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6 Alternative Date Nights

Boogie Nights: Barack and Michelle Obama dance to Earth, Wind & Fire at the Governors Ball. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

‘If music be the food of love, play on.’ Play on indeed…Now they’ve left the White House, Michelle and Barack can enjoy more time together. So, what do the Obamas do on their famous date nights?

Like most of us they find a romantic dinner spot, enjoy some food and head off to see a Broadway show. Even if it does involve flying to New York on a Gulfstream 500 jet, boarding a Marine One fleet helicopter to Manhattan and then into a motorcade.

Hopefully your Valentine’s Day won’t cause such a hoo ha, be such a faff to plan or cost nearly as much…If you’re short of non-cheesy ideas here’s a few:

1. Dinner, the RSC & a boutique hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

RSC’s Rooftop Restaurant & Cocktail Bar

The RSC’s light and airy glass-fronted Rooftop Restaurant & Cocktail Bar on the third floor is one of my favourite places to eat in Stratford, as you don’t have to go very far to make it on time for the play, the food’s excellent and the views are amazing. It’s wrapped around the curve of the auditorium, with floor to ceiling windows and a terrace.

Katie Leung © RSC

February 14 falls just in-between seasons. Snow in Midsummer, a contemporary re-imagining of a classical Chinese drama, opens on Feb 23. It tells the haunting story of a young widow executed for a murder she didn’t commit. Directed by the energetic Justin Audibert, whose excellent adaptation of The Jew of Malta was wickedly funny, the play stars Katie Leung, the lead in 2016 BBC 2 drama One Child.

Josette Simon and Antony Byrne will play the leads in the RSC’s forthcoming Antony and Cleopatra © RSC

If you’d prefer your other half to book a posthumous weekend away Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra with Josette Simon as Cleopatra opens on March 11, a tragic tale of decadent seduction with music composed by Birmingham’s own Mercury-nominated singer-songwriter Laura Mvula.

Where to stay? The Church Street Townhouse is a small but stylish boutique hotel a short walk away. It has an excellent restaurant and two bars – the intimate Library bar with squidgy sofas, open beams and the odd book or two and the more urban Blue bar, popular with visiting theatre directors. I was immediately drawn to the new cocktail menu and Fizz Friday – a champagne happy hour at 5pm.

The 12 rooms are appropriately theatrical, almost like mini stage sets. All have drench-showers, and some have freestanding baths. More unusually, you’ll find a mini decanter of port. It’s also handy for sightseeing.

2. A Boutique Hotel & Cocktail Lounge, Kenilworth

A fab place for a special occasion, this 11-room boutique hotel and award-winning jazz inspired cocktail lounge is set in a 16th Century building –  a stone’s throw away from the romantic setting of Kenilworth Castle where ambitious courtier Robert Dudley famously woo-ed Queen Elizabeth I.

With 119 whiskies, 88 rums and 40 gins on the menu the hardest decision will be to choose which cocktail to drink. A Smokey Old Bastard (Ardbeg 10-year-old Islay whisky, Pedro Xiemenez Sherry, Maple Syrup, Vanilla, Angostura Bitters) and a Painkiller # 2 perchance?

The Kenilworth’s sharing cocktails sound a more amorous choice for Valentine’s Day – The Colada Del Ray, a little rum number with coconut cream and banana liqueur, is served up for two in a giant pineapple.  Yum…slurp. In February, there’s a Sunday cocktail overnighter package where you can enjoy cocktails for two all night and then stumble into one of the stylish bedrooms (£199).

 3. Resorts World, Birmingham

If you’re looking for an all-in-one modern entertainment venue on the Warwickshire/West Mids border, this  is it. There’s 18 bars and restaurants, including the award-winning Waters’ restaurant – a finalist in the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality awards 2016 – more than 50 shopping outlets, a casino, IMAX cinema, coffee shops, the four-star Genting Hotel and Sensai, an award-winning spa.

