If you’re looking to get off campus for a special date night, but can’t afford to break the bank, I have the perfect list for you. Because let’s be real — no matter how much you love your boo, you’ve still got a budget.
I have three date nights for different interests, all under $25 dollars, that I’ll be sharing with you.
Gem City Catfé
For the sweet and romantic
If you don’t know what a catfé is or what to expect from one, let me tell you just one thing: amazingness. This was my first time in a catfé myself, but I was an instant convert the second I stepped in the door. “We want to create an open and approachable experience for everyone,” said Karin Gudal Johnson, the owner.
Johnson previously did marketing for a local animal shelter and saw the opportunity to totally rethink the animal adoption scene. “One of the great things about our catfé is you don’t have to be looking to adopt a cat to enjoy what we have — you can still come in to get a cup of coffee and see the cats,” said Johnson. “We have a lot of people who can’t own cats right now, like UD students for example, who can still come in and enjoy themselves.”
The space is incredibly well thought-out, from how to ensure the cats live the best lives possible, to how to make the space inclusive to those with allergies or aren’t able to adopt, to how to create an enjoyable and functional space where people will want to hang out, study and have a cup of coffee. Show your date your soft side and get in on the kitty action!
Insider tip: to make sure your date night goes off without a hitch, go ahead and make reservations online ahead of time. Weekends can get busy, so make sure to save your spot!
If you really hit it off with your date (or the cats), you can invest in a membership that costs $25 a year. With a membership, you only have to pay $5 to visit the cat room. “It’s something we try to do to make coming here more affordable for our regulars,” said Johnson. And your money does much more than just get you in to pet the cats. “You’re paying to help support the infrastructure that we’ve built: help educate people, help get cats adopted, help people get access to resources we already have like low-cost spay and neutering and other adoption resources.”
The first floor of Gem City Catfé is home to the coffee and baked treats as well as the cat room. The cats live in a split-level glass room with plenty of space to spread out. Once you pay your admission fee, you can head in and spend some quality time snuggling the rescue cats. It will heal your heart, I promise.
But despite its name, the catfé isn’t just about cats. Even if you are allergic, the catfé is well-worth bringing your date to. The air supply in the main areas is kept completely separate from the cat room so you won’t have to worry about sniffles. You can still share a moment with the kitties through the glass without your throat closing up, so it’s win-win!
After my first visit, the catfé has become my favorite place to hang out, get coffee and get some work done (Confession: I may or may not come here three times a week.) So if you want a great space to have a working date with your special person, I recommend the second floor of the catfé.
It is an airy loft and art gallery with a high-ceiling, large windows and soft, velvety armchairs surrounding large tables that you can spread your work out on. I can’t imagine a better spot to set up camp and spend the evening when you have to mix business with pleasure.
Final total: $20 one-time admission for two adults + two lattes = $26.50
*Ok, I’ll admit this one might go a bit over, but come on, you get to pet rescue cats.
DK Effect and Taqueria Mixteca
For the fun and adventurous
DK Effect is relatively new to the Dayton area, but the idea behind it is a classic: enjoying good food and drink while playing fun games. It’s a brewcade that features over 60 retro arcade games, Skee-Ball and a ton of craft beer. “We want to open this world of arcade games up to new people,” said Tony Clark, the majority owner. With all that going on, it would be nearly impossible to not have a good time with your crush.
This super fun environment is perfect for date night whether it’s your first time out with this person or you’ve been together for years. Being able to bond over classic games takes the pressure off, and you can spark some friendly competition by challenging them to a game of Pac-Man.
You play for free with the purchase of a drink, so make sure that you check out their extensive bar with over 40 different craft beers. “We pride ourselves on having such a wide selection of beers that there is something for everyone’s taste,” said Clark. “You can have samples. You can have flights. We have everything from your Budlight craft equivalent to rare brews,” he continued.
