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New York Times Reports Increase In Drinking Since September 11th

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Published On: December 5, 2001          Posted On: December 20, 2001

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New York Times Reports 
Increase In Drinking Since September 11th

There are definite indicators that the terrorist acts of September 11th have significantly increased the use of alcoholic beverages within the United States.  More people are drinking alcoholic beverages and they're drinking more frequently and heavily.  As more information on alcohol sales is becoming available, the initial indicators suggest that we will see a dramatic rise in people seeking treatment for alcohol abuse and and alcoholism and in alcohol-related crimes.  Here's the story from the New York Times.

In a Stressed City, No Room at the Bar 
New York Times
December 5, 2001, Wednesday 


THEY were three deep at Guastavino's bar last Thursday night, downing flirtinis, cucumber martinis and patriots, a red, white and   blue martini suitable for the times. Bartenders kept up a steady beat -- mix, mix, mix -- while waiters rushed to deliver trays of  frothy daiquiris and coffee martinis. 

It wasn't unusual. 

Almost three months after the terrorist attacks, New Yorkers are drinking more than ever. Even as restaurants struggle with  empty seats and fewer diners willing to pay high tabs, liquor sales are climbing at bars, restaurants and some liquor stores  throughout the city. 

At a few places -- a diverse list including Pravda, the Regency Hotel and McSorley's -- liquor sales were 25 percent higher last  month than they were in November 2000. And as the holiday season gets into full swing, the numbers are bound to increase. 

''People who were drinking three drinks are now having four or five,'' said Richard Schertzer, a senior bartender at Pastis, the  brasserie in the meatpacking district. ''They are drinking more martinis and fancy cocktails than before, even late at night, at 1 or  2 in the morning.'' 

''The mood is different,'' he added. ''Once people get out and see a few smiling faces around, they take it as a nice escape and use it to have a bit more fun.'' 

Whether people are drinking to relieve anxiety and stress, as psychiatrists believe, or because they want to socialize more and drinking is part of that, all over town bars are fuller and livelier. There's more hard liquor and less high-end wine; more big groups  and fewer singles. People are staying later, locked in late-night conversation rather than giddy revelry. 

The dramatic rise in consumption of alcoholic beverages immediately after Sept. 11 was a nationwide phenomenon, liquor  distributors and others in the business say. But nowhere was it more evident than in New York. After the first couple of weeks,  there was a significant drop -- until last month, when business came back, with a vengeance. Not only was it up in Manhattan and  in some of the boroughs but also in nearby Long Island and Connecticut suburbs. 

Discus, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, plans to release national consumption figures next year. But ACNeilsen,  which also tracks national retail sales of wine and spirits, reports that the sales volume of alcoholic beverages has been up every  week since Sept. 11 compared with last year. For the week ending Nov. 3, the most recent figure available, volume rose 4.2  percent. 

''At first, people felt a little uneasy and didn't want to appear to be celebrating -- now I think there is a certain nervous fatigue that  propels people,'' said Kurt Eckert, the wine director for Jean-Georges Vongerichten's five New York restaurants, where liquor sales were up 3 to 4 percent. ''People are a bit relieved, but the recent plane crash, anthrax in addition, have left people a bit  shaken. There has been a drop in the number of people dining, but they are ordering more wine.'' 

At Guastavino, business in the restaurant is down, but business at the bar last month was up 10 percent compared with a year  ago. The restaurant is staying open later on weekends and has installed a disc jockey. At McSorley's, where the average customer drinks 8 to 10 glasses of ale, business has picked up substantially in the afternoons, according to Matthew Maher, the  owner. 

''If you walk into Smith & Wollensky, you think it's a great night because you can't get near the bar,'' said Alan Stillman, chairman of the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, ''but the restaurant is not full. More liquor is being consumed by fewer people.'' 

And at many places, the cast of characters is quite different. Guastavino, for example, was long known as one of the best pickup  spots in town. Since Sept. 11, the revelers have been coming in groups of three or five, even eight, eager to be with their friends. 

Like Karla Koontz, 27, who is unemployed. ''I think I'm hanging out more because I want the company,'' she said. ''It's not so much partying at clubs late, it's more good conversation.'' 

Many, who at first laughed nervously when asked if they were drinking more, and wanted to make certain no one thought they were drinking too much, eventually acknowledged that their consumption had increased, if only because they were going out more. For a lot of people -- even 20- and 30-somethings, who in the past thought they were immortal -- Sept. 11 was an awakening. 

