The Midlands most-romantic places

04/22/2014 2:15 PM

04/24/2014 10:23 AM

We’re the lovers. On first dates, finding romance after a life of raising a family, looking for love’s sparkle for the first time. We want the lights a little low, the music a little soft, and the dessert ready for two.

No matter the stage of life couples occupy — young hipsters, 20-something professionals, marrieds with children, longtime dating couples, retired couples — there’s plenty of places in the Midlands for special outings and fun times. Five couples share what brings them bliss.

Renee Williamson and Curtis Chow had their first date at Villa Tronco (1213 Blanding St.) followed by dancing at Jillian’s (800 Gervais St.) in the Vista.

In the six years since, the young couple have munched their way through an eclectic mix of restaurants, from contemporary regional (Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe, 2001 Greene St.) to Chinese (Sun Ming, 7501 St. Andrews Road, Irmo) to downtown cosmopolitan (Oak Table, 1221 Main St.)

The pair, who got engaged in August and plan to marry in October, sometimes sample Korean food at Arirang (1943-C Decker Blvd.) or head across the river to Terra (100 State St., West Columbia)

“Most people don’t think of Columbia as a foodie place but we have a really good selection here,” said Chow, 30, a lawyer who specializes in business immigration and international employment law.

Steve Barth grew up in Southern California and spent time in the Bay Area, so he knows a thing or two about destinations that are chock full of things to do.

“What’s been interesting for me is here in Columbia there’s always something going on and always new things,” said Barth, 46, a software administrator.

Barth and his wife, Jennifer Camp, 35, enjoy hiking the Cayce-West Columbia Riverwalk (Alexander Road just off the Gervais Street Bridge) and Congaree National Park (100 National Park Road, Hopkins), and always make a point of eating out on Friday nights, making the rounds of their favorite restaurants.

They’ll listen to music at the New Brookland Tavern (122 State St., West Columbia) or sample speciality brews at River Rat Brewery (1231 Shop Road). You’ll see them at the city’s myriad festivals, including the Jam Room (October) and the Crawfish Festival (mid May).

Once a venue reaches crowd capacity, they’re off to find something new.

Barth said they’ll seek out weekday activities to avoid the crowds; on the weekends, they spend time with his 10-year-old daughter Emmie, from a previous marriage, and look for kid-friendly activities.

Syrecea Parker likes to search for free things to do, which makes her longtime boyfriend quite happy.

“He says ‘I love you because you are a cheap date,’” she laughed.

Parker, 48, the administrative assistant to Allen University’s humanities department, and her longtime boyfriend, Joseph Bright, 47, who works for Trane, like exploring the city’s historic neighborhoods and at Christmas, they’ll drive around and enjoy the holiday light displays.

Every Sunday, the couple head off to AMF Bowling Center (1732 Bush River Road) where Parker hits the lanes with her mother while Bright watches and offers lively commentary on the action. They also like to watch professional boxing matches (Main Event Fitness Center, 201 Columbia Mall Blvd.) because a friend’s son has entered the sport.

During most of their free hours, Elizabeth and Paul Owen can be found on the bleachers at sports fields or manning the concession stand. That’s because their 20-year-old son, Heath, a graduate of Spring Valley High School, runs cross country for Presbyterian College, while their 16-year-old son, Justin, plays baseball for Richland Northeast High.

But when Elizabeth, 53, and Paul, 57, go out they usually head to Workshop Theatre (1136 Bull St.) or Town Theatre (1012 Sumter St.) where they enjoy the talents of local actors. An added bonus: Their niece Kitty Janvrin is a USC freshman and has begun to appear in the community productions.

“Most of our social life revolves around what our children are doing, but those times will soon be gone,” said Elizabeth Owen, a teacher’s aide.

When Kristin and Robert Marzol are looking for a fun excursion in the Midlands, Riverbanks Zoo is their go-to attraction. Their zoo membership for the family of six (and soon to be seven) makes it easy to pack up and go.

“It’s kind of one of those places where everybody can enjoy everything,” she said.

The arrival of yogurt shops in the Midlands has also been a plus for her family. One favorite? Sweet Frog (1788 South Lake Drive, Lexington).

But weren’t we talking about couples and their “me-time?” Oh yes, even in big families there’s time for some quiet moments and romance.

“We go to Inakaya (Inakaya Watanabe, 655 St. Andrews Road, Columbia<'a>) for sushi,” Kristin Marzol said. “We have to have date night. It keeps us sane.”

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