The Syracuse New Times began its second annual Ultimate Date Night contest in the Jan. 24 issue to see which local couples could get the most “likes” on social media. The event would send two lucky pairs out for a romantic, luxurious night on the town, with more than 15 local business sponsors donating dinners and prizes.
A first-place winner quickly emerged: Ashlee Burgess and Nick Barbano, of Oneida. The pair’s inspiring story of strength after losing triplet sons in April 2017 resonated with Facebook users, and the young couple ended the competition with more than 600 votes.
The activity-filled day began at 10:45 a.m. with drinks and lunch at 1060 Restaurant inside the Genesee Grande Hotel (1060 E. Genesee St.; (315) 476-9000). The pair sipped on mimosas and enjoyed a chicken cobb salad and chicken penne pasta that ended up being so good, they shared plates, Ashlee said.
The lunch was one of the couple’s favorite parts of the day, especially because of the friendly and personable staff. “The Genesee Grande will be on our list for future dinner dates,” Ashlee said. They already have plans to take Nick’s parents.
After lunch it was time to head downtown for the couple’s massages at Armory Massage Therapy (327 W. Fayette St.; (315) 476-0411) and the hair stylings at Pure Salon (327 W. Fayette St.; (315) 475-7873). Ashlee said she initially felt bad that her balayage styling was taking a long time because of her long hair, which reaches just past her shoulders.
Nevertheless, Ashlee noted that the stylist and owner were very nice and accommodating. “They were like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it at all! We blocked off the whole day for this.’”
Back at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel (416 S. Clinton St.; (315) 425-0500), the rest of their prizes were waiting to greet them when they arrived. A dozen roses from Westcott Florist (548 Westcott St.; (315) 474-1283), accented with a small heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates, sat as the classic centerpiece. Jessica Dudley, who runs local bakery Dudley’s Desserts (315) 380-1801) out of her own kitchen, donated a bucket of her signature chocolate-covered cake pops, decorated with sprinkles and pink and white polka dots.
Nick and Ashlee were also treated to two bottles of wine from Greenwood Winery (6475 Collamer Road; (315) 299-4030): their red Baco Noir, from the “Banana Belt” of Seneca Lake; and their white Patience, coming from a blend of Cayuga and Niagara grapes. A special gift for Ashlee came in the form of a silver necklace featuring two stacked hearts with a matching pair of earrings from Cazenovia Jewelry (49 Albany St. Cazenovia; (315) 655-9114 or 533 Towne Drive, Fayetteville; (315) 637-3288).
Although the day was waning, the ultimate date night was far from over. The couple took a limo to Phoebe’s Restaurant (900 E. Genesee St.; (315) 475-5154) for dinner, which began with a spinach and artichoke dip appetizer. The main entrees featured chicken Tuscan penne for Ashlee and baked stuffed shrimp for Nick — a special treat considering Ashlee isn’t a seafood fan and rarely makes it at home, she said.
The evening was spent at Destiny USA. Ashlee said the staff at Margaritaville set up a special space for them, complete with a tablecloth, red confetti and a handwritten sign with their names to reserve the space. She and Nick sipped on margaritas before heading to All Star Alley & Tavern (315) 992-9200) to play in the arcade. They also had gift certificates to 5 Wits (855) 955-9487), the Mirror Maze (315) 476-2000) and RPM Raceway (315) 423-7223.
“It was really a special day, and I know we’ll never forget it,” Ashlee said. She thanked everyone who voted for her and Nick, the sponsors and Syracuse New Times for putting the contest together.
Ashlee and Nick weren’t the only ones having some extra romance on Valentine’s Day. Second-place winners Ashley and Pat Spagnitta also received a special prize.
“We were shocked,” Pat said. “When the whole competition started and we saw a lot of the other stories, we didn’t think we’d have a chance.”
But they did, perhaps in part due to their supportive friends and staff at Crouse Hospital. Ashley Spagnitta and Ashlee Burgess have been friends for years. They both used to bartend together and now both work at the hospital, Pat said. People who came out to support Ashlee and Nick were more than happy to support another coworker.
Dominick, Pat and Ashley’s 15-month-old son, spent the night with his grandparents, giving the adults a much-needed night for two. The couple began their date with drinks before heading to their complimentary dinner at The Chop House on Waring (200 Waring Road; (315) 445-1976). The pair treated themselves to a crispy shrimp appetizer before moving on to Cowboy Ribeye and Smoked Prime Rib steaks.
As they ate, they watched the Syracuse University men’s basketball team battle North Carolina State college on the Chop House TVs. The Orange picked up the Carrier Dome game in the second half, trading point-for-point with the Wolf Pack before losing, 74-70.
The Spagnittas spent the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (701 E. Genesee St.; (315) 479-7000), which is where the NC State team was also staying. The couple even spotted some players in the hotel’s elevators before they headed to dinner. Pat said the loss was the only sad part of the whole night, but it wasn’t anything a shared caramel apple pie couldn’t fix.
“It was a perfect night.”