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Cheap Dates: 15 Under $60
Don't downsize your dating! These cheap dates — 15 under $60 — could lead to recession romance.

 
BY EMILY GITTER AND BEN KAPLAN
 
Back in the boom years, many New Yorkers saw dating as a chance not just to woo but to wow — dropping $200 at Nobu, $180 for a Broadway show, and more than they cared to remember at Spa. But excess isn't what it used to be, and the city is full of opportunities for the frugal romantic. Here are fifteen dates, from salsa lessons to steam baths — all under $60 — to prove it.
 
Collateral Damage
Salsa Dancing
If you think you might need a few pointers (and a few drinks) before showing off your salsa moves, check out "La Tropica" salsa party and dance lesson at S.O.B.'s. The hourlong class draws an enthusiastic crowd of beginners almost every Monday night, so you'll feel comfortable even if it's your first time ($5 for men and free for women before 7:30). Once you've mastered the basics, cool off with a tropical drink ($8) and fuel up with jerk-chicken sticks and lobster empanadas — or sit down for a dinner of "Latin soul food" (appetizers, $5-$9; entrées, $13-$20). The real party begins at 9 with performances from top-notch Latin musicians like Frankie Morales and Grupo Niche. (No extra cover if you've gone to the class; otherwise, shows usually cost $15. S.O.B.'s, 204 Varick Street; 212-243-4940 or www.sobs.com.)


Tokens of Affection
Chinatown
Into playing games with your significant other? Buy a few dollars' worth of arcade tokens at Chinatown Fair, home of old-school pinball machines, multiple Ms. Pac-Mans, and Dance Dance Revolution, a two-player game with a small stage on which you frantically imitate the moves flashing across the screen. (8 Mott Street; 212-964-1542.) Afterward, get all four of your left feet rubbed down at the Fishion Herb Center, a foot-massage parlor that looks like the Bliss of Shanghai. (169 Hester Street; 212-966-8771; $20 each for 30 minutes.) Finally, the nearby Nice Restaurant offers dim sum delicacies ($1.95-$3.95) — pan-fried turnip cakes, shrimp-stuffed eggplant, silver-needle noodles — that have been pleasing New Yorkers since the Year of the Ox. (35 East Broadway; 212-406-9510.)


Island Escape
Roosevelt Island
Everyone knows that the view of Roosevelt Island can be romantic (remember Manhattan?) and that the view from the tram ($1.50) — which may go back into service this month — is spectacular. But getting there is only half the fun. The two-mile-long island (think "suburb"-meets-Swedish housing complex) has all the provisions you need for an intime barbecue. (After all, given this winter's wacky weather, spring may be imminent.) The Grog Shop (605 Main Street) offers inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon ($6 and up), and the Island Fishmarket (530 Main Street) sells fresh salmon steaks ($4.99 per pound). Behind the late-1800s lighthouse are twelve charcoal grills facing the river — and far enough apart so people have to shout to borrow your teriyaki sauce.


Steamy Affair
A Russian-Turkish Bathhouse
If you're both sweating and (practically) naked and your date has only just begun, you must be at the Tenth Street Baths and Health Club — a charming, turn-of-the-century co-ed Russian-Turkish bathhouse ($22) that attracts nonthreatening clientele ranging from East Village hipsters to Gorbachev look-alikes. The three-story anti-spa has a Redwood Sauna, a bracing 45-degree bath, and a vast steam room where the scent of eucalyptus will clean out your sinuses for a month. After all that exertion, relax at the baths' restaurant with some delectable roast chicken ($5) and a cold Baltika beer ($4). (268 East 10th Street; 212-473-8806.)


Love Conquers All
Opera in the East Village
No love story ever had a more appropriate stage than the Amato Opera Theatre. Tony and Sally Amato opened their doors in 1948, because, says Tony, "we were in love, and we loved opera — what else was there to do?" Fifty-four years later, Tony still conducts almost every show; Sally, sadly, died in August 2000. On February 9, the Amato opens its spring season with L'Elisir d'Amore — Donizetti's blissful romantic comedy about a proto-feminist landowner, the farmer who loves her, and Love Potion No. 9. (319 Bowery; 212-228-8200; $28.) After the not-so-fat lady sings, stop by Marion's Continental, the kitschy fifties restaurant and bar where — over $6 dirty martinis and a Dean Martin song — you can toast Tony and Sally and, of course, amore. (354 Bowery; 212-475-7621.)
 
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