First Date Pick: Rustik Tavern
by Cici Cauterucci
Asking a girl out is nerve-wracking, but once she says yes (high five), deciding on a first date spot can be even tougher. As generations of embittered parents have told generations of sweatpant-wearing teenagers, first impressions are everything—choosing a place that’s too pricey, super-trendy or bland might give her the idea that you’re a sugar mama, blowhard or wet rag. Good luck shaking that reputation.
Your best restaurant bet strikes a balance between a laidback environment and a sophisticated menu, and Bloomingdale’s Rustik Tavern hits the mark on all accounts. Full disclosure: I live four blocks from Rustik—which presents its own first date advantages—but its welcoming vibe and never-fail food make it worth a much longer trip.
Rustik opened without much fanfare in September 2010 and spent its inaugural year lacking any outdoor sign or lettering marking its location, prompting a reputation as the best poorly kept secret of Bloomingdale. Though a big green awning and lantern-lit outdoor seating have upped its visibility as of late, Rustik still feels like that near-mythical friendly neighborhood bar that jaded urban hipsters seldom dare to dream about.
The cozy casual décor, solid queer clientele and low price-to-hipness ratio make Rustik an ideal first date destination. With oh-my-god-I-love-this-song background tunes ranging from Passion Pit to the Beatles to Ginuwine—the bartender also played an entire Modest Mouse album top-to-bottom during one of my weeknight drinkathons—Rustik’s soundtrack makes for a great litmus test for my date’s musical taste. If she doesn’t join me in an aggressive bounce to the burpy opening chords of “Pony,” I know it’s gonna be an early night.
Rustik’s inventive thin crust pizzas that spin through a fiery brick stove behind the bar more than make up for the cheesy Hooked on Phonics spelling of the first half of its name. Topped with prosciutto, pears and goat cheese, the Christina (I swear I’m not biased by its beautiful name) will make your eyes roll back in your head at first bite. The beer inventory is small, but it’s full of unique draughts and regularly refreshed with seasonal picks. Make sure to ask your server for popcorn; s/he’ll bring you a free bowl, freshly popped and seasoned with salt and pepper.
If your first date turns into a morning after (in which case, double high five), don’t miss Rustik’s frittatas and grit cakes for brunch. And if your first date turns into a picket fence, 1.5 kids and a lifetime of happiness, you’re welcome.