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The Short Version: Duke’s Grocery in Washington, D.C., is a casual, yet classy, restaurant that provides a great atmosphere for a first date. Many couples continue to return to the establishment for its locally sourced foods, craft beers, and cocktails. The team at Duke’s said that couples love the restaurant so much they often include it in the next step in their relationships. That’s why the original location as well as its sister location, Duke’s Counter, host more than 20 engagement parties each year. For fostering fun and connection over fresh meals, Duke’s Grocery has earned our Editor’s Choice Award.
Planning a memorable first date can be a stressful task. You want to impress your date, of course, but you also don’t want to make things too complicated or add any pressure.
When two people are just starting to get to know each other, an outing at a romantic, fancy establishment may seem too intense. If they go to the movies, they might not get a chance to talk, and coffee dates can feel a little generic. Walks in the park, escape rooms, and live music shows are all excellent options, but nothing beats a nice meal in a fun, low-pressure atmosphere.
Duke’s Grocery offers that relaxed, yet refined, environment for couples in Washington, D.C. The establishment isn’t a supermarket as its name might suggest — it’s an award-winning restaurant that features a rotating menu, specialty cocktails, and craft beers that please guests without pretense.
“Our goal is to provide a cozy, welcoming environment that offers good value and a fun experience,” said Daniel Kramer, a Managing Partner with Duke’s Grocery. “That makes it an ideal place for dates.”
Duke’s Grocery has two locations in D.C., one in Dupont Circle, which opened in 2013, and another in Foggy Bottom, which opened in 2019. Its sister restaurant, Duke’s Counter, has served customers in Woodley Park since 2016.
The restaurant helps couples connect, and many even return to Duke’s Grocery to host engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, and wedding brunches. All of its locations are near the D.C. Metro and major bus lines, which makes it easy for couples to access and enjoy them.
The owners designed Duke’s Grocery and their other restaurants to incorporate the laid-back vibe of a neighborhood pub found in the United Kingdom. In fact, the atmosphere includes nods to the bodegas, cafes, and curry joints couples could find in East London’s Shoreditch and Hoxton neighborhoods that are the meeting place of the blue collar, creative, and immigrant communities all at once.
The establishment is classy, but not pretentious. As a result, everyone feels welcome, and, according to Daniel, its clientele is incredibly diverse.
“We have great neighborhood regulars, foodies, and tourists. We also have professionals from area embassies and law firms, graduate students from Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, and GW,” he said, “And, of course, 17th Street is the historic home of the LGBT Community in D.C. So if you name a demographic, we welcome them.”
It helps that its team is well-trained and has a wealth of hospitality experience. The staff is so diverse that it also inspires a wide variety of rotating items featured on the establishment’s chalkboard menu.
The restaurant is a fun place where friends and couples alike can gather for a filling dinner or a refreshing cocktail. While the vibe is relaxed, the layout and decor are both classy and intentional.
Duke’s Grocery is designed with reclaimed wood, exposed piping, vintage fixtures, and a copper-top bar beautifully lined with bottles just waiting to mix into fresh drinks. Its wide-open floor plan offers couples plenty of space to share an intimate conversation without having to whisper.
Besides the beautiful ambiance, what also sets Duke’s Grocery apart from other casual dates spots is its food. The establishment makes all of its dishes in small batches in its open kitchen. Ingredients are sourced locally, and many are sustainably harvested.
The chalkboard menu updates regularly, depending on what ingredients are fresh and in-season. Dishes include a range of sandwiches, salads, and curries. Of course, there’s the sought-after Proper Burger, which is consistently rated among the best burgers in D.C. by media outlets including The Washington Post, Thrillist, and TripAdvisor.
None of the items on the Duke’s Grocery menu are going to break the bank — which can also be an important factor for a first date.
“Everything on the menu is $16 or less, so it’s easy to keep things casual,” Daniel said. “Also, the happy hour is from noon to 7 p.m., and the drinks are poured stiff. So, that helps.”
If a couple wants to enjoy a movie at home together, they can still satisfy their craving for Duke’s Grocery by having a meal delivered. Through its website, customers can order foods like White Truffle Mac and Cheese, Local Corn “Elote Locos,” Pork Wings, and Chickpea Green Chili Hummus directly to their door.
Brunch at the restaurant is also a great date option — and not only for the menu. If the date is going well, it’s easy to extend it into a nice afternoon activity after brunch at Duke’s Grocery.
Duke’s Grocery and Duke’s Counter are popular gathering places for singles, couples, friends, and families. That’s part of the reason why so many people book special events at the restaurant to gather loved ones and celebrate milestones.
The staff particularly enjoys wedding-related parties, especially when a couple’s relationship started at Duke’s Grocery.
“One of our favorite things is when guests insist that they host their engagement party, rehearsal dinner, or wedding brunch with us because they had their first date at Duke’s,” Daniel said. “That happens about 20 times per year. Every time it reminds us why we are in this business: To bring people together and make them happy.”
Then, it should come as no surprise that Duke’s Grocery frequently earns praise from area media publications. Duke’s Grocery is a frequent finalist for its RAMMY Award, given in association with The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, and won the RAMMY for Best Casual Brunch in 2016.
Zagat declared Duke’s Grocery one of the best restaurants and sandwich shops in the D.C. area, and the Washington Post praised its vegetarian cuisine.
Eater DC was also excited for the owners of Duke’s Grocery to open their Korean barbecue restaurant called Gogi Yogi in 2019. The publication appreciated the fact that Daniel grew up near Koreatown in Los Angeles and loves the cuisine.
The new location is already a popular date spot, too. The open-air grill dining experience is the only Korean barbecue in the Washington, D.C., area, making it another unique place to take a date. And couples can get their fill of kimchi and spirits like soju, too.
Gogi Yogi has the same mission as Duke’s Grocery and Duke’s Counter: to serve great food and help people connect in an atmosphere that puts them at ease.