77. Closing Time, Turn All of the Lights on--and Do It Earlier
Are we giving ourselves an early drinking curfew?; plus, tarot for embracing tradition in order to innovate.
Early to Drink, Early to Bed, Early to Rise
Dark party bars, shiny Cadillac cars
And the people on subways and trains
Looking gray in the rain as they stand disarrayed
Oh, but people look well in the dark
(“After Hours,” Velvet Underground)
I am a night person. I have long stopped waiting for the magical transformation so many—so many—people older than me assured me would come, giving that patronizing little chuckle when I was 19 and would sleep until noon, “Just wait until you’re 30, your body simply won’t let you sleep past seven!” Folks, I’m several years past 30 now and I still need to set an alarm even for lazy lie-in days so that I don’t accidentally sleep…forever? Meanwhile, I’m wide awake and ready for action at midnight; on nights I’m working the next morning, I have to begin a whole process of melatonin gummies and “sleepy-time” tea and other things that feel infantilizing a good hour before I want to be in bed. It’s getting increasingly lonely out here in Night Person Land, because most of my friends have now turned into the grown-ups who would roll their eyes at the hours I kept in college.
None of said dear friends have kids. I’d never judge anyway—I absolutely feel that I am the odd man out here with my internal clock—but I also know children adjust that clock whether your body would have done it anyway or not. No, none of this is an indictment of morning folks / just regular non-night person folks as this just seems to be a reality of aging, except—EXCEPT—the early-rise evangelists. I simply cannot read one more “How [CEO/Movie Star/Influencer] Gets It Done” piece with the takeaway that they get up at 4am and that is the secret to all their success. I cannot! There seems to finally be a long overdue push-back to early-riser propaganda—a subcategory of hustle culture, naturally—on Twitter, with people pointing out that if you’re supposed to be finding hours of the day no one is awake so you can be productive, why can’t that happen late at night before you go to bed if you’re not a morning person? Don’t forget, guidance to pile all your expensive eggs into the up-before-dawn basket also immediately relegates anyone in the service industry, entertainment industry, healthcare industry or any other industry that includes graveyard shifts into…can’t-ever-succeed territory?
There’s a more recent shift telling us night folks we are wrong and should be in our little beddies before the clock strikes 12, and that is the loss of late-night hours at bars. Early curfews were one of the most befuddling (to me, anyway) restrictions introduced by state and city governments in the wake of the pandemic. Honestly, they just felt part of the whole safety theater enacted by the government who didn’t want to give businesses money to remain closed and therefore safer for their staff and patrons, so they told them to go with god and reopen, with the performative measure of closing six hours earlier than normal. Because Covid, like its cousin the Boogie Man, only comes out at night! Early curfews and Cuomo cheese sandwiches with your beer, actions that totally definitely made sense in terms of safely drinking at a bar without getting sick.
As the vaccine ushered in a new era of the pandemic still being here but things largely returning back to normal—a.k.a. a new era of completely ignoring reality—basically all restrictions dropped, including the curfew, but so many bars never stretched back to their pre-pandemic close times. They went later, sure—it’s hard for a bar to make enough money to survive when it closes at 9pm—but it feels like the days of wee-hour last calls are gone forever, or at least for the foreseeable future. Bars in New York can technically stay open until 4am, which may feel insane especially if you’re in a state with a more common last call time like 1am or 2am. Beyond the clubs and bars in really trendy neighborhoods that appeal to tourists, college kids, and other people prone to partying, though, it doesn’t seem like many bars at all are crawling toward the morning with open doors anymore, and why would they, with no customers to serve?
In other cities I’ve visited in the past year or two, I’ve seen the shift both in actual business hours and in crowds even when a bar is still technically open. Again, I’m not going to very scene-y bars and certainly never clubs, but when it comes to your average corner bars and beer bars and cocktail bars and wine bars and pubs, things start to feel dead before midnight. A recent episode of John Holl’s podcast Drink Beer, Think Beer, the State of Beer Bars, 2022, confirmed this. Three different publicans from three different parts of the country agreed that people just aren’t drinking as late into the night as they used to just a few years ago.