Mr Muddy and I went last May for a friend’s birthday. It’s all clean lines, minimalist décor and huge glass windows overlooking Pendigo lake – and almost felt like we were on an inland cruise ship.

I’d recommend Bottega, this great Prosecco Bar on the ground floor for tasty Italian sharing platters and one or two prosecco’s – rude not to. We spent the rest of the evening in The Sky Bar on the top floor with its comfy leather booths, panoramic views and table service (dangerous!) until 1am closing. Another option is the Art-deco inspired Highline New York Bar and Lounge (below).

If you’re looking for live comedy or a gig at the nearby Genting Arena Jack Whitehall is touring on Feb 16 and Kings of Leon on Feb 20. Resorts World is on the Warwickshire/West Midlands border close to Birmingham Airport, Solihull and the Genting Arena (formerly the NEC). It’s easy to get to by car or train.

Comedian Jack Whitehall

4. Retro date night in Brum

It’s only 20 – 40 minutes by train into the UK’s second city from most stations across Warwickshire, or nearby Coventry. So, easy to escape for a long weekend in Birmingham, or night out without the kids…

Fancy a classic date night? Birmimgham’s new independent Mockingbird Cinema & Kitchen lounge bar in the city’s creative and digital district, The Custard Factory  launched as a full-time cinema last November with bargain screenings and a menu to match the film.

For Valentine’s there’s a short season called Hearts Alive featuring When Harry Met Sally, (Sat Feb 11 – 3.30pm, 6.30pm & 8.30pm) & Dirty Dancing, (Tue Feb 14 – 4pm, 6.45pm & 8.45pm).

Mooch around interesting pop-ups, galleries, Clink Beer craft beer specialist, a skater store, fashion and vintage boutiques. And if you want to explore the rest of the city there are so many hidden gems, the Balti Triangle, award-winning gastro pubs like The High FieldSelfridges, Harvey Nichols, the Library of Birmingham, The Glee Club, art galleries, music venues, theatres and newly opened bars with quirky events.

Bar Opus hosts an enticing Gin Afternoon Tea every Saturday, (2pm–6pm). They serve 3 different Hendrick’s gin cocktails in vintage cocktail T-Pots with an assortment of savouries and sweets, (£50 for two). There’s also an abundance of boutique hotels dotted around the city centre, including Hotel du Vin, Malmaison, The Kenilworth’s sister hotel The Edgbaston, St Paul’s House and Hotel Indigo on the top floor of the Cube. Or, how about a chic, 60s-inspired serviced apartment in the Rotunda.

Hotel Indigo

5. London calling? Capital art

The Tate Britain’s major spring exhibition is well worth jumping on the train for: a comprehensive retrospective of British art giant David Hockney’s work. He’s now approaching 80, so there’s six decades’ worth of painting, drawing, print, photography and videos to enjoy, some of which have never been publicly exhibited. What better antidote to a grey February than gazing at gorgeously vibrant paintings of sun-dappled LA swimming pools? It runs 9 Feb to 29 May, and if you want to avoid the kiddie and tourist crowds, it’s worth noting the extended opening hours of 10pm on a Friday and 8pm on a Saturday.

6. Culture fix in Oxford

If your jaunts into Oxford tend to revolve around kids’ cinema or Natural History Museum trips, take the time to do something a little more grown-up with your significant other this Valentine’s day. The Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1669, is open to the public, when it’s not being used by Oxford University for ceremonies and events. For just £3.50 entry free (£8 for the guided tour), you can gaze up in wonder at the jaw-dropping ceiling, painted by Robert Streater, or take in the 360 degree views of the city’s dreaming spires from the Cupola. Combine with lunch at Muddy favourites Gee’s, The Ashmolean Dining Rooms and a cocktail or two on the roof of TVC (relax, it’s heated!) and you’ve got a thoroughly civilized, relaxed day out.























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