A friend recently cited expense as a reason to refrain from dating; there are many legitimate reasons for this choice — unwillingness to compromise, lack of interest in other people, enjoying one’s own company — but money is not one of them. Not when with some creativity, people can go out without having to empty their wallets.
Free — Always or Sometimes
Wadsworth Atheneum: There are several ways to visit at no cost. Hartford residents can get in almost every day of the year for free; exceptions are for special fundraising events, like the Festival of Trees and Traditions. Regardless of where you live, you can get in for free, 4-5 pm, every day that the museum is open. Grab an ARTpass from a public library in Connecticut and receive free admission for two adults. Veterans and active-duty members of the military get in free. Bank of America debit/credit cardholders get free admission on the first weekend of each month. Evening lectures are often free. While this might be more stuff-of-nightmares than the making of an ideal date, there is free admission on the second Saturday of each month; the museum is packed with children on this day.
Mark Twain House & Museum: Occasionally free tours are offered for Hartford residents.
Unless you forage your food, you will probably have to pay something — but it’s likely this is just going to be what you would have bought to feed yourself anyway because you have to eat. Do people actually buy food specifically for picnics or do they rummage through cupboards for the opened box of crackers to go with the cheese about to expire? There are picnic tables in almost every park and if grills are installed in those parks, then grilling is permitted there. Keney Park, Riverside Park, Goodwin Park, and Elizabeth Park all have grills and picnic tables. Bushnell Park does not permit grilling but does provide tables and benches.
Jazz is not to everyone’s liking. Listening to it for free in Bushnell Park — either during the Monday Night Jazz series or the major festival — lets you have that picnic. It also means meeting someone with lots of other people around, just in case someone turns out to be creepy. Every Monday night, Arch Street Tavern hosts the Hartford Jazz Orchestra. There is free music at Black-Eyed Sally’s on most Monday nights; check the schedule because occasionally there is a $5 cover. The Hartford Public Library has an ongoing Baby Grand Jazz series.
Listen to live poetry at the Syllable series
You can take a free yoga class. Bring your own skates and roll along the Connecticut River. Borrow ice skates and take a few spins around the rink in Bushnell Park. Fly kites. Play sportsball. Jog. Hike through the woods in Keney Park or north of Riverside Park. Go fishing. Climb trees. In season, go to the Riverfront Plaza on a Thursday night for live music (and cheap beer). Play cards. Ride bikes. Grab some sidewalk chalk and draw. Go on a tour of Elizabeth Park, Bushnell Park, or the Arch. Read books. Skateboard. Climb up the slides. Go bird-watching. Scold people for feeding the ducks.
Look for the salsa socials on Pratt Street or at the Hartford Public Library. For less organized dancing, check out Early Bird Social Club.
This is something you do in bookstores. It can lead to spending money, but mostly, it’s a good chance to see what sections someone gravitates to or if they think this activity is a waste of time. Did she really just pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged? Time to bail! Also, try this at any of the farmers’ markets; sometimes there is live music and other entertainment provided.
Learn Stuff, Make Stuff
For part of the year, Knox offers one free workshop each month as part of their Urban Roots series. Pick up some skills at one of MakeHartford’s free gatherings, like String Thing.
If your animals don’t get along, what’s even the point? Meet up for a Yappy Hour event.
Festivals, Parades, and Concerts
There are too many of these to list. What works about these is the nature of them — you can show up and leave whenever. You can time your own meals to avoid buying food from expensive trucks while out. As for the concerts, these are offered at the Riverfront Plaza and as part of other events in parks. If you’re thinking that’s fine for summer, but what about other seasons? Night Fall is in October. You can also cheer on marathon runners. The fireworks at First Night are free to view. The often ridiculously cold weather in March does not seem to stop people from showing up for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. In April, there is the Trinity International Hip-Hop Festival, offering music, spoken word, dance, and a chance to legally make spray paint art; you do not have to be affiliated with the college in any way to attend.
EBK Gallery: This is on Pearl Street and you can see the entire display without going inside. There is an opening reception about every month. If the date is bad, it can be over within five minutes. If not, you’re right next to a good wine bar. Sadly, that’s not free.
Real Art Ways: Free admission to the gallery. Some seating.
Charter Oak Cultural Center: Free opening receptions and lots of other free events.
ArtSpace Gallery: Free opening receptions. Some seating.
ArtWalk Gallery: The opening receptions are decent.
The “dinner and a movie” date is a cliche and I hate it.
Hate might be overstating it. But the idea of sitting in silence with someone you have just only met does not seem like the best way to get to know someone. I’d make an exception for a drive-in situation because you can talk inside your own little bubble and not piss off everyone else who wants to watch the movie. An extension of this is the trend of outdoor movies, which by virtue of the setting, somehow allows a bit more chatting than what would be acceptable in a theater. The City of Hartford has its series every summer of free movies in the parks (and also the stadium); most of these are family-friendly, with something nostalgic or a bit racier thrown in so the rest of us aren’t alienated. Summer Sizzle Under the Stars offers free admission to Wadsworth Atheneum members and takes place in its courtyard. The West End Civic Association sponsors a few free movies each summer in Elizabeth Park and a vacant lot in the neighborhood.
Sea Tea Comedy Theater: The bulletin board next to the box office is where you can find Pay It Forward tickets. These are tickets that others have purchased and are making available to others, no questions asked. Whether you are broke while waiting for seasonal employment to resume (holler!) or have no sources of income, you are welcome to help yourself. The only catch is if a show has already been sold out. It should go without saying that it’s good karma to purchase a few of these for others when your financial situation improves.
TheaterWorks: You might be wondering why a play would be thought of differently from a movie. It just is. Also, it’s more dynamic and often has an intermission, allowing for some conversation earlier than later.
It’s not widely advertised, but they have done “pay what you can” nights about once for each play. Call the box office to find out when the next one is scheduled. These seem to always be on Wednesdays, so you might need to break from the traditional date nights.
Toivo: Almost every class, workshop, and event that happens here is offered on a free/donation basis. They offer Yoga and Tai Chi, among other things.
HartBeat Ensemble: They have a “no one turned away for lack of funds” policy. Call to see if there are any exceptions.
Golf: A friend says to go to the “Goodwin Park driving range to hit some golf balls. A bucket of balls is 10 bucks and was plenty for two.” Check out Keney Park for this too — plus, they a great new restaurant there with lots of happy hour prices.
Bowling: The price of one game and shoe rentals for two is under $15.
Bushnell Park Carousel: $1 per ride. Not advised after several drinks.
Blind Pig: all day Happy Hour on Tuesdays.
Half Door: music and $3 pints on Wednesdays.
Rethink Drinks: Grab coffee or tea, or even fresh juice, instead of cocktails. There are multiple independent coffee shops in Hartford now, along with a few juice bars.
Rethink Dinner: Skip all the awkward chewing and picking things out of your teeth — go straight for dessert.
Thanks to everyone who contributed their experiences and wish lists! Do you think some things are missing from this post? Comment below.