By David Perloff
Photos By Brevin Blach
Grab your ATM cards, date fans-this game of high-stakes matchmaking is about to begin. Tonight, everyone's a high roller. We're talking limo ride, comped dinner courtesy of the casino host and private-table gaming action. Before blind daters Gretchen and Jonathan meet for the first time at Starlite, the slick yet inviting restaurant and cocktail lounge opposite the airport in Midtown, let's sip our Mules (one of Starlite's signature drinks, made with organic vodka, ginger beer, lime, Angostura bitters) and check out the pre-date interviews.
PacificSD: Where are you from?
GRETCHEN: I'm from Thousand Oaks,California. Now I live in P.B.
JONATHAN: I was born in New York and moved to San Diego two years ago from New Jersey.
What do you do for a living?
GRETCHEN: I'm a graphic designer and I waitress on the weekends.
JONATHAN: I oversee all marketing and business development stuff for a tech company in La Jolla.
What do you do for fun?
GRETCHEN: I love trying new restaurants, wine tasting, watching stand-up comedy, live music, painting, interior decorating and I take a dance class.
JONATHAN: Enjoying music, being a football fanatic, drinking wine while watching alien documentaries and acting like a degenerate with my friends downtown.
What makes you a good catch?
GRETCHEN: I'm focused on my career, but I never stop having fun. I'm always in a good mood and it takes a lot to get me down. People tell me that I look like Holly Madison, so apparently I'm also good-looking.
JONATHAN: I'm straightforward and honest. And I have good credit.
What are you looking for in a date, physically or otherwise?
GRETCHEN: Someone intelligent, successful and funny. I appreciate sarcasm because I'm a smartass myself. Physically, I'm a sucker for a nice set of teeth and large hands.
JONATHAN: I like the girl-next-door look. Also, someone that is athletic, acts like a lady and has long-term goals.
What is your biggest fear?
GRETCHEN: Snakes on a plane-I fear both equally.
JONATHAN: Being old and having regrets.
What's your favorite kind of music?
GRETCHEN: Gangster rap and classical jazz.
JONATHAN: House music is my drug of choice.
What's the sexiest thing about you?
GRETCHEN: I can hold a conversation and drink you under the table, simultaneously.
JONATHAN: My cankles. I'm joking, I just wanted to say "cankles."
Fill in the blanks: In general, the people I date are "blank" and "blank."
GRETCHEN: Handsome and fun-loving.
JONATHAN: Drunk and unstable.
Fill in the blanks: I want my date to be "blank" and "blank."
GRETCHEN: Outgoing and sexy.
JONATHAN: Sane and under 50.
What's your favorite thing about yourself?
GRETCHEN: I'm creative.
JONATHAN: My spontaneity-some of my biggest life decisions have been made on a whim.
What's the biggest gamble you've ever taken?
GRETCHEN: I usually stick to $5 blackjack.
JONATHAN: Eating sashimi from an airport food court.
What's the biggest gamble you've ever taken in love?
GRETCHEN: Falling in love is always a gamble.
JONATHAN: Moving in with a girlfriend of only a couple of months.
Are the odds in favor of Gretchen and Jonathan hitting the romantic jackpot? If past PacificSD blind dates are any indicator, the couple has a 1-in-56 chance of getting married, a 3-in-56 chance of moving in together and a 9-in-56 chance (of the ones who've admitted it) of sleeping with each other tonight.
The daters arrive at Starlite and begin to break the ice over cocktails and a cheeseboard. Within minutes, they seem to be hitting it off-talking, laughing, sitting close. After about half an hour, they head out onto India Street to mount their stretch-Escalade chariot for the ride east to Sycuan.
It's so hot and dry outside when the limo rolls up to the casino 30 minutes later, it kinda feels like Vegas-the valet guys are even handing out free bottles of water. As the daters walk inside, a security guard stops Gretchen and asks if she's over 18 (she is), which gets a big laugh.
Inside, Sycuan is sparkling. Having just undergone a $27 million makeover, the casino now features new bars and restaurants, a dramatic chandelier and floor-lighting installation and more slots than you can shake your life savings at. (Disclaimer-don't blow your life-savings at Sycuan Casino. Save that for your 401(k).)
Ladies and gentlemen, please place your bets.
Two daters, two $100 bills, too hard to predict...
To magnify the magic of the moment, Team PacificSD gives $100 bills to each of the daters, who then proceed to the nearest slot machines. After a few uneventful spins, the planets (and Megabucks symbols) appear to be aligning for Jonathan-one gold shield... two gold shields... OMG!, OMG!, OMG!... nada. So close!
After a few more tries at slot glory, the couple decides to grab dinner at Wachena, the casino's new restaurant and gaming lounge. Once they've had a chance to order, they're split for mid-date debriefings. Please place your second-round bets now.
PacificSD: How's it going so far?
GRETCHEN: Very well. We've been laughing a lot. He seems like a really nice guy. He seems smart, which is important for me, and we have a few common friends, which is kind of a nice starting-out point, considering we're totally strangers.
JONATHAN: I think she's great. We have a lot in common. We both like to drink, so I think we're getting along great.
