Four Dark Bars For First Dates When You're Feeling Ugly AF

We’ve all had mornings when we wake up looking like a troll that’s been waterboarded. Crushing nights of drinking, carb-loading, Top Ramen, Netflix binging, and general debauchery can wreak havoc on our ability to look our best. In the unfortunate event that such debauchery occurs the night before a first date, you’ll need to be resourceful to avoid looking like a Barbie that's been ripped from the mouth of the family dog. Ideally, you can reschedule the big night for later in the week when you’ve had the proper time to recover (which, in all reality, could be more like three weeks from now). But, if that’s not an option, it’s time to slap some lipstick on that pig and plan accordingly. 

First, go through the obvious steps of trying to wash away the ugly in the shower. Shave it off, pluck it out, and paint over it with whatever beauty and hygiene routine you prefer. It’s probably a good idea to hose yourself down with a nice cologne or perfume while you’re at it. Remember, sight is only one of the senses, and if you already know it’s not going to be your strength, it’s best to hedge your bets. 

Be sure to arrive before your date in order to avoid walking through any unforgiving patches of light on your way in. Find a comfortable, dark corner, and settle in. If you have time, order a shot from the bartender and close out quickly so your new prospect doesn't know how much you drink. Better to ease them into that later. Tip well, and your bartender will be your wingman for the rest of the night. The shot should get you feeling saucy and relaxed with some liquid confidence. 

Before any of this happens, however, you need to take control of one thing: It's all about location, location, location! It's imperative that you meet somewhere with as dim of lighting as humanly possible. If you can find a black hole with a full bar, go there. No, don’t just go—run. Otherwise, consider these five dusky Seattle haunts to help you look at least recognizable as the person your date swiped right on. 

Il Bistro

Il Bistro Cafe is a candlelit Italian restaurant nestled in a slope beneath the famous Pike Place Market sign. Its subterranean location adds to its charm of feeling tucked away from the busy streets outside. With candles glowing along the bar, this sexy spot is also tucked away from any sources of direct lighting that could send your date running for the Harbor Steps. 

Late night happy hour at Il Bistro is unrivaled in Seattle. A regular meal can be pricey, but after 10pm, diners enjoy appetizers and pasta from $3.50-$5.50, and full pizzas from $8-$10. To maintain the guise of a light appetite, you can pretend to be surprised when your $8 pizza arrives looking like a deflated circus tent. You might shrug off its enormity, saying something like, “Oh, my, I don’t know how I could possibly eat all of this…” Then, under Il Bistro’s shroud of darkness, you can destroy that whole pie like a North Korean nuke. (Note: In order for this to work, you need to order something that only you like. For example: Dating a vegan? Perfect! Double down on the mozzarella.)       

Pro-tip: A live jazz band play in the bar every Tuesday night at Il Bistro, adding another opportunity for diversion when you show up looking like Nick Nolte’s mugshot.

Bar House

Bar House in Fremont is a rare and strange venue. Walking in feels like wandering into a house party where you can safely assume there are at least four adult male roommates living there. You can bet that one is in a band, one rides a motorcycle, and none of the four could produce a clean UA.

Each room here feels like its own version of a man cave. One even feels like an actual cave. Some call it the "outdoor room." It’s a small, dim enclave covered with faux tree branches reaching up to the ceiling. Nature sounds filter in through hidden speakers, and white lights mimic the night sky above. A flameless fire glows on a table in the middle of the tiny space. This is a good spot to cuddle under the real-life equivalent of Instagram’s darkest filters. 

A room in the back seems built for black lights, where every inch of space is splattered with neon paint. This is surely a place people come to smell color. If, under such unusual lighting, your skin takes on the appearance of a betta fish, don’t panic—your company for the evening will look just as fishy under the fluorescent ambiance. This will help level the playing field for you in the looks department for the evening. 

If you're feeling sub-par to your usual sexy self, you'll find many welcome conversation starters in the oddities at Bar House. These can keep your own oddities out of the forefront, and distract your date from silently counting your chins, or perhaps noting your striking resemblance to a White Walker.


The unusually dark lighting in Vito’s on First Hill has concealed more than just your haggard mug in its day.  If the walls of Vito’s could talk, they could fill a library with scandalous tell-alls detailing misdeeds from some of Seattle’s most notable characters. In the seven decades it’s been in business, the restaurant and lounge has been a notorious hangout for mobsters, lawmen, politicians, and even priests.  

Vito’s has such a vintage look that, if you woke up from a blackout to find yourself sprawled out in one of their red vinyl booths, you might crawl to the bar to ask immediately what time it is, what year it is, and perhaps even what decade it is. You’d also probably ask the bartender for something old-timey like a Gin Rickey, because it has that kind of vibe. This disorienting effect may work in your favor, drawing your date’s attention away from the fact that your own appearance suggests you might have slept at this very bar last night.   

White Horse Trading Co.

I stumbled upon this pint-sized pub during a recent stroll through Post Alley. The top of a Dutch door hung open, but, looking inside, the room was so dark I could barely see any lights. I would have assumed it was closed, were it not for an open sign in the window and a sea of grey hair mingling around a high-top. 

A sign above the entrance read “Books, Ale, and Wine.” When I later asked the owner/bartender, Joe Gilmartin, what kinds of books fill the shelves, he said “antiquated originals.” The same might be said of what fills the bar stools. 

The older customer base here has colorful characters who, in themselves, evoke feelings of old England. With long beards, suspenders, and funny hats, some would look at home in the background of a Harry Potter film. Everyone is friendly, and Joe will be happy to introduce you to the regulars by name. Be warned though--some of the boozier ones might ask your name a few times over the course of an hour, but never with a decrease in genuine interest. It’s probably fair to say that my stumbling upon White Horse wasn’t the first stumbling that’s occurred here. 

“Everything is designed for the drunks,” the owner admitted to me with a chuckle. This side show of a supporting cast can come in handy when you’re trying to avoid the spotlight. A constant stream of jazz radio plays throughout the bar, lending a jovial soundtrack.

One of the last remaining beer and wine bars in Seattle, White Horse serves only cask ale on tap. (It's also cash only, so come prepared.) There’s a rotating menu of two types of beer (one dark and one light, often both from London), two types of red wine, and two types of white. While the rotation can produce enticing varieties like local rhubarb wine, some customers just keep coming back for the Old Cock. Joe keeps a jug of Old Cock English burgundy wine in the fridge, delighting a few patrons who drink it almost exclusively. 

The tiny venue was home to a cigar bar in the 80’s and 90’s. A faint smell of oaky tobacco still sticks in the air, but it’s subtle and seems fitting for an English tavern. Because of its rugged appearance, it might resemble a dive bar at first glance, but it’s as much a traditional English ale house as anything you’ll find outside of London. Come in for the cask ale, and stay for the Old Cock.

The White Horse will make you feel so welcome and comfortable that you'll completely forget the monster you saw in the mirror this morning. There are no TV's in the bar to show examples of attractive people or suggest a baseline for hygiene, and the average customer looks like a retired longshoreman who wears a kilt from time to time. So, unless your date has a thing for Sean Connery post James Bond era, you’re unlikely to find any competing love interests here. 


ListMeili Cady