''I used to be health-conscious,'' said Mark Booker, a 36-year-old real estate investor, sitting at a table in the Pastis bar. ''I used to  work out; now I don't give a damn. I used to go out twice a month; now I go out twice a week. It's friends coming together to embrace each other. And the reason I am drinking more is because I'm out more.'' 

Sitting with two friends at Guastavino's bar, Marty Majchrowicz, 33, the president of a medical education company in New York, said he was spending a lot more time with friends. ''I'm feeling less inhibited and feeling less guilty about going out and drinking,''  he said. ''I'm feeling an obligation to spend more money in the city. I'm eating out more often, about four nights a week, and  drinking more cocktails, two or three.'' 

Others say they are drinking to relieve stress. ''Boy, are you at the right table,'' said Esther Gweft, 51, a lawyer who does public  relations for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. ''I'm a two-glass-of-wine person at home, but now it's three, three and a  half glasses. My staff is stressed. Everything makes them anxious because of 9/11. I have two kids, and my son got very anxious.  You get stressed trying to keep everyone else cheerful.'' 

At the Regency Hotel, ''people are coming at 5 o'clock and staying all evening,'' said Clark Wolf, a consultant to the hotel. ''Since  Oct. 1, sales have been hard core: cocktails, manhattans, bottles of wine, vodka on the rocks and martinis -- no flavored martinis,  just the real stuff.'' 

At Excelsior, a bar in Brooklyn, ''people are definitely drinking more,'' said Richard Kennedy, the owner. ''Our figures are up 8  percent over last year.'' 

Jean-Claude Baker, the owner of Chez Josephine, is stunned that his bar business is up 25 percent over last year. ''The past two  months have been the best ever in 15 years,'' he said. 

Retail sales in New York are less uniform. Michael Aaron, chairman of Sherry-Lehmann, the East Side wine merchant, said that  even though sales in September were down 25 percent from last year, and in October were down 20 percent, they were up 15  percent in November. And he said he was selling much more expensive wines than a year ago, which flies in the face of what is  happening in restaurants. 

At Acker, Merrall & Condit, a West Side merchant, the number of people buying wine and spirits is up 15 percent for October  and November. But at Gotham Wines and Liquors business is flat, and at Garnet Wines and Liquors, Marty Laufer, an assistant  sales manager, said: ''It definitely is not what it was last November -- we are seeing more hard liquor but not so much high-end


Based on interviews with alcoholic beverage distributors who sell to markets around the country, the picture is mixed elsewhere.  The overall impression is that the precipitous drop in sales in New York immediately after Sept. 11 was felt in a few cities,  particularly those dependent on tourists and business travelers, but that those places have rebounded and that business has  remained strong elsewhere. 

Kerri Madigan, president of Rosenthal Wine Merchant, said business was very good in November. ''Retail and restaurants  finished off very strongly compared to last year in New York. The East Coast was way ahead of last year, up about 15 percent  on both coasts. The middle of the country stayed very strong.'' 

And some distributors have noted that in places where restaurant and bar sales are off, sales at retail stores are up. 

Lee Schrager, director of media for Southern Wine and Spirits in Miami, the largest distributor in the world, said he did not think Sept. 11 had as much impact on the rest of the country as it did in New York. 

It is hardly surprising. New Yorkers have been through a lot. 

For certain people, like recovering alcoholics, the problem can be very serious. Joseph Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, is worried about them. ''With a more traumatic and intense tragedy than Oklahoma City, I am concerned that we will have a greater increase in alcohol abuse in New York than was experienced in  Oklahoma City,'' he said. ''And that was substantial.''

People do a variety of things to ease discomfort, said James Bernard, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York. ''Drinking or  self-medicating is just one of the behaviors,'' he said. ''One of the central ingredients in people I've seen is a feeling of  helplessness, which is one of most intolerable feelings for most people.'' 

Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is chairman of public information for the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, said she had seen a definite increase in alcohol use in her patients. ''People aren't often aware when they self-medicate for anxiety,'' she said. ''They are also using it because they can't sleep, and the reason they can't sleep is anxiety.'' 

At Pastis, Chris Horn, 43, a casting director, ordered a second bottle of wine while the first was still half full. He said he was  definitely consuming more these days. 

''When you sit down to relax and start talking, you don't realize it,'' he said. ''Usually we have one and a half bottles. A year ago, it  was one bottle.'' 

                           Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company


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