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The best places for first dates in the D.C. area

Maxwell Park is an excellent choice for a first date; if you arrive during happy hour, you’ll be treated to a free aperitif. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Wanna grab a drink sometime?

Asking someone out is just the first step — then you need a plan.

The first meetup is the appetizer in getting to know each other, not the main course. So it’s best to keep first dates short and casual (think dive bars over Michelin stars). That way, if it’s a bust, you can exit quickly.

And if it’s going well, you can easily add on a second location or activity. Resist the urge to burn through all your chemistry and charming stories on that initial meetup. Here are six places where you can set a fun and flirtatious tone.

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If you want a mix of cozy and classy: Maxwell Park

If you’re meeting someone from the Internet, a dive bar is fine. But if you already know the person, pick something nicer.

The Shaw wine bar Maxwell Park is an excellent choice for a first date — if you arrive during happy hour (5 to 7 p.m.), you’ll be treated to a free aperitif. The bartenders educate you but don’t show off. You can also order different size pours: 2 1/2 ounces, the standard five ounces and half bottles and full bottles from a wine list that rotates monthly.

If mood suits, you can head to the patio and enjoy a second glass and snuggle under a blanket beside the fire pit.

Maxwell Park, 1336 Ninth St. NW. Open daily. — L.B.

If you want to wander: Union Market and Last Call

If you’re on dating apps, you’re probably spending a lot of time in bars, coffee shops and restaurants. That’s just fine, but sometimes picking an area with lots to peruse offers more conversation fodder than spending an hour clutching a cup of coffee.

If you’re meeting on a Wednesday night or a Sunday afternoon, start by grabbing a bite at one of the Union Market food stalls, and then wander through the nearby boutiques and bars. Browse the stacks at Politics and Prose to get a sense of your date’s literary taste — ask about the last book they read, or what’s on their nightstand. Or hop in the backroom and take in part of an author talk.

If the shiny luster of Union Market has you craving something a bit grittier, grab a cocktail and play a round of darts at Last Call, a divey new bar in a converted cafeteria space with chipped paint and working Pac-Man and pinball machines. Regardless of how the date goes, you’ll score points for introducing them to a cool new spot.

Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE. Open daily. Last Call, 1301-A Fourth St. NE. Open daily. — L.B.

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If you want to get toasty: The Wharf

At this time of year, there’s no better way for city dwellers to feel the primal rush of nature than by gathering around a fire. There’s a pleasant, teasing contrast between the chill in the air and the heat radiating over your exposed face, or the gloved hands clutching a hot toddy. And the glowing flames makes your complexion look better.

The Wharf is an all-in-one date spot: You can walk around and look at the twinkling holiday lights, watch a parade of festively decorated boats on Saturday, or take a spin around the seasonal ice rink. But whatever you do, you should end up at one of the Wharf’s fire pits.

The most prominent one, in “District Square” near the main pier, is home to Camp Wharf, a converted Airstream that sells the raw materials for s’mores — classic, peanut butter cup or cookies and cream — $10 for a pack of four.

Camp Wharf, 101 District Square SW. Open Thursday-Sunday. — F.H.

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If you want a little competiton: Kingfisher for Monday night bingo

While looking for someone with whom to grow old, why not try the retirement lifestyle a few decades early? Monday night bingo at Kingfisher is the perfect laid-back first date: The drinks are cheap, the popcorn is free — and so is the entertainment. If you get hungry, you can order Shake Shack and bring it into the basement bar, which allows outside food.

Bingo doesn’t require the brain power of trivia night or distract too much from typical get-to-know-you conversation. You can slip in “tell me about yourself” questions between each game or before the next combo is called. And if the conversation lags, let the bingo caller fill those awkward silences.

Stay for just a few games, or play till every card in your deck is marked. Just be careful with those cans of wine on the Kingfisher menu: They’re equivalent to about a half-bottle each.

Kingfisher, 1414 14th St. NW. Open daily; bingo is Mondays at 8 p.m. — L.B.

Forget trivia. Bingo is the mindless bar game D.C. needs right now.

If you want to meet on a weekend afternoon: Eastern Market

After-work dates are not always ideal. You’re dressed for the office, not your personality. You might be thinking about something your boss said in a meeting instead of listening to the cute stranger you’re supposed to be getting to know. And no matter how good the date is going, you know you have to get up early the next day. Weekend dates are the chance to start fresh, and there’s nothing like getting together in the morning: If it goes well, you’ve got the whole day ahead. And if it’s a clunker, well, you’ve got the whole day ahead.

Meet around 11 a.m. at Eastern Market, which is full of conversation prompts: Poke around the clothes and art for sale in the flea market. Move to the row of farm stands to sample fruit and grab the fresh veggies needed for that recipe from Voraciously, while talking about cooking. If things are going well, walk around down to Labyrinth and grab a game to play over lunch: Keep things casual with a pastry and espresso at the Radici Italian market, or get a table at Joselito, an authentic taste of Spain, for brunch with bottomless sangria. Hey, you’ve got time.

Eastern Market, 225 Seventh St. SE. Open Tuesday-Sunday. — F.H.

If you want something more edifying than a bar: Museum after-hours parties

Happy-hour dates are great because there are only two prerequisites: Can the other person make interesting conversation, and do they like booze?

You probably want more from a potential mate, however. If you’re seeking intellectual stimulation or a window into your date’s interests, consider one of the after-hours events hosted by local museums, which offer edifying and interactive experiences alongside cash bars. Last month, for example, the National Gallery of Art’s NGA Nights had a “Throwback” theme, with 1990s tunes spun by DJ 2-Tone Jones, stations for making friendship bracelets, and curators giving short talks about paintings the gallery acquired in the ’90s.

The monthly Phillips After 5 is the granddaddy of these events in D.C., with an upscale cocktail party vibe. Its next edition, on Jan. 2, has a “Party Like the ’20s” theme with swing music, a gin tasting and glasses of bubbly. More cerebral are Nat Geo Nights, held on the third Thursday of the month at the National Geographic Museum. The centerpieces are engaging multimedia presentations from National Geographic scientists and explorers. They can sometimes focus on heavy topics, but the mood is kept lighter with happy hour specials, music and games.

Just be warned that these events are popular and regularly sell out in advance: The next Nat Geo Nights, scheduled for February, sold out in November. It might be worth buying tickets for Phillips After 5 now, even if you don’t have a date in mind. After all, “I’ve got a spare ticket — want to join me?” is a very effective pickup line.

Phillips After 5: Dec. 5, 5 to 8:30 p.m., and Jan. 2, 5 to 8:30 p.m. $12. NGA Nights, the free after-hours series at the National Gallery of Art, resume March 2020. Nat Geo Nights are held on the third Thursday of the month. The next edition, in February 2020, is sold out. — F.H.