Cover Story: Hot Dates: Summertime Romance

'Tis the season for tips from the Dating Diva

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Indigo in Hyde Park Square



The key ingredients for a hot date are included in the title. Basically, it's summertime and you have a person to squire about.

Oh, but the makings of a great hot date require just a bit more thought.

First, take a good non-drowsy formula antihistamine. You've spent enough time indoors, and the weather is ripe for outdoor excursions. Save the places you can go year-round for the rainy, cold, snowy other nine months of the year. You have only about 100 days to get the most out of hot date season.

Avoid the meat markets, the bar scene and those parties in the park. These are places you might luck out and meet someone, but they're no place to take a date. A happy couple, whether newly paired or in for the long haul, doesn't mix well with throngs of singles.

You're not trying to meet someone anyway. You've got the someone already, and you want to show him or her a good time. But where to go? What to do?

Follow me to Vinoklet Winery (11069 Colerain Ave, near Northgate Mall; 385-9309; www.vinokletwinery.com). In my opinion, this is the most romantic place in town for a hot date. It's a country oasis hidden in Cincinnati's concrete jungle. For less than the cost of a movie and popcorn, you can treat your date to an unforgettably romantic evening.

Vinoklet offers green lush scenery as far as the eye can see, decorated with touches like waterfalls, a pond and gazebos all wrapped up in miles of grapevines. Owner Kreso Mikulic knows romance, as the entire establishment is designed to foster an air of intimacy.

There are the things he can't control, like the most beautiful sunsets you'll ever see as you sip on a glass of wine. Then there are his own creations, like the barrels. One bigger barrel, which can seat up to 12, is quite literally an old beer barrel. Beautifully decorated with paintings and containing a fireplace (or air conditioning for the wimpy), it's the perfect setting for small gatherings. There is also a smaller barrel in which to dine à deux. Close the door, let the violinist do his thing on the outside, and you and your date do what comes naturally inside.

Of course, it couldn't be called a winery if it didn't produce wine. Kreso (like Madonna or Cher, he needs only one name) cultivates five different grapes used exclusively for his wines. Currently available are Cincinnatus (dry red wine), Sunset Blush (a white Zinfandel and my personal favorite), Tears of Joy (known affectionately in the place as Liquid Sex and tastes almost as good), Dreamer (white wine), La Dolce Vita (sweet red wine) and Vino Veritas (sweet white wine). Over the bar there's a sign that reads "Warning! Our wine, consumed in moderate amounts, could result in an aura of well-being which may lead to pregnancy. — Owner." Amen to that.

Besides the barrels, seating is available outdoors, under the gazebo and, for the faint of heart, inside the restaurant. Outside is recommended, where you can hear the steady trickle of the water and explore the grounds while you wait. Dinner consists of grill-your-own buffet with a choice of either New York Strip Steak, Boneless Skinless Breast of Chicken or Icelandic Cod Fillet. There's no vegetarian entrée per se but plenty of stuff to fill up on within the buffet. Dinner includes one carafe of Vinoklet wine per person. If you or your date aren't wine drinkers, it's still worth the drive here for the food, the romantic atmosphere and the surroundings.

Another great place for a hot date this summer is that old standby, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden (3400 Vine St., Avondale; 281-4700;

 
Indigo in Hyde Park Square



The key ingredients for a hot date are included in the title. Basically, it's summertime and you have a person to squire about.

Oh, but the makings of a great hot date require just a bit more thought.

First, take a good non-drowsy formula antihistamine. You've spent enough time indoors, and the weather is ripe for outdoor excursions. Save the places you can go year-round for the rainy, cold, snowy other nine months of the year. You have only about 100 days to get the most out of hot date season.

Avoid the meat markets, the bar scene and those parties in the park. These are places you might luck out and meet someone, but they're no place to take a date. A happy couple, whether newly paired or in for the long haul, doesn't mix well with throngs of singles.

You're not trying to meet someone anyway. You've got the someone already, and you want to show him or her a good time. But where to go? What to do?

Follow me to Vinoklet Winery (11069 Colerain Ave, near Northgate Mall; 385-9309; www.vinokletwinery.com). In my opinion, this is the most romantic place in town for a hot date. It's a country oasis hidden in Cincinnati's concrete jungle. For less than the cost of a movie and popcorn, you can treat your date to an unforgettably romantic evening.

Vinoklet offers green lush scenery as far as the eye can see, decorated with touches like waterfalls, a pond and gazebos all wrapped up in miles of grapevines. Owner Kreso Mikulic knows romance, as the entire establishment is designed to foster an air of intimacy.

There are the things he can't control, like the most beautiful sunsets you'll ever see as you sip on a glass of wine. Then there are his own creations, like the barrels. One bigger barrel, which can seat up to 12, is quite literally an old beer barrel. Beautifully decorated with paintings and containing a fireplace (or air conditioning for the wimpy), it's the perfect setting for small gatherings. There is also a smaller barrel in which to dine à deux. Close the door, let the violinist do his thing on the outside, and you and your date do what comes naturally inside.

