The friend date is a complicated social construction. It’s a situation in which you and a potential friend go out and do something, usually involving food and drink, in an effort to get to know each other. In this town, it’s likely that you’ll meet a bunch of new people each year and go on a ton of friend dates, or the even more complicated couples friend date. The potential friend date is tricky business because you don’t yet know each other, and you don’t yet know if you will indeed be or want to be friends. In these cases, it’s best to meet on fairly neutral ground: that is, a place that can accommodate a large variety of eating, drinking, and atmospheric preferences. I find that a dining experience at least puts a cap on the time you’re spending with this potential friend. If things are going well, you can always go get coffee or tea or drinks, but if it isn’t, then you’re not trapped. I’ve put together a list of five places in C-U that accommodate the friend date well, but I admit that if I had to make this list a week from now, it might include different places because this community is rich with places to eat and drink. Feel free to share your favorite spots in the comments.
Art Mart is one of my favorite places for an on-the-fly snack, but it’s also a great spot to meet up with someone for coffee, breakfast, or a light lunch. There are plenty of eating options available (oh hello, Hopscotch Cakes & Confections), and the coffee and tea selection is pretty great, too. The thing that makes Art Mart a terrible place to do work — the lack of free WiFi — is actually what makes it a nice place to meet up with someone. The café area seems to perpetually be half-full, but it doesn’t tend to get a bunch of lingerers. Folks get in, eat and drink, and get out. You will, though, find other people meeting up to have a chat over a latte. It’s also open at 6:30 a.m., so if you and your friend are early risers, this is your spot.
Art Mart is located at 1705 S Prospect, Champaign, and is open Monday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This Urbana institution is an easy place to meet up for a meal at any time of day. I’m a super fan of Courier’s breakfast, although the wait, especially on the weekends, can be excessive and might not be the best place to try to meet up with someone you don’t know all that well (too much waiting time to fill with conversation). The salad bar is well liked, and offers a veggie-heavy option at lunch or dinner. It’s also a nice spot in the later hours for dessert — check out the red hot story or the brownie special. Prices are more than affordable.
Courier Café is located at 111 N Race Street, Urbana, is open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Perhaps you’re surprised by this addition. Destihl has, in my opinion, the best dessert menu in town. They’re all delicious, especially that carrot cake. The food menu has gone through at least 500 different iterations since opening, and the latest version(s) have clearly marked vegetarian and gluten-free options. The menu seems to lack some focus, but this works in the favor of those on a friend date. Destihl’s food isn’t going to blow you away with its innovation or deliciousness, but it’s decent food at decent prices, with plenty of options for all sorts of eaters. There really is at least one thing on the menu that any person could eat. And if you’re finishing with some tasty dessert, you’re sure to forget about your maybe mediocre main dish. The restaurant looks good and the booths are private. Extra bonus: Destihl takes reservations.
Destihl is located at 301 N Neil Street, Champaign and is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
One way to bond with a person is to do something physical, like playing pool. Jupiter’s offers plenty of opportunities for drinking, and the pizza is available for one or for sharing. If you sort-of already know your potential friend, this is the perfect opportunity to play some pool and trash/celebrate your billiards skills or lack thereof while sharing some food. It’s super causal, and a nice way to break up conversation with an activity. There are also a bazillion televisions, so you can distract yourself or talk about the nonsense on the boobtube. Jupiter’s Downtown is the cool place to do this, but there are only a few pool tables. You could test the limits of your friendship by venturing out to Jupiter’s at the Crossing where there plenty more pool tables, but note that you will likely encounter a lot of families with children, and the children may or may not be appropriately supervised. On Tuesdays pool and pizza are half off.
Jupiter’s Downtown is located at 39 E Main Street, Champaign and is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday, noon to 2 a.m. Jupiter’s at the Crossing is located at 2511 Village Green Place, Champaign, and is open Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Photo from Jupiter's Downtown Facebook page.
Seven Saints is one of the most popular places in C-U to meet up with a bunch of friends. The décor inside is pretty cool; the heavy, dark wood and dark colors work to cultivate a coziness without being visually oppressive. The menu also caters to a variety of diners, with plenty of big ass salads, sliders, and sammies with and without meat. The price point is right — a meal without alcohol will cost you about $10, give or take. There are plenty of drink options, including local brews on tap, interesting brews in bottles, wine, and whiskey. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday offer some sweet deals on drinks (half price wine bottles, half price drafts, half price whiskey features, respectively), so if your date is going up in flames, you can douse/fuel the fire with booze.
Seven Saints in located at 32 E Chester Street, Champaign, and is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight.
Photos by Jessica Hammie except where noted.