In December, you could go to a party any night of the week. Your boss is hosting cocktails on Tuesday, the Bunco ladies are getting together for a gift exchange on Wednesday, your favorite boutique is having a drop-in on Thursday and your neighbors are hosting a cookie exchange the same night. And Friday? You’ve been invited to three soirees and you plan to make them all, making necessary wardrobe changes in the car. As much fun as all that can be, wouldn’t it be nice to get away from it all? And what about next month, when the party train has pulled into the station and, once again, you are responsible for planning your own entertainment?
A great evening out has three parts – a relaxing beginning, an entertaining middle and a little decompression at the end. When you were younger, you started by getting ready with a few friends, eating chips or microwaved burritos, and contemplating which party you would attend later or where you would go to eat wings. The middle was a whirlwind of activity, often involving cheap food, keg beer and some form of dancing, even if it was just you and your pals singing along to your favorite song and waving your beers in the air. The end usually involved pizza or cheese fries. Perhaps you’re ready for something new.
Though this doesn’t apply to everyone, married couples with children should consider getting ready separately. Why? Because otherwise Part 1 of your date consists of bickering in the car, or not speaking entirely, because you’ve been rushing to get everyone home from soccer and ballet, fed and prepared for the sitter. Alternate plan: Pay the sitter a bit more and let her do it all.
Part 1 – The Pre Party
Part 1 can be short. You may even want to have a few people over for appetizers and drinks, the grown-up version of the chips and sodas of days of yore. Before a big event, having a few people in can be a great bonding experience and set the tone for the evening. This is no different from walking into a high school party with your whole crew, but the pre-game snacks are better. Keep it simple with olives and mixed nuts or – if you’re headed to an event where food may be scarce – visit your favorite deli or grocery store for a plate of sushi, a cheese platter or chicken salad. Tip: DiPrato’s is famous for their pita chips, which they make to order, in mere minutes. The chips are perfect with their pimento cheese, chicken salad or crab dip. Extra Credit: The Social Pig – how those in the know refer to the Piggly Wiggly on the corner of Devine Street and Kilbourne Road – will make a plate of delicious sushi to order, and they’ll even put it on your platter. Also? They have the best olive bar in town.
An Evening at the Theatre
If you’re planning an evening at the theater – screen or stage, depending on your budget and your mood – Part 1 may be more elaborate. You could host a dinner party or you could make an early dinner reservation. As for Part 2, Columbia’s theater scene is rich; take in a show at Workshop Theatre, Town Theatre, Trustus or the University. If you’re in the mood for a flick, the Nickelodeon is always screening something worth seeing (and they serve beer and wine, which allows you to roll Parts 1 and 2 into one, if you’re pressed for time). Tip: Trustus serves wine, beer and free popcorn, but their seats are very comfortable, so opt for soda if you’ve had a long day. If you had time for a nap, their late shows can be fun. Trustus has two stages now, the main stage and the more intimate Blackbox. Extra Credit: Enjoy the Hunter Gatherer before and after a show at the Nick. Once the theater moves to Main Street, you’ll head to the White Mule instead.
After dinner catch a performance at Trustus Theatre and relax with a beverage and a serving of free popcorn. Photos courtesy of Trustus
Columbia’s Dance Companies
With several dance companies – including the Carolina Ballet, Columbia City Ballet, Columbia Classical Ballet and more modern options like Columbia City Jazz, Wideman/Davis and Unbound Dance – dance fans in Columbia have a lot of options.
Tip: If your partner is half interested, offer to do something he or she chooses on another night. Not interested at all? Make it a night out with friends.
Extra Credit: Columbia’s dance companies have fun benefits throughout the year, including Columbia Classical Ballet’s LifeChance on Jan. 21 and USC’s Ballet Stars of New York on March 23.
Got Dance Fever?
What if you’d rather dance than watch? After all, shagging is South Carolina’s state dance. You do know how, right? No? Well, then, get on down to The Woody in the Vista. Owned by beloved Columbia DJ Woody Windam, this club is the place to go for all kinds of dancing, including crowd-pleasing line dances like the Electric Slide and the Cupid Shuffle. Don’t be shy, just get on the floor and follow along. You’ll also see shagging, a foxtrot or three, and enough slow dances to give you time to take a breather at the bar. Salsa fans can head to Salsa Cabana, which doesn’t open until 9 p.m., to dance into the wee hours to a Latin beat.
Tip: Want a shag lesson? If you look enthusiastic but less than competent, there are plenty of willing dancers to teach you the moves at The Woody. On a recent night, Woody himself left the DJ booth to help a group of five couples. Once they had the moves down, he didn’t abandon them; he reminded them from the booth to continue counting aloud. At any dance club, don’t be shy about dancing with anyone who asks. They aren’t hitting on you; they just want to shake a tail feather. Still not sure? Wear a wedding band, even if you aren’t married.
Extra Credit: If all that dancing leaves you hungry, the chicken salad at The Woody is excellent.