Of course, it couldn't be called a winery if it didn't produce wine. Kreso (like Madonna or Cher, he needs only one name) cultivates five different grapes used exclusively for his wines. Currently available are Cincinnatus (dry red wine), Sunset Blush (a white Zinfandel and my personal favorite), Tears of Joy (known affectionately in the place as Liquid Sex and tastes almost as good), Dreamer (white wine), La Dolce Vita (sweet red wine) and Vino Veritas (sweet white wine). Over the bar there's a sign that reads "Warning! Our wine, consumed in moderate amounts, could result in an aura of well-being which may lead to pregnancy. — Owner." Amen to that.

Besides the barrels, seating is available outdoors, under the gazebo and, for the faint of heart, inside the restaurant. Outside is recommended, where you can hear the steady trickle of the water and explore the grounds while you wait. Dinner consists of grill-your-own buffet with a choice of either New York Strip Steak, Boneless Skinless Breast of Chicken or Icelandic Cod Fillet. There's no vegetarian entrée per se but plenty of stuff to fill up on within the buffet. Dinner includes one carafe of Vinoklet wine per person. If you or your date aren't wine drinkers, it's still worth the drive here for the food, the romantic atmosphere and the surroundings.

Another great place for a hot date this summer is that old standby, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden (3400 Vine St., Avondale; 281-4700; www.cincyzoo.org). Now that school is out, there aren't crowds of screaming, field-trip-going youngsters — just you and your date communing with nature. The zoo has special summer season programs running from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so call to get the full scoop. Here are a few things they are offering this year.

· June 3-July 2: Tide's Zoo Babies. See the newest additions to the zoo family.

· June 23: "Happy Hour" event at the Peacock Pavilion. Includes food, beverage and live entertainment at happy hour prices. Call the zoo development office at 513-559-7740 for more info.

· All summer: polar bears! It's summertime, but you can't help loving seeing these cute giants of the Arctic. Commemorate the new exhibit and your date with a cloisonné-style lapel pin while supplies last.

The zoo isn't recommended for first dates, since it takes a few hours to see and do everything, and you don't want to spend a whole afternoon with a big jerk or jerkette. Then again, there are hungry tigers in there.

If you like the zoo, head on over to Newport Aquarium (One Aquarium Way, Newport; 494-FINS; www.newportaquarium.com). Haven't been there yet myself, but I'm going as soon as I get a date. Besides the obvious underwater animal life to view, there's a Lighthouse Cafe with deli sandwiches, pizza, smoothies and other snacks from $2 to $4. Pick up a trinket for your date at the Treasure Chest Giftshop.

My favorite place to take a date in the summer is another old standby that's supported by many friends who feel the same way: the drive-in. The passion pits of the 1950s are still meaningful and fun today.

The drive-in is synonymous with summer. Load up the cooler — but don't get caught, lest you be forced to dine from the concession stand — bring your lawn chairs or sleeping bags and head down to the nearest drive-in. Although it's tradition to be cheap and hide someone in the trunk, save those shenanigans for a night out with the buddies, not a date.

The drive-in offers several advantages. There are two movies shown for the price of one, usually new releases. You're outside, lit only by the screen and millions of stars. And it's intimate. Unlike the movie theater with people talking through the movie or just generally being annoying, people tend to mind their own business at the drive-in. You can make out during the boring scenes or during intermission. You can fall asleep in each other's arms, and no one will be the wiser.

There aren't many drive-ins left in town. They'll disappear altogether if more don't take advantage of this inexpensive yet romantic opportunity to see a hot new flick and spend time with the one you love. About all that's left are the Starlite on Route 125 (734-4001) and the Oakley (5033 Madison Road; 271-4600). Go now, and you might catch Gladiator while it's still showing.

I polled some friends and family for their suggestions for hot dates, so the following are offered as alternatives to the above with the pros and cons listed.

· Baseball game starring the red-hot Reds. Pros: The date has a natural conclusion, also known as the ninth inning. You can eat peanuts and drink beer and spill both all over yourself and no one will care. Cons: Expensive, and the game can drag on for hours.

· Church Festivals. Pros: There's one somewhere in town almost every weekend of the summer, and most have games, great food, live music or other entertainment and prizes to win. Cons: None. It's a great, inexpensive way to spend a date.

· Courtyard Cafe. Pros: A shameless plug for the only bar/restaurant in the Main Street Entertainment District that has an outdoor patio that serves food and drink and doesn't cater to the teeny-bopper crowd. Cons: No music or anything to keep you there once you've finished eating.

· Hyde Park Square. Pros: Good outdoor restaurants, especially Indigo, and lots of little shops to browse before or after dinner. Cons: It's so trendy and has such a feel of see-and-be-seen. Might score points, though, if your date was doubting just how cool you really are. Be prepared to whip out the credit card. No, not that one — the platinum one.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to have a hot date this summer. Mother Nature provided the hard part. Now all you have to do is pick up the telephone and call to get in on the fun. ©

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