January is a month no restaurant or bar owner looks forward to. In most of the country it’s cold, people are worn out from the holidays, and to top it off, Dry January is in full swing. But that actually means it’s the perfect time to visit that buzzy cocktail bar or restaurant you’ve been trying to get into.
Dry January has become the “milk crate challenge” of the winter months, with anywhere from 13 percent of legal adults in the U.S., to almost a quarter of these same people participating in the abstention from alcohol in some way or another. As a result, what is already one of the slowest months for bars and restaurants is even slower, as individuals who would normally go out for a drink with partners, friends, or colleagues abstain.
While many find personal value in partaking in Dry January, whether the 31-day abstention from alcohol has any long- term effects is up for debate. A study published last year by Elsevier B.V. found “the increase in participation in Dry January between 2015 and 2018 was not associated with large corresponding changes in people’s drinking (habits).” Rather than learn to practice moderation in their daily life, participants see who can go without a drink the longest, with very few altering their behavior more permanently in the months to come.
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What that means for consumers who don’t try to abstain from alcohol for the first month of the year is that January is by far the best time to go out. A quick scan of Instagram this past week found several of New York’s best bars and restaurants encouraging people to stop by. The newly opened and red-hot Sunken Harbor Club shared multiple stories of the nearly empty bar inviting people to come in for a drink. Not even a month ago a person would have waited for hours to get upstairs to the cocktail den, but not so in January.
Aldo Sohm, wine director of Le Bernardin and proprietor of Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, posted this message on Instagram recently: Dry January (thumbs down emoji)! Until you realize you can stop torturing yourself…who’s with me?!” One of the best wine bars in NYC normally doesn’t need to entice people to come in, but during the month of January, a visit to this location and many others could reward those who venture out.
Not only does heading out for a drink in January mean less fighting for a seat, it also means more face time with those behind the stick. “Because January is generally a quieter month, it’s a great time to snag a seat at the bar,” Kenta Goto, owner of Bar Goto and Bar Goto Niban, tells me. Operators are always thankful to have butts in seats, but they are no more thankful than during the slowest time of the year. “We are extremely grateful for those who choose to join us at Merchant’s Hospitality’s restaurants and bars during Dry January,” Abraham Merchant, president and CEO of Merchants Hospitality, says.
And you’re not just benefiting the restaurant or bar by showing up this month, you’re also benefiting your own drinks education. “We specialize in cocktails that often use Japanese spirits. … The slower season gives customers the opportunity to really learn about what they’re drinking from our experienced bartenders,” says Goto. A busy night of service isn’t the best time to ask a bartender or sommelier all of your burning questions; on a slow night, though, they have more time to interact.
“We are grateful for guests who join us to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine,” says Moshe Schulman, managing partner of Kindred and Ruffian, both in the East Village of Manhattan. “It’s a great time to receive more one-on-one attention from our servers and sommeliers.” An added bonus: “We are also known to splash a little something extra in the glass for our guests, too.”
So if you’re not skipping alcohol this January, or if you’re only skipping it some of the time, consider hitting up the local drinks purveyors you’d normally worry about getting into at other times of the year. You’ll be glad you did.