Photo illustration by Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer​.
Photo illustration by Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer.

Is the 'Half Baked' NYC Date Possible in 2023?

In the 1998 classic Half Baked, Dave Chappelle’s character Thurgood Jenkins takes Mary Jane Potman (Rachel True) on a date with only $11.43 in his pocket. Is that very cheap date (adjusted for inflation) possible in modern day New York City?

New York City is expensive. Rent prices are out of control, the MTA prices keep increasing, and every time you step outside it feels like you’re in danger of spending $100. But you can still have a great time in the city for cheap. You just have to be thrifty and think a little out of the box.

New York City wasn’t always the most expensive city in the world. Back in the ‘90s, a couple of bucks could go a long way when figuring out what to do in NYC. This is best displayed in the iconic Dave Chappelle stoner classic Half Baked. In the movie, Chappelle’s character, Thurgood Jenkins, asks a woman named Mary Jane Potman (played by Rachel True) out for a date. Only problem — he’s broke and has $8 to his name (with an additional $3.43 he steals from an unhoused man).

Half Baked (6/10) Movie CLIP - A Cheap Date With Mary Jane (1998)

Despite this, Jenkins was able to pull off a full date, which included an activity (a long walk), meal (a hot dog with sauerkraut and a Pepsi), taxi ride, and dessert (an ice cream sundae). So, after giving the movie a watch, I was left with the following question: would this date be possible in 2023? On a very hot Labor Day in New York City, I decided to find out. First, I had to do some math. How much is $11.43 — $8 plus the stolen $3.43 — in 2023? $21.62. (By the time you read this though, that amount could be completely different).

Hand holding moneyPhoto by Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer.

After I figured out the amount, I made some ground rules that my girlfriend and I had to follow over the course of the date: I had to use $21.62 in cash, it had to be a real date (dinner, dessert, and an event for the both of us), and no stealing or anything illegal.

Granted, I had some advantages. Unlike Jenkins and Potman, this was not a first date for my girlfriend and me. Also, she was fully aware of what I was trying to do with this experiment, so she was helping me keep a tight budget and not being too judgemental for when I wanted to go extra cheap. These are privileges you probably won’t have if you’re trying to court a partner.

Still, I did my best and we had a pretty great date in New York City. Check out what the Half Baked date looks like in 2023 below.

Stop One: Alphabet Pizza — $21.62

Two slices of NYC Pizza.

Photo by Tommy Gamba-Ellis.

When thinking about a cheap meal in New York City, all you need to do is search for the following: dollar pizza near me. There is nothing more iconic than a $1 slice in the city. Unfortunately, those don’t really exist anymore, with most $1 slice spots now $1.50 (which is still pretty affordable). We started our date by making our way to Avenue A and Second Street in the Lower East Side. There stands Alphabet Pizza, a tiny pizza shop nestled next to a deli and martial arts gym. What sets this place apart from most other cheap pizza shops is the quality of the slice. These actually have some substance to them and are filling, which we were going to need for the hour of walking ahead of us.

Unsurprisingly, we walked out of there barely making a dent into the budget, and I still had $18 to my name. However, this was only the beginning of a three-hour date, and we still had much more to do.

Cost: $3.00

Stop Two: A&N Fruit Store — $18.62

A fruit smoothy in front of a storefront.

Photo by Tommy Gamba-Ellis.

It was 90 degrees outside, so walking was not ideal. However, it was the only way we could move around the city with a reasonable budget. After walking to Chinatown, we both realized that we needed to cool off. On the corner of Canal and Essex there is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall bodega that has a hidden secret. Along with selling the basics that every deli in New York City has, they also make their own fruit smoothies.

The smoothies are cheap but not that cheap. So, rather than buying two small smoothies for ourselves, we decided on one large smoothie to share. Luckily, the large comes in a quart-sized bucket, which was more than enough to satisfy the two of us. The pineapple flavor that we chose was refreshing, and we got to enjoy it with some stunning views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. But the best part of all this was surely the price of the smoothie, which was only $8. This left me with more than enough money for the rest of the date.

Now, the most difficult part of the trip was ahead of us — a 30-minute walk all the way down to the Financial District. With the bus being almost $6 nowadays, there was no way we could take it. Like Jenkins and Potman, we had to walk.

Cost: $8.00

Stop Three: Pier 11 Ferry — $10.62

New York City from a boat.

Photo by Tommy Gamba-Ellis.

The New York City public ferry system is the most underrated way to see some breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline. With only a little over $10 left, this was the perfect way to spend the last of my money. After our mile-long trek into the Financial District, we finally arrived at Pier 11 only to see our ferry leaving in two minutes — and we still had to get tickets.

Whenever someone mentions the fact that cash is being phased out in New York City, I typically dismiss it. However, the amount of roadblocks we experienced trying to purchase our ferry tickets with cash was insane. When using the app, tickets can be purchased in seconds with two taps. When trying to use cash, all of the machines at the Pier were broken, causing us to scramble to the front desk to buy the tickets. Just as the ferry was about to leave we sprinted to the terminal, luckily making it just in time.

Once we got on the ferry, our time was much more relaxing. We made our way to the top deck seating area and took in the views. The first stop was in DUMBO right next to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is where we decided to hop off at.

Cost: $8.00

Stop Four: Brooklyn Bridge Park — $2.62

Brooklyn bridge, under the bridge.

Photo by Tommy Gamba-Ellis.

I decided that a free activity would be the perfect way to finish our date after spending most of my money. As it was getting late, we walked around the park and searched for a good spot to watch the sunset. We found a place to sit right next to the Brooklyn Bridge, where we watched the sun set behind the Downtown Manhattan skyline.

The last thing that we did was walk by the water. Since it had been a while after we shared our smoothie, we were getting thirsty again. With the remaining money I had left, I bought a bottle of water from a street vendor, leaving me with 62 cents to my name.

Our date was complete. After three hours, my girlfriend and I had dinner, shared dessert, took a ferry ride, and watched the sunset.

So, yes — it is possible to have a great time with only a little over $20 dollars on hand, and use one of the best fictional cheap date ideas to your advantage. Just be prepared to walk a lot.


Thomas Gamba-Ellis is a writer from Asbury Park, NJ who attends St. Joseph's University, Brooklyn. You can find his work at, where he is the managing editor.