a Stressed City, No Room at the Bar
December 5, 2001, Wednesday
By MARIAN BURROS (NYT)
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
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
''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
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
It is hardly surprising. New Yorkers have been through a
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
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
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company