BEST PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE - 2002
First dates are inherently risky, and Saturday night comes but once a week. So think twice about wasting those precious hours with a potential loser, and consider suggesting an afternoon outing instead. Hours and allergies are about the only restrictions on visiting the 87-year-old domed conservatory, as admission is laughably affordable (a buck) and the place is open every day of the year. Most jittery anxiety should evaporate once you and your date are surrounded by all that natural beauty, and it should be fairly painless to get to know each other. Especially during the (long, long) cold months, you'll be overtaken by an instant and welcoming tropical feel as you enter the Palm Dome, which houses myriad blooming orchids and more than 150 palm species. Benches nestled in foliage provide a place to rest and converse, and further exploration leads to specialty areas, such as the fern and bonsai rooms; the Gallery Garden (combining floral displays and works by local artists); the North Garden, which highlights utilitarian plants; and the gorgeous, sunlit Sunken Garden, where you can check out seasonal flower shows and throw coins into the goldfish pond to wish for a second date, or a quick escape. If all goes well and you care to extend the togetherness, nearby restaurants offer fare from pizza to chow mein to ice cream, and you can top it all off with a pint at an Irish pub: The Half Time Rec is right down the street. This may be pushing it, but if the date goes exceptionally well, the conservatory also makes a great location for a wedding.