Many spots wouldn’t be able to offer the supply even if there was a demand. A New York Times article from this past September looked more specifically at restaurants in examining the issue of closing times moving earlier than ever before. This may sound silly to some, but this shift really does change the culture of NYC and how many of us who’ve been living here a while engage with it. People were gobsmacked when Veselka, a goddamned institution always open 24 hours, started closing at 11pm, midnight on weekends. Places like Veselka are part of the fabric of this city: ‘round the clock, always awake, always here for someone whether that’s the many workers with different shifts or the misfits or punks or artists or weirdos or, heck, the nice older couple looking for borscht and pierogi after an evening at the theater.
The problem is that there are plenty of sad-but-true and often quite dark reasons bars and restaurants literally can’t stay open too late, some of those reasons uncomfortable to sit with. There’s the labor shortage that came out of the pandemic, even bleaker when you consider the fact that Covid actually took the lives of many people who were part of the workforce—not only is that bleak, really, but it feels mad and just plain evil to even talk about those lives in the context of their labor contributions. However, perhaps more of us need to remember that the pandemic baldly equals less humans. It also equals more unabashed racism, if you’d like another upsetting reason—the NY Times piece found a restaurant closing earlier because the owner didn’t want his Asian employees having to ride the subway too late in the face of rising prejudice and vitriol. Hey, this country is cool!
This New York Times piece looks more at the demand end of the equation, again, mostly with restaurants, finding out from even the hottest restaurants where it was once embarrassing to enter before 8:30 that customers are now clogging the phone lines (or, rather, Resy inbox, I’m sure) for 6pm tables. A lot of the reason for this is that people still aren’t working in offices every day, and not only can they make an earlier dinner, but they want to in order to find that work-to-life transition. That applies to drinking out, too, and also, people eating earlier who want to get a post-dinner drink would obviously be doing so earlier, too. The whole schedule’s moved up. I do appreciate a quote from this Times piece about how now, many of us like the idea of going out but being home early enough to watch our favorite show and unwind before going to bed, rather than coming home, kicking off our heels and crashing face-first into the pillows. Personally, even though I’m awake late and definitely have more of an appreciation for being out a bit later than many, I still find myself wanting to be home a bit earlier to have more awake time before lights out.
All of this feels quite worth reflecting upon, I find, for two main reasons. One, I still think there’s absolutely value in preserving late-night culture in different cities, and I don’t just say that because I’m partial to the night-owl lifestyle. It’s just more inclusive to offer that range, so you can include the early birds but also people getting off their shifts in various industries. But, and this is a huge but, this can obviously only be achieved through the same measures we desperately and urgently need in general when it comes to labor. Only bars and restaurants who can afford to pay staff well and treat them well can in turn afford to offer later closing times. (And, we should obviously be getting more support on the safety end of this from our government, but, lol.) Again, this should be happening anyway, and if only select places join the small group of destinations open late, they would presumably do well by sending out that siren call to night folks.
Two, what does this all mean for drink trends? Dave Infante looked at this for an issue of Fingers: in America, earlier drinking could at best mean a move toward the European attitude of less social stigmas, more relaxed relationships with a casual afternoon drink (which I think could meaningfully uncomplicate many fraught relationships with alcohol), at worst tip toward a religious right freak-out at people drinking during the day, and so therefore people drinking at all. The latter is frighteningly possible still, but I’d like to think we’re drifting toward the former, considering factors like growing appreciation for and presence of aperitifs, especially in low- and no-alcohol forms.
On that note, what does earlier drinking mean for ABV preferences and how that shapes what America drinks? Lately, I see such a polarization between people emphatically swearing the days of strong drinks are over and there being evidence of a resurgence of interest in higher-ABV beers, not to mention the mezcal and bourbon (and now brandy?) fervor of late. The reality, of course, is that both ends, and also a middle ground, though perhaps to a lesser extent, make sense, even in the specific context of people drinking earlier. I keep noticing what seems like an increasing desperation to declare hard and fast trends: “THIS is what ALL consumers are doing!” when the truth has been the same for generations, which is that everybody does a little something different. You’re in dreamland by 11, I’m just getting home from a bar and settling down to an episode of “Taskmaster” with a nightcap or a cup of tea.
I intentionally wrote this issue right after last week’s focus on recent decadent, hedonistic drink trends, because that right there is proof of how impossible it is to draw neat and tidy connections. You could make the case that a dry martini is the ultimate happy hour drink, getting the job done so people feel buzzed and partied out nice and early; you could also make the case that it’s a return to boozier days of yore and that the younger imbibers picking these up might be more likely to usher in a renaissance of drinking til dawn.