I ordered Ciderboys’ Peach Country, and I kid you not, it tasted just like a peach ring. I loved leaning into the mix of grown-up and little kid vibes — it felt like sitting in front of my box TV playing Galaga as a kid, but with an adult twist.
If you’re under 21, don’t worry, there are still options for you. They have Warped Wing’s root beer on tap, which will rock your world. It’s not too sweet and just a little bit spicy. You’ll never be able to drink MUG again.
“But once you get your beer, instead of sitting down like you would at any other bar, we encourage you to just go out and play the arcade games,” said Clark.
DK Effect doesn’t have their own kitchen, so if you work up an appetite playing Skee-Ball, you have to BYOT (bring your own tacos). Taqueria Mixteca is just across the street, and they have mind-blowing tacos and guacamole. My favorite is their chicken tacos with lots of salsa, cilantro and lime; their toasty corn tortillas take it to the next level. Their prices are unbeatable, and I guarantee you will find yourself craving these tacos over and over.
This place creates a high-energy backdrop for fun night out, but the purpose behind the brewcade is more than just a good time. “Our motivation isn’t to own a bar; it’s to revitalize the community,” said Clark. “We’re trying to build up this community,” agreed Kimberly Green, the manager. The best part of that community? “I really enjoy our regulars. People I wouldn’t have met otherwise — but they’re here all the time. They’re excited about us, and they’re promoting us, and that’s what this is all really about.”
So if you’re looking to burst out of the UD bubble and have a flair for adventure, try out DK Effect with your date, and maybe you’ll become regulars too.
Final total: $11 for two drinks at DK Effect + guacamole and four tacos at Taqueria Mixteca = $24.29
The Neon and the Oregon District
For the sophisticated and quirky
Do one better than “Netflix and chill” with a 100% Karamo-approved date night. The Neon is “a more intimate movie-going experience than your typical theater,” Jonathan McNeal, the manager says. “It is more unique, and a lot of times people make their first ventures here and become regulars pretty quickly.”
The Neon has been a Dayton staple for over 30 years. It’s a perfect alternative to the boring, cookie-cutter movie theaters. “We show foreign, independent, and documentary films. And those are movies that aren’t made in the Hollywood studio system,” said McNeal. “Here’s the thing, the multiplexes are playing Hollywood products with more screens, and they are based on money at the end of the day. And while we are looking to keep our doors open, we care about quality first. Thousands of independent films are made every year and very few of those get distribution deals, and of those few, we are taking in an even smaller percent.”
And not only do you get quality movies, you also get quality snacks. The Neon is serious about their popcorn game. “We make our popcorn fresh with canola oil so it’s a little healthier,” said McNeal. “It’s popped fresh all the time. We are popping fresh popcorn right before shows as opposed to some places sourcing it in already popped and some places are only popping it in the morning.”
They also go beyond your typical movie snacks and get creative with local cookies, coffee, and booze. “We like to support local so we have Ghostlight cookies for sale here,” said McNeal. “We have a full coffee bar which is Boston Stoker based which is local. We have beer and wine, and some of our beers are from Warped Wing. So we like to really kind of make it a community based experience and support other local community businesses.”
This kind of selection makes for a fun and out-of-the-box date night experience, especially when you can use your student ID to save a few dollars. Just show your UD ID when buying your tickets, and you can save up to four dollars (thanks Center for Student Involvement!). With all that extra cash, you could upgrade your date night with a bigger popcorn.
After the movie, you and your significant other can enjoy the Oregon District. It’s a funky shopping district with record shops and groovy second-hand stores that is easily walk-able. Goof off and make memories worthy of a 90’s rom-com montage. Snap an iconic photo outside BRIM on E. 5th St. to remember your fun night.
Final total: $15 for two tickets with UD student discount + $10 snack smorgasbord = $25
To see photos of the Dayton date night spots or to learn about other great restaurants near you, head over to Monica’s blog, http://www.thecollegetravelers.com.