The Music Scene
Columbia’s music scene offers something for everyone, from acoustic and jazz to big name concerts and the South Carolina Philharmonic. Thursday’s Jazz Night at the Hunter Gatherer is now an institution and the White Mule is the place to go for acoustic music from local bands and up and coming musicians from out of town. Thanks to the diligence of their neighbors, the White Mule doesn’t let the music get too loud, so you can listen to music and enjoy the company of your date. When it gets warmer, look for live, free concerts in Finlay Park, Five Points and the Vista.
Tip: Dianne’s on Devine hosts live jazz performances most Saturday nights, and they are wonderful. And if you really want to have fun? Watch their calendar for a Phil Urban performance. He’s an Elvis impersonator and lounge singer. Over the course of the evening, you’ll see Phil and Elvis. On his breaks, enjoy DJ music and impromptu line dance lessons from the wait staff. It feels like being on a cruise!
Extra Credit: Look for music where you might not expect it. The Columbia Museum of Art’s Wadsworth Chamber Music series is a hit with Columbians. Buy season or individual tickets and enjoy beautiful chamber music with a sophisticated crowd.
If you enjoy looking at art and meeting artists, make sure to sign up for email news from local galleries. To name a few, City Art, if ART and Gallery 80808 all host regular openings with artists. A gallery opening is the perfect Part 1 to a relaxed evening. There are so many galleries in the Vista; choosing a nearby spot for dinner will be easy.
Tip: The Columbia Museum of Art stays open late, until 8 p.m., the first Friday of every month. They also host the occasional special tour or party in the evening. Their Arts and Draughts parties have been a huge hit with all ages.
Extra Credit: The 701 Center for Contemporary Art, located upstairs in the historic building at 701 Whaley Street, offers thought provoking exhibits from a wide range of artists. And they have great parties. Their openings are more than just wine and cheese; they often have a full spread of delicious food and the occasional signature cocktail.
Sports dates can be fun, even if you aren’t a fan. You could take in a basketball game at the Colonial Life Arena or watch a game in your favorite sports bar. If you really aren’t a fan, but you just want to keep up with the score, consider the bar in your favorite restaurant. Most bartenders will switch to the game if you ask nicely. Mr. Friendly’s, MoMo’s Bistro, Tombo Grille and Rosso are great options.
Tip: Fans at Dianne’s on Devine actually get into the game and, I kid you not, they have excellent wings.
Extra Credit: During basketball season, park on South Main and enjoy an appetizer at Hunter Gatherer before the game. Leave your car and walk to the game, returning to the bar afterward for more food or a pint.
Giraffes and other animals light up the night at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden annual Lights Before Christmas show. Photos courtesy of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.
Active Evenings Out
After a long day at work, you may not want to sit down. Columbia offers plenty of opportunities for active evenings out. Riverbanks Zoo hosts events throughout the year. This month, enjoy the Lights Before Christmas, with or without the children. Also during the holiday season, many of your favorite shops stay open late, giving you the opportunity to shop in a relaxed atmosphere, possibly with a free glass of holiday cheer. Devine Street’s famed Devine Evening is great fun (Date TBD). Sip, shop and stroll, with your date or a group of friends. Five Points’ Festivus is a fun holiday tradition. Stores stay open late for holiday shoppers and the evening includes a pub-crawl (Date TBD). All year long, First Thursdays on Main Street offer a great chance to take a brisk walk, meet new friends and see what Main Street has to offer. Businesses stay open late, often hosting art openings and other performances.
Tip: Skip one of those holiday parties and go for a stroll. You won’t be missed, and you’ll feel the holiday spirit.
Extra Credit: The All-Local Farmers’ Market at 711 Whaley Street is open on Wednesday evenings from 4 to 8 p.m. now, and they serve dinner at long communal tables. You can usually choose from one of Columbia’s local food trucks like Bone-In Artisan BBQ, Pawley’s Front Porch or 2 Fat 2 Fly, or enjoy a meal prepared by Rosso’s Kristian Niemi and his staff for around $6. Wine and beer are available or you can bring your own. In addition to produce and other food items, you can find perfect holiday gifts, from handmade soap and jewelry to larger items like hand-carved bowls and pottery.
While away a Wednesday evening at the All-Local Farmers Market, shopping for fresh produce, as well as holiday treats and gifts. Photos courtesy of All-Local Farmers Market.
Part 3 – The After Party
What about Part 3? Well, depending on how you feel, you can enjoy this one at home or stay out for a last hurrah. Now that you’re a grown-up, you can do better than the jalapeno poppers from the Sonic drive-thru (which, to be fair, are actually pretty good). For the curious, the Whig, a bar at the corner of Main and Gervais streets, has the absolute best cheese fries in town, if not the world. If you really aren’t ready to stop, the Art bar offers late-night dancing. Not your scene? Drive by Dianne’s; they might still be rocking. After a performance, dessert is always nice; Nonnah’s and Goatfeathers are Columbia favorites. If you decide to head home, make sure you have ice cream in the freezer. (If you went to the All-Local Farmers’ market, you could have picked up some delicious Paolo’s gelato.)