Five Ways To Avoid VD

My personal favorite is the one up on Central, if only because it's in proximity to so many great Nordeast bars, like the legendary Vegas Lounge with its polished wood, beer mirrors, and prominent interior neon signage. If there were a Spooner, Wisconsin-themed casino in Vegas it would look like this. And if you're really in the mood for mischief, program the jukebox to play the All Occasions Album, which features such feel-good hits as "The Wedding March," "Sunrise, Sunset," and "My Funny Valentine." I've never seen such cheap and easy potential for mass emotional distress.

Tubby's--another Northeast bar, but with a Mexican twist--promises to be the nonpressure hit of the evening. Salsa blares from the jukebox and couples spin woozily on the back dance floor among the stringy potted palms; there are cheap margaritas, plenty of bottled Mexican beers, and a surprisingly good selection of top-shelf tequilas behind the impressive old oak bar. If no one holds the door open you'll soon forget you're even in Minnesota--never mind that you're supposed to be champagne-soaked and gazing into the soul-dark pools of your beloved's eyes.

TABLEHOPPING

FANCY THIS:Okay, okay, so you say your emotional health and significant other won't allow for curmudgeonly self-indulgence this Valentine's Day--and all the romantic hot spots like W.A. Frost, Bobino, the Loring, the Vintage, 510, Campiello, and Lucia's were fully booked two weeks ago. Luckily, as of this writing there are still a good number of tables available for the Valentine's Ball at Chutney Indian Bistro, which will include a sarod (Indian lute) concert by Praful Kelkar and dancing. Call 633-6224 for reservations.

If you can provide your own early-evening diversions, Caffe Solo (332-7108) has tables available after 10 p.m., and they're dishing up Valentine's specials like Red Snapper Fra Diablo. Even if you're reading this at 4 p.m. Saturday (shame on you!) there is still hope. Everyone's favorite Italian market, Buon Giorno, is having its annual "Sweetheart Sale." This is your one-stop shop for all the dinner fixings, romantic gifts like Baci Perugina, Italian wines and liquor (including bubbly Cinzano Asti Spumante), and a variety of swell homemade breads. (Call Buon Giorno at 224-1816 if you don't believe me.)

And finally, it's the day we've all been waiting for, when for the very first time some restaurants' aggravating no-reservations policies become incredibly convenient. The lovely Sawatdee on Washington Avenue even offers a special Valentine's menu of two glasses of wine, a combination appetizer plate, Pad Thai, chicken Rama Thai (peanut-curry on steamed spinach), and ice cream for $39.95, so your lack of reservations can look like a well-laid plan. And if all else fails, call your local Buca up to two hours before you want to eat, put your name on the fabled "list," and treat yourself to wine and marinara sauce as red as your fiery passions.

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