I think you can do the same with beer under the early-drinking phenomenon. If you’re day drinking, there’s a very strong chance you want something not strong at all—how lovely is something in the 3-5% range so you can carry on with the day? But, having your adult-beverage-enjoyment time earlier in the evening and also aiming for an earlier bedtime may for some call for a higher ABV—maybe one savored barleywine instead of four pints of pale ale at the pub feels more efficient for you these days. When it comes to brands and retailers trying to solve for “earlier drinking means people want X,” I would think you’d either need to cover all your bases, or zoom into your audience to figure out who you’re talking to. Some early drinkers want lower ABVs, some want higher; some actually aren’t snug as a bug in a rug earlier in the night at all, and some, like yours truly, are going so far as to once again ask businesses to treat employees like gold, give them a reason to stick around, and keep those doors open later for us creatures of the night.
This week, I pulled The Hierophant.
This unfortunately pope-vibed card speaks to tradition, institutions, conformity, religious beliefs, and spiritual sagacity. Much of the writing around this card does deal specifically with religion, through a lens of student-and-master learning, which all boils down to guidance that you may be seeking spirituality in your life, and it indeed may be best for you to do things your own way, but you shouldn’t venture off without first studying and knowing the basic principles of whatever religion you’re looking at. Like, this card thinks that before you just go meditating willy-nilly, you should be studying with a religious teacher or authority, and, well, I don’t necessarily agree with such a strict interpretation. I mean, hey, if that’s striking a chord with you, then by all means! But, here are the main takeaways I get from The Hierophant.
It’s onto something when it tells us to know core principles before riffing. But apply that to truly anything—it’s such a good idea, it sounds obvious, but I think many of us forget it. Learn how to homebrew that traditional Irish stout before leaping into that squid ink version you’ve been dreaming about. This step isn’t always necessary, but I think in many cases, it proves so incredibly helpful and it enriches our work or projects or endeavors. Of course you can sit down and paint whatever comes to you in a style that is completely your own, but how much better could your own innovation be if you took even just a few art classes first to be able to anchor even your wildest visions in some foundational basics? You’d probably find yourself appreciating the entire process more.
And on that note, the second takeaway from The Hierophant is tradition. That applies to any area of our lives. Do your friends or family have a ritual of sorts, a certain celebration or event or outing they do every year, and you’ve been blowing it off? Obviously if that’s for the better in terms of your mental health and potential toxic relationships, keep doing that, but if it’s because you just haven’t tried too hard to find the time, make an effort this year. You’ll find yourself feeling that natural high afterward, remembering how much you love that ritual and the people in your life and how stuff like that is really what matters. You can even tie this back to our brewing perspective—again, something I wrote about last week, which is honoring both traditional styles alongside the out-of-this-world creations. Of course you should innovate, but there’s such value in doing so without forgetting the classics.
You probably saw this coming from a mile away, but: religion? Tradition? Ritual? Learning a craft before adding and changing? Naturally, I’m going to pair this tarot reading with a Trappist ale. And because I’ve got a bottle of this at home, and because I love Mark Dredge’s story about the brewery for Good Beer Hunting, I’m going to go with Tynt Meadow. Or, we could also go with Fat Tire, a beer that embraced tradition for decades before reinventing itself for—let’s be honest, considering how this can help the brand survive and hopefully thrive—the better.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I truly appreciated reading Stephanie Grant’s latest for her newsletter The Share, “Losing the Weight of Diet Culture.” Stephanie got candid about disordered eating, the pressures we feel about our bodies from ourselves and those around us, learning to shake off entire lives’ worth of thin-is-the-only-way thinking, and losing and finding joy in what we eat and drink, which brings mindfulness and intention. I’ve written about these issues here, I think about them all the time—to the point where I wish I did so less—and I felt this issue deep in my bones. I’m so grateful to have this honest and lovely writing from Stephanie out in the world to come back to when these things come up, and I think so many of us can relate to this issue.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
There’s a new beer bar in town! Saturday, we headed over to Other Half for a pop-up of a new Mexico-inspired bar coming to Greenpoint, Panzón (and for some baltic porter and brown ale, heck yeah). Well, right around the corner, there’s now a spot called Queue Beer from the Carmine Street Beer folks. I’m thrilled to have this bar nearby, it’s definitely going to be a new go-to. It’s cozy and pubby and friendly, and even the soft-opening beer list was already pretty great. Case in point: kvass ale!
Until next week, here’s Darby on this aforementioned neighborhood beer day.