If music be the food of love, play on. • William Shakespeare wrote that, and he knew something about romance. He'd appreciate a date designed with tunes and spooning in mind, in a compact corridor of McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater. Put these ideas on your dating playlist:
1. The prelude
A good place to start is Sam Ash Music Store (923 McMullen-Booth Road), where the walls and shelves are packed with thousands of instruments, everything from classic saxophones to space-age electric violins and more guitars than you can shake a pick at. Fellas, nothing impresses a lady more than willingness to go shopping. Doing it in a place like Sam Ash not only makes it painless but downright fun. Browsing the warehouse-sized showroom is encouraged, and a hip, friendly staff is ready to answer any question, or leave you to chat about a drum set resembling the one Tommy Lee pounded into submission at a Motley Crue show. Take the opportunity to show off your own musical chops, a move that screams sexy confidence. Sam Ash provides intimate soundproof rooms, but entertaining strangers in the showroom may earn an admiring first kiss. You can't carry a piano on a date, but borrow one to croon a Bruno Mars cover and you can start planning breakfast.
2. The big show
Ruth Eckerd Hall (1111 McMullen-Booth Road) is perfect for daters, comfy and classy without the sprawl and congestion of larger concert venues. There's nothing romantic about hiking to and from your car, or jostling with hordes of strangers (unless you impressed them with your ukulele skills at Sam Ash). The concourse features several cash bars and concession stands, but stroll to the outdoor East Side Café (weather permitting) for light snacks and adult beverages. Live music begins 90 minutes before show time under the oak trees. You may glimpse performers entering the backstage door, on the other side of a block wall. The cafe is great for relaxed people-watching, like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Speaking of Allen, his Dec. 30 appearance with the New Orleans Jazz Band is just one piece of a varied concert lineup at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Best upcoming bets for romance? Look to K.D. Lang (Sept. 7) and Elvis Costello (Sept. 17). Rick Springfield (Sept. 3) is suggested only for those certain their date can't be seduced away.
3. The coda
After-show drinks, food and music in a cozy setting are only a couple of minutes away, right across the street from Sam Ash Music Store. The Brew Garden (904 McMullen-Booth Road) is a secret sneaking out of its neighborhood, featuring 32 varieties of imported, domestic and local craft beers on tap, dozens of exotic bottled brews and a few select wines. It's the creation of Savino Sterlacci, founder and former partner of the World of Beer franchise, so he knows his stuff and passes it along to his staff. A curved, artfully inscribed chalkboard covers two walls, listing labels and alcohol content, from the bashful 4.0 in a Murphy's dry Irish stout, to a courage-inducing 11.5 in the Belgian ale Deus.
Live acts on Fridays and Saturdays offer blues, acoustic alternative '80s and '90s music, and occasionally karaoke. The bar's website ( thebrewgarden.com) is regularly updated with information about performers and potent potables, along with a menu of tasty munchies.
Go for the beer, stay for the homemade beer cheese with pita and veggies for dipping. Share a gourmet sandwich; I recommend the turkey with Brie, lemon Dijon and Granny Smith apple. There's a Ms. Pacman game for flirty fun, and free WiFi to assist making plans for your next date. Play on.