The 3-Date Method: a Gchat with Eater Co-Founders Ben Leventhal & Lockhart Steele

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Chiara Atik is HowAboutWe’s writer in residence. Her book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide, is now available. For the next few weeks, she’ll be discussing topics from the book with bloggers, journalists, and other people with opinions on dating. Up next are Ben Leventhal and Lockhart Steele, co-founders of Ben is currently the president of (Previously: Ryan O’ConnellChiara’s momEdith Zimmerman and Kelly Williams Brown.)

[Ed. note: While the title of this series is Gchat Convos, this interview took place on AOL Instant Messenger, at the preference of the interview subjects.]

SunnyCA7: Jesus, okay!
mrleventhal: YES
SunnyCA7: This is a throwback
lockloct: some of us use AIM daily, you know
mrleventhal: and have conducted AIM interviews before
lockloct: sweet sweet IM interviews
SunnyCA7: Okay, first one is easy: first date. First date with someone that you’ve either only met once, briefly, or haven’t met at all.
(just to make this more AIM-like, i’m playing with font.)
lockloct: so back in the day when Ben and i would consider these scenarios
ben taught me the short-sightedness of thinking in terms of a single date when it comes to restaurant/bar choice
it is all about plotting the three-to-six date arc
SunnyCA7: okay, explain?
lockloct: the choice of a first date restaurant only makes sense in comparison to your thoughts on where the second and third dates will inevitably go down
BL, you can explain better than i
mrleventhal: So, the point is that there needs to be a progression.
You don’t want to start with Lafayette, if your second date plan is Locanda Verde. It just doesn’t really play that well.
SunnyCA7: sure, sure
mrleventhal: Or, even better, you don’t want to go to Lafayette if your Date Two plan is The Standard Grill.

“The choice of a first date restaurant only makes sense in comparison to your thoughts on where the second and third dates will inevitably go down.”

Because they’re basically the same restaurant shell.
(A beautiful shell, obv.)
lockloct: he’s right, of course
mrleventhal: again, I want to note that I’m rusty
But as a starting point, the most important thing about a first date location is #flex
lockloct: #flex
SunnyCA7: define #flex
mrleventhal: ie. Can you transition from drinks into food, should you and the lady so desire.
SunnyCA7: do you always start with drinks? never dinner?
lockloct: Chiara, your font is really A+
SunnyCA7: You guys wanted AIM. I’m giving you AIM.
mrleventhal: short answer is that it really depends. I think for a first date, both parties are looking for a location that provides an out at one hour, if necessary.
One Hour Out
SunnyCA7: yes, agreed
mrleventhal: So, you know, back when Lock and I were kids, a place like Pravda.
lockloct: Pravda, the bar where Eater was born. Fact.
mrleventhal: You have a drink, you stay for the Russian food tasting. Which, two drinks in, is sort of an adventure.
lockloct: proximity works.
SunnyCA7: I wanna know how you guys transition
Like, once you decide the Russian food tasting is on the table
what do you say. Do you act like you just remembered there’s actually great Russian fare here, and would she be down to share some?
mrleventhal: I think it’s more like, Should we get some food?
It’s fairly straight forward, actually. If you meet for drinks and are an hour or two in, food is a pretty obvious thing.
SunnyCA7: And I guess it’s more elegant if you can just add food to where you already are, rather than switch locations
lockloct: I sent a good friend once on a first date that started at Smith & Mills and moved to Locanda.
They are married now. Fact.

“I sent a good friend once on a first date that started at Smith & Mills and moved to Locanda Verde. They are married now. Fact.”

mrleventhal: That is a CLASSIC 1-2 first date combo, by the way.
let’s bring this to the present. Pravda is still a great call, because it’s become sort of retro. But, others: Breslin (upstairs only); John Dory (secret back tables) …
lockloct: Upstairs tables at The Breslin are one of the strongest tools in the modern dating arsenal.
Merely knowing they exist is likely a ticket to the second date.
mrleventhal: The most important thing about these early dates is that you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re trying to situate yourself on the date and in the restaurant at the same time.
SunnyCA7: wait, I don’t understand what that means.
mrleventhal: Simply that when you’re meeting someone and you don’t really know them, it’s sort of a gauntlet in New York.
You have to say hello, check in with a hostess, deal with a crowd, see about a wait, get the booth, etc. All at the same time.
The fewer of those things you have to do, the better.
SunnyCA7: So what can you do to eliminate those obstacles, or deal with them effectively? Just…arrive early?
mrleventhal: for one, sure.
lockloct: Ideally, you’ve been there before.
mrleventhal: Pravda is great because there are always tables, but it doesn’t feel empty.
John Dory and Breslin, because Ken Friedman is really good at hiding tables in plain sight.
lockloct: BL, new Milk & Honey — or Attaboy — play for you here?
SunnyCA7: Would you agree that there could be some danger to taking a first date to a place where it’s like, your Cheers Bar? (Pravda, Cheers, Potato, Potah-toh.) I mean, don’t you want to be, on some level, on equal footing?
mrleventhal: you mean where you’re a regular?
SunnyCA7: Yeah, I dunno. I think there’s a fine line between being impressed when a guy walks in and knows the hostess and can get a table, etc., and being turned off.

