Date Outside The Box

Date Outside The Box

Unique offerings upstage dinner-and-a-movie tradition


Let’s face it, the basic dinner-and-a-movie date routine can get old for those that have been dating — or married or whatever — for a while. And for first or second dates, sitting across from someone you barely know at a restaurant and making awkward conversation can be an excruciating experience. If you need reasons to seek out more exciting date night opportunities, consider this: There’s a large body of scientific evidence that suggests that heightened physical experiences can promote romantic feelings. We explored some Northwest Arkansas offerings that might just be your ticket to dating outside the box — and revving up your love life in the process.

Let the thrill of performance take you away

Our small corner of Arkansas has an unusual number of performing arts venues for its size. TheatreSquared (Fayetteville) is one of the most well-respected regional theaters in the country. The University Theatre (Fayetteville) showcases talent from student actors all over the country. Opera in the Ozarks (Eureka Springs) produces three full-scale operas each summer. ArkansasStaged performs cutting-edge theater in unexpected spaces. And Arkansas Public Theatre (Rogers) and the Arts Center of the Ozarks (Springdale) offer full seasons of diverse programming.

But if you want to up the ante and amp the adrenaline, consider doing the performance yourself at Big Box Karaoke (115 N. Block Ave., Fayetteville; 249-6295), a private suite karaoke establishment owned by husband-and-wife team Justin and Mailena Urso. The couple opened for business on New Year’s Eve of 2018 and offer a full menu of Asian-Fusion food. Plans are in the works to expand their Saki selection, making them the go-to bar for Saki lovers.

Mailena Urso says the private suites — small rooms with state-of-the-art karaoke systems where groups of up to 25 people can gather to sing — are the perfect option for group dates.

“It’s all about being with the people that you want to be around,” she says. “You let your guard down when you’re around the people that you’re closest to compared to a traditional karaoke setting, where you’re in front of a bunch of strangers. And there, you might get to sing one or two songs. But in our suites, you get to sing all the songs you want to sing.”

And, says Mailena, it could be the perfect place for a first date, as well. Big Box has seven rooms, and several of them are cozy and perfect for two people.

“We host a lot of team building events, where people may or may not know each other very well outside of work. People [also] come to private parties at Big Box, not knowing anyone in the room — and then they bond through karaoke. It would be an interesting first date, and you would definitely make some memories.”

Maximum Romance, Maximum Drama

It’s hard to imagine a more romantic date than flying high above the Ozark Mountains at sunset. The folks at Fly ARH Aviation (801 Airport Ave., Springdale; 365-3640) offer aerial tours in their Robinson R44 helicopters that last from nine minutes to 60. To really impress a date, fly her to dinner at a participating restaurant — the local choices include Shogun in Fayetteville, Joe’s Italian in Bentonville and Byrd’s Adventure Center on the Mulberry River. Your pilot will patiently wait until you are finished for your return flight.

“We also fly down to Arkansas wine country, Chateau on the Lake in Branson, Indigo Sky Casino, Downstream and Hard Rock Casino,” says Lee McAhren, who owns the company with her pilot husband, Camron.

Lee says that people often book helicopter trips for very special occasions — marriage and prom proposals, graduation celebrations and anniversaries — but “a lot of them are just dates, wanting to do something special for their significant other.” The company’s Christmas lights tours, which start the day after Thanksgiving and run through the end of the year, are fan favorites and bring in a lot of repeat customers.

And if you’re someone who might be nervous at the thought of riding in a helicopter, Lee says not to worry.

“Most people have never been in a helicopter before,” she says. “They’ll put their fears aside and take the flight and love it. I can’t think of a time when someone has gotten off of a flight and said, ‘I hate it.’ They always think it’s a really neat experience.”

Exercise Your Brain

Mark Underwood, who owns NWA Escape Room (4083 E. Georgetowne Square Drive, Fayetteville; 466-3555) with his business partner, Stephen Brooks, thinks teaming up to solve a mystery as the clock ticks down is the perfect option for a first date.

“This takes activities that you would typically think of for a date and makes them better,” he says. “Imagine 10 years ago — you might take a date to watch the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie. That’s fun, but you’re watching Tom Cruise do all the action while, in an escape room, you are the ‘Mission: Impossible’ team — you get to do the amazing things yourself. That’s more fun.”

NWA Escape Room has four rooms with originally designed mysteries that range from moderate to solve (around 30% solve rate, which is the industry standard) to pretty darn hard (around a 20% solve rate). Underwood says it’s a delicate balance, developing a mystery that is tough, but not too tough.

