MUU-MUU's Chris Ryan
As far as I can tell, the latest trend in dating is blind, with potential partners procured over the internet. Meet online, instant message for a week, grab a drink, then possibly have sex. This is an efficient system, but one rife with failure. Online photos are not often representative of how people actually look, there are quite a few pathetically desperate folks in the mix, and even though you may have enjoyed IMing with someone, you may not be able to tolerate the sound of their voice.

Thus, blind dates should take place in public, at establishments that provide an easy exit strategy (no seven-course meals at Genoa), have dim lighting (it helps to become acclimated to their appearance in slow, easy steps), aren't too divey (it also helps to pretend you've got class), and have fairly cheap prices (after all, you don't want to end up dropping half your paycheck on some 26-year-old virgin).

Brazen Bean
2075 NW Glisan, 294-0636

Probably the most optimal place ever to meet for an after-work drink, Brazen Bean's $3 martini happy hour goes from 5-8 pm. Thus, if you like your date, you can get sufficiently tanked, and if you don't, you're only stuck with a six-dollar tab. Plus, Brazen Bean encourages smoking--cigar and otherwise--so you can quickly test whether your date is one of those "It's too smoky in here" pussies. (But if you're down with that type, you can grab a spot on the bar's romantic, airy wraparound porch.) Brazen Bean also offers a smattering of sharable delights, like an antipasti platter--perfect!

Bar Pastiche
3731 SE Hawthorne, 236-4760

While Bar Pastiche is a little more wholesome than a place I might choose for a first date, it's a great middle ground between bar and restaurant. Pastiche serves up tiny plates of gourmet food--savory creations born of the amazing tapas restaurant Navarre, and sweet ones from Pix Patisserie--which you and your date can nibble on and discuss while drinking one of the bar's many wines by the glass. This is a great opportunity to evaluate whether your new "friend" is one of those horrible picky eaters, or whether he/she will voraciously gobble up octopus salad and parmesan flan with ham. (Fact: Sloppy eaters are better lovers.)

Sapphire Hotel
5008 SE Hawthorne, 232-6333

I mention this spot a lot, but it really is a great place to drink wine, chat, share a cheese plate, and contemplate whether you're sitting across from the man you want to marry (or screw, whatever). If it's a weeknight, I like to head to the Sapphire, because the long drive guarantees I won't drink myself into oblivion, and the smoke-free environment makes sure I won't have a cigarette hangover. In short, the Sapphire Hotel provides checks and balances for those of us who aren't able to be responsible for ourselves.

Muu-Muu's
612 NW 21st, 223-8169

One time when I was lunching at Muu-Muu's, I pointed to the server and said, "Can I get the blue cheese crumbles on my salad, not the dressing?" And he said, "Don't you ever fucking point at me!" Then he calmly placed my order. For some reason, this interaction--plus the delicious food--has endeared me to Muu-Muu's forever. The servers are straight up, they make a great drink, the bar is dark, hip, and filled with hot people, and if you and a date hit it off here, you can head straight next door and see a movie at Cinema 21 while you sober up. Note: If your date is tanking, make sure you order the amazing creamy garlic green beans, thus making damn sure you won't be doing any deep tonguing.

Aalto Lounge
3356 SE Belmont, 235-6041

I'd like to recommend the brand new cool and cozy spawn of the Aalto, Savoy (2500 SE Clinton), but I don't want anyone to have a holy shit fit because the Mercury mentioned a restaurant where we have not yet eaten. So I'll recommend the cute, stylish Aalto Lounge, where we have eaten. Order up a simple olive tapenade to share, and a glass of wine, whiskey, or cappuccino. But if you want to impress your date by bringing him/her to the latest hot drinking and dining spot, try the Savoy and see for yourself whether it's hot or not.