What was your first impression of your date?
GRETCHEN: He was very good-looking, which was a relief, 'cause I was afraid of being set up with a troll. And he's friendly and outgoing but not like obnoxious or cocky, which I was also afraid of. He seems very down-to-earth.
JONATHAN: She seemed like just a totally cool girl, just someone immediately who I thought I could get along with.
Is this the type of person you'd normally date?
GRETCHEN: Yes, in the sense that he's handsome; yes, in the sense that he seems like a nice guy. No, in the sense that I'm usually attracted to people that are more outgoing, I think.
JONATHAN: She's not necessarily someone I would approach right off the bat, but if she was someone that I started talking to... it could happen where we could end up dating.
How was Starlite?
GRETCHEN: It was a cool place. I really liked the interior design-it was beautiful and the drinks were really good.
JONATHAN: Good ambiance, unique drinks. I think it's a great place to take a date.
How was the limo ride?
GRETHCHEN: We were like, "Oooh, lets go to Vegas," 'cause it kind of felt like that atmosphere. It was fully stocked with beer; that was cool.
JONATHAN: We had a lot of fun in the limo. Towards the end we put on the music, but we were just talking a lot.
What's the most attractive thing your date has done so far?
GRETCHEN: He put his arm around me in the limo. That was cute. I'm a sucker for a little bit of physical affection.
JONATHAN: I think it's just her personality. She's just so easy to talk to, so easy to get along with.
Rate your date on a scale from one to 10 for looks.
JONATHAN: She's a solid nine.
And for personality.
GRETCHEN: 8.9. No, I take it back. Nine.
Would you like to kiss your date now?
GRETCHEN: Yeah, I'm interested.
JONATHAN: Sure, yeah.
Does your date want to kiss you now?
JONATHAN: Of course, definitely.
What games are you going to play after dinner?
GRETCHEN: We're going to probably do the $5 blackjack tables. Hopefully we win.
JONATHAN: We're gonna play a little blackjack, 'cause she plays blackjack, and we're gonna play some craps, because that's what I play. And obviously we're gonna win, and then we're gonna get a hotel room.
The blind daters double-down at the blackjack table
PacificSD: Overall, how was the date?
GRETCHEN: Going on the blind date was a gamble, especially knowing all your friends are going to read about it. It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone.
JONATHAN: I just wanted to have a unique experience and some fun, which is exactly what happened. We got along great, because, I think, Gretchen had the same attitude. At least she did after we met and realized I wasn't a "troll," in her words.
How was dinner?
GRETCHEN: The restaurant was good. We shared a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. He ate a cheeseburger, and I ate a Mongolian dish. It was interesting that they had both American and Asian food, so we tried both.
JONATHAN: By the time we got to the restaurant, I was starving, so I ordered a cheeseburger with sweet potato fries. The bottle of wine we had made us nice and loose with our gambling money.
What games did you play after dinner?
GRETCHEN: We played blackjack and craps. I was up for a bit in blackjack, but then we switched to another table and we both started losing.
JONATHAN: We played blackjack and craps. Our money would've been better spent on penny slots and booze.
How much cash did you leave with?
GRETCHEN: Ten dollars cash and a big, blue Snuggie.
JONATHAN: No comment, I still feel a little violated by the dealers right now.
Which of you is the better gambler?
GRETCHEN: I'd say he was, because he seemed to have strategy, whereas I just go with my gut instinct. But then again, I was the one that was up in blackjack.
JONATHAN: I had to stop her a few times from hitting on 14 when the dealer's up-card was a 5. So, I'd say overall I'm the better gambler, but she was definitely the luckier one last night.
What was the best part of the night?
GRETCHEN: Getting a Snuggie at the gift shop. I've always wanted one.
JONATHAN: Being high rollers for the night.
Was there a kiss or romantic moment?
GRETCHEN: We shared the Snuggie on the ride back from the casino-we looked like a cross between conjoined twins and a wizard. Super romantic.
JONATHAN: There may have been a moment or two.
Will there be a second date?
GRETCHEN: No. He doesn't eat bread and I'm a carboholic. It would never work.
JONATHAN: Possibly, but the next date is on her, since she walked away with our remaining $10 dollars and the Sycuan Snuggie we purchased.
Raise your hand if you just lost all your money. Yikes-look at all those hands.
At the mid-date break, the smart money was on at least a good make- out session during the limo ride home. (According to PacificSD's bookie, there was even a chance for nookie.) If only Jonathan had gotten that third shield...
Dear Reader, whether you're looking for or have already found your King or Queen of Hearts- even if you're thinking about going home with a pair of sevens-here's to your always being lucky at love.
Four nines and two yeses on kissing? What a winning hand. There's gotta be enough hearts in that combo to make someone flush.
Gretchen and Jonathon finish dinner and then have a drink in the Game Day sports bar before heading over to the new Primrose room to play blackjack.
After they've been dealt a few hands, the couple is finally left alone for the evening. We call the next morning to see if anyone got lucky. Time to place your final bets, folks.
3175 India St., Midtown
5469 Casino Way, El Cajon
Peroni Nastro Azzurro