“We always rigorously test [the mystery] to make sure it’s at a good level before we open to the public,” says Underwood. “We always want the rooms to be [solvable] in close to an hour — we want people to finish right before time runs out or else they can see the finish line and didn’t quite get there. “

And if you doubt that solving a mystery together can be romantic, NWA Escape Room hosted a marriage proposal recently.

“We worked it out so that we put the ring toward the end of the room, and when they got to that part they found the ring and he got down on his knee and proposed,” says Underwood. “She said ‘Yes’.”

Engage Your Competitive Spirit

If you’re part of a competitive couple, and bowling just doesn’t do it for you any more, Patrick Stuart, one of the partners who recently opened the Ozark Axe House (718 N. 2nd St., Rogers; 372-4053), has just the activity for you.

“It’s similar to bowling — you get your own lane,” says Stuart. The two sports diverge there, however. “Our lanes consist of two targets — that way you can be competitive and throw at the same time. The scoring is similar to darts, and when it comes to the way the game is played, you can take turns with teams or do it one on one — adjust it to whomever is with you. We’ve run bracket tournaments, and then some people just want to throw one throw to one throw .”

The OAH does a lot of team building business, but Stuart says he would estimate about 25 percent of their clients are people out on date.

“It’s a good way to get to know someone, and it distracts from the awkwardness” of a first date, says Stuart. “It opens up a big conversation that most people wouldn’t have on a normal date. When you’re sitting across a dinner table from someone, it’s like an interview, and no one likes to do those.”

For the Daredevils

If there’s one thing that can make your heart beat faster than true love, it’s got to be skydiving.

Just ask Brandon Cawood, who co-owns Skydive Fayetteville (4500 S. School Ave., Fayetteville; 270-8855) with his business partner, Jacob Crutchfield. He met his fiancé, Holly Hoover, on a jump four years ago this May. Cawood was the tandem jumper assigned to be tethered to Hoover on her jump — and the two fell in love.

Cawood has been skydiving for 14 years and says that, yes, he was scared the first time he did it.

“You’re definitely nervous the first time,” he says. “If someone says they’re not nervous, they’re probably lying.”

Cawood says that Skydive Fayetteville’s jumps usually occur from a plane flying around 9,000 to 10,000 feet in the sky, and the jumper will free fall for around 30 seconds before deploying the parachute. The entire jump usually lasts around five minutes and, says Cawood, the view is amazing.

“You can see XNA really easily, you can make out Bentonville and Rogers,” he says. “If it’s clear enough, you can usually see all the way down to Fort Smith.”

If Cawood and Hoover’s love story isn’t enough to convince you that skydiving can be romantic, the company frequently sees marriage proposals at the end of their dives.

“The guy will usually leap first, and we’ll kind of hurry it up so that he gets to the ground first ” so that he can unfurl a banner with a marriage proposal on it, says Cawood.

Back to the Basics

When Fayetteville Square Dance (1 E. Mountain St., Fayetteville) co-founder Allison Williams returned to her hometown, she missed the regular dance gatherings she had helped organize in Asheville, N.C. and Knoxville, Tenn. So she set out to make the same magic in Fayetteville.

“My friend Willi Carlisle was learning to call and shared my love of old time music and dance, and we just started hunting for venues,” says Williams. Their creation held its first dance in the parking lot of May Bell Music in Trailside Village in conjunction with the Fayetteville Roots Festival, a partnership that has repeated every year since. When the group got too large for the regular monthly events — a dance is held the last Friday of every month at 8 p.m. — they moved from Backspace to the new Roots headquarters on the Fayetteville Square.

“The Fayetteville Square Dance is an all-ages event, with beer and wine available for [ages 21-plus],” says Williams. “We dance from 8-11 p.m., with live music. Everyone is welcome. We know that traditional square dance has become a rarity, and most folks don’t grow up with it. We teach all of our dances, and call them all the way through, so it’s very accessible. Most importantly, we have a beginner lesson at 8 p.m., to go over the basics. What matters is coming together as a community, keeping traditional arts alive and having fun.”

The event is a favorite of local musicians, and, over the years, has turned into a veritable who’s who of performers.

“We work with the best traditional musicians in the region — locals like Pete Howard and the Ozark Highballers, folks from Missouri like David Scrivner, Kim Lansford and Nathan McAllister and even touring musicians and callers on occasion,” says Williams. “These are folks who have spent their lives learning music from the elders, the tradition-bearers in their communities.”

The low admission price, festive atmosphere and welcoming spirit make it a great option for date night.

“I’d absolutely recommend it, if you’re not afraid to get sweaty on a date,” says Williams. “It’s also fun if you’re single — you’ll get to meet a bunch of new folks, and they won’t be buried in a cellphone or a sports game on television. It’s a chance for learning, laughing and genuine connection.”

Categories: Cover Story