“The most important thing about these early dates is that you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re trying to situate yourself on the date and in the restaurant at the same time.”

lockloct: ah, good point.
mrleventhal: ok, so Chiara, that’s a great point
So, we know a gentleman who has a holding in a fair number of West Village restaurants and he used to use them frequently for low numbered dates.
It’s sort of a style choice.
If you want to be The Restaurant Guy, you could do that.
mrleventhal: It’s really how you want to come off. I certainly don’t think it’s a look everyone can pull off.
mrleventhal: So, Pravda, Breslin, John Dory, Milk & Honey, Smith and Mills. I think that’s a pretty solid list for first dates.
lockloct: The logical end point to Smith + Mills > Locanda is Walker’s, btw. Just so we’re through that date.
mrleventhal: wait. let me also put in the mix here The Pines, for the hipsters in the crowd.
lockloct: #gowanus
mrleventhal: drinks and bread at the bar there is great. #gowanusdating
SunnyCA7Me: #soundsgood
lockloct: So the second date. BL, you once counseled me on a second date where geography became a major consideration.
If I recall correctly, the debate was between two West Village restaurants — and one in Tribeca.
mrleventhal: So, just to put a cap on the first date, I think the gentelman as a rule knows that there is only downside to overplaying his hand. To making any real move. So, geography doesn’t really matter. In fact, it can’t matter.
But, second date, maybe you want to start thinking about #ops.
SunnyCA7: In your dating history, have you guys ever had a woman plan the date? Early on?
lockloct: I certainly have. One woman faxed — yes, faxed — me a map to a location in Williamsburg.
SunnyCA7: ha!
mrleventhal: so hot.
lockloct: We saw the Wilco movie on a rooftop. Fantastic date. Total strong move.
This was 2003, mind you. Williamsburg was still…exotic? even dirtier?
SunnyCA7: That’s a really cool date. If I went on that date now, in 2013, I’d still be impressed. Especially if he faxed.
mrleventhal: Yeah, I think the caveat to this whole conversation is that it’s great when the woman wants to plan. It’s just that if you can see that she doesn’t, you need to be on point.
SunnyCA7: agreed. Okay, so, geography is — if not the determining factor, a consideration?
mrleventhal: well, so, if you know the girl lives in the west village, make it easy for her.
I think the second date, the gentleman still wants to be a gentleman on the second date. But if she lives in the West Villlage, have a nice dinner over there and walk her home.
Second date, you still want to keep the restaurant ops under control, so no Spotted Pig unless you’ve called ahead, for example. No Red Farm. They’re incredibly good second dates, btw. But not unless you have the know-how to be on the list ahead of time.
So, for me. Second date – dinner at the bar at Barbuto.
I love the bar dinner for a second date.
lockloct: oh, love that move.
mrleventhal: You can do to so many great places and keep it casual.
SunnyCA7: wait so
bar dinner
mrleventhal: meaning, you sit at the bar and order dinner.
SunnyCA7: whoa
lockloct: lol
SunnyCA7: but as a second date move??
mrleventhal: too soon?
SunnyCA7: No, I love that. I’m now going to EXPECT that on all my second dates, and judge if we sit at a table.
mrleventhal: It’s sort of a classic New York move.
Barbuto between now and October is without question the very best place in Manhattan for it.
lockloct: Pulled that move once at The Strip House, back when it was under its original management.
mrleventhal: #promove
SunnyCA7: #impressed
lockloct: couple other bar ideas
PERLA, perhaps?
mrleventhal: If you want to dress up the second date, the bar at Eleven Madison Park is first come first serve.
and it’s an a la carte menu.
SunnyCA7: ahhhhhhhhhhh
lockloct: Would you play a Momo in that slot, in this day and age?
mrleventhal: let’s say the lady, you have a sense, goes in for something a bit finer than a West Village bar.
oh man.
Momo dating is like a category in and of itself. It is really hard.
lockloct: [momo=momofuku]
SunnyCA7: alright, third date: pull out all the stops?
mrleventhal: LS, what do you think?
lockloct: All the stops is likely not the move.
mrleventhal: Yeah.
So the third date is a little tough. It’s maybe the hardest one.
I think you want to try to mix it up with format on the third date.
lockloct: Yes.
mrleventhal: I don’t want to say movie, necessarily. But something that has a culture component.
SunnyCA7: let’s say a play.
mrleventhal: also: DAYTIME.
SunnyCA7: let’s say A MATINEE!
lockloct: Someone loooves plays.
mrleventhal: Sure. That a little all-the-stops-y
But, sure.
lockloct: too many stops.
SunnyCA7: okay, but something not dinner-y.
mrleventhal: daytime.
SunnyCA7: but…food eventually?
mrleventhal: Yeah, but it’s not the focus.
lockloct: Walking tour of Red Hook.
SunnyCA7: as long as you don’t use the words “walking tour”
lockloct: ha
mrleventhal: It shouldn’t feel #ops heavy
It’s sort of like, I’ve been really wanting to TASTE A CRONUT, do you want to go down to Soho and wait on line and get CRONUTS.
lockloct: HowAboutWe… ?
SunnyCA7: Yeah, it’s like a How About We date
mrleventhal: It could turn into a superdate, daytime into evening into dinner.
Or you guys have a great afternoon.
Then, on the fourth date, you go Classic New York Restaurant.
lockloct: Ah, classic New York.
mrleventhal: You’ve got your Balthazars, your Raoul’s.
lockloct: It is notable that the name Keith McNally has not yet come up in this chat.
mrleventhal: You could do Breslin to Barbuto Bar into Balthazar.
but that’s sort of pretty high octane.
SunnyCA7: okay i have one final question: you’re down to your last $50 and you’re taking someone out on a dinner date. where do you go?
mrleventhal: Lucali
Although that’s probably right about $50.
But best pizza in New York and it’s BYO.
lockloct: Amen.
mrleventhal: Also, I would like to note on the record that I love my fiancee very much and we’re getting married in a few weeks at DATE LOCATION NUMBER 4, Balthazar.

For a complete guide to Ben & Lock’s restaurant picks, click here.