City Hall and avant-garde are usually mutually exclusive, but this is a new era in New York, and artisanal date nights can now be found in lower Tribeca at Washington Market Tavern. Step in and you’ll find a friendly, neighborhoody spot, with creamy walls, warm wood, and a long bar fronting a serious collection of liquor. Cocktails here are anything but cloying, putting spirits first, so you can enjoy crisp hints of cucumber and jalapeño in a refreshing gin 1850, or a scotch Summit where sake and a little Szechuan peppercorn help the finish go on and on. Grab a high-top table in the middle so you feel you’re in the heart of the action.
The tavern takes the market part of its name seriously, sourcing locally and seasonally, with a menu that crosses the categories raw, garden, ocean, and farm. Anybody can work up decadent bacon—and they do a noteworthy version here, braised in bourbon with a smoky caramel top—but it takes some real chops to make veggies craveable. You and your date can talk up the art of food as you explore a baby beet salad, a riot of color that blooms from a charred onion and spiced walnut “earth.” The morels and toast dish belies its simple name with a rich blend of herbs and cream, joined by hearty rounds of mushroom “sausage.”
By now the house soundtrack has shifted from bossa nova to contemporary beats. The lights have dimmed. Long Island duck, Maine lobster, and Colorado lamb are calling. You’ll make sure to save room for the pastry chef’s butter cake, richness balanced with the citrusy tang of yuzu ice cream. Although it may not be time to go home just yet. Take the front stairs down and you’ll find a wood-paneled lair, with another bar, and a romantic vibe standing by to draw out your night.