with any selection. woungluangthai.com.
The Hop Grenade/E.J. Phair Brewing Company
Get your Oktoberfest on anytime at these side-by-side beer-oriented operations that let you try drafts and bottles that aren’t found at more generic spots. The Hop Grenade typically offers rare drafts from local producers and an enticing array of chilled bottles; E.J. Phair Brewing Company specializes in its own house drafts plus a few choice guest pours. thehopgrenade.com, ejphair.com.
Sample high-altitude treats without the need for extra oxygen at Himalayan Cuisine. Start with apps such as the chicken choila or momos (think pot stickers); then, if you’re feeling adventurous, order a goat curry, and dial the spice level up a notch. himalayancuisineconcord.com.
Dark, cozy, and intimate, with moderately sized rolls and a friendly staff, Happy Roll is always buzzing. You can’t go wrong with this menu, but make sure to order the Crazy Charlie roll (avocado, crab, spicy tuna, cooked shrimp, and tempura flakes topped with fresh salmon), which delivers all the seafood you could ever want in one bite. happyrollconcord.com.
Restaurante El Salvador
Who doesn’t like pupusas? The national dish of El Salvador—deep-fried and delicious—is the star here. Go for the pupusas revueltas stuffed with beans, cheese, and finely ground pork; and rise above the attitude you sometimes get from the staff. (925) 680-6618.
Singles’ Scene: Wooing In Walnut Creek
The top five pickup lines overheard at local bars on a Friday night.
Line 1: Sunol Ridge Restaurant and Bar
The generational gap semantics confusion.
“Your body is sick . . . oh, I’m sorry, that’s meant to be a compliment!”
Line 2: Modern China Café
The not-so-subtle successful techie slip.
“I live in the South Bay. I work for a company that you may have heard of. It starts with G and ends with oogle.”
Line 3: Vanessa’s Bistro 2
The players’ move.
“You girls are beautiful! We just bought your dinner. We’re having a party at our Alamo mansion, if you’re into that sort of thing. Here’s the invite. Have a good night!”
Line 4: 1515 Restaurant and Lounge
The professional baseball player (who will remain anonymous).
Him: “Hey, do you like to party?”
Her: “We’ve met on Tinder before.”
Him: “Oh, OK. Oops. Ha-ha. Well then. Bye.”
Editor’s note: Three seconds later, the same pickup line works quite well on another woman.
Line 5: Redux Lounge
The Hail Mary.
“Come back! We’re supposed to get maaaarrried!”
Great Date: Line Dancing
Line dancer Lisa Brown is calling out steps to a dozen first-timers at Oakland’s Overland Country Bar and Grill.
“Heel, clap, toe, clap, and jump!” Brown commands over a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band track. Within minutes, the newbies are stompin’ like old pros. Brown offers these tips for anyone who wants to learn how to scoot.
1. Dress casually and comfortably. “Ladies don’t need to wear heels—boots are perfect. Add a flannel shirt or a
T-shirt and jeans, and you’re good to go.”
2. Interact. “Ask questions, watch how others are doing it, and let your date know he or she is looking good.”
3. Add some flair. “Once you learn the basic steps, make them your own. Give it a little extra kick or jump.” overlandoakland.com. —Peter Crooks
Danville’s piano-tickling duo compare favorites.
Head to McGah’s Pub and Pianos in Danville on almost any Friday or Saturday night, and you’ll likely find the place packed with folks singing along to piano duo Travis von Cartier and Dave Alan. We sent each pianist a list of questions to see how in sync they really are. mcgahs.com.
Q: What is a song that you never get tired of playing?
A: von Cartier: “Imagine” is always a solid choice.
Alan: “Africa” by Toto.
Q: What song would you be fine with never playing again?
A: von Cartier: “Brown-Eyed Girl.” I grew tired of this song when I was a humble bass player in a cover band.
Alan: That song from Frozen.
Q: What song makes you cry?
A: von Cartier: The first time I heard “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips, I got a bit of the feels.
Alan: That song from Frozen.
Q: How likely is it that a couple on a first date will hook up after hearing you two on the keys?
A: von Cartier: There have been times when I have gotten people on a first date up onstage to do embarrassing stuff, which seems to help relax their jitters. I’ve had a few couples who met under these circumstances return years later, still together, to say hello.
Alan: Though we do our best, alcohol probably deserves most of the credit.
Q: What request earned your biggest tip? How much?
A: von Cartier: I was offered $200 to play an Australian song I had never heard called “Khe Sanh,” which is their equivalent to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I went to the lobby of the bar to listen to the song and attempt to learn it, then performed it to a room full of Aussies who sang the majority of the lyrics. It was a passable performance. I got to keep the $200.
Alan: I’ve gotten $100 a few times, probably for “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Q: Who is the greatest piano-based songwriter of all time?
A: von Cartier: I’d say John Lennon, but the most common debate is Billy Joel versus Elton John. Elton John definitely resonates with me more.
Alan: I think names like Burt Bacharach and Carole King often get overlooked for the more popular contenders such as Elton John, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder.
Q: What’s your favorite last call song?
A: von Cartier: It’s always good to end on an anthemic song that everyone will sing along to, such as “Livin’ on a Prayer” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Alan: Anything metal! —Peter Crooks