January is always the slowest month of the year for the city’s bars and restaurants – and the omicron variant that’s washed over the city means 2022 is even worse than usual.
According to the latest poll from the Independent Restaurant Coalition, sales at restaurants decreased at nearly all outlets across the country last month – at 98% of those that responded.
And sales dropped by at least half compared to the same time last year at 58% of the 1,169 restaurants polled.
Some of those restaurants say they’re in danger of closing, the national coalition says, but some others aren’t taking the January blues without putting up a fight – and a drink special.
Anton’s Cafe and Wine Bar in the West Village, for example, is offering 25 cent Manhattans and martinis for lunch customers on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays throughout January.
Co-owner Nick Anderer made the announcement on his Instagram account and over the weekend, the charming café across from the legendary White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street was all abuzz about the weekday deal.
“There’s a two-limit drink order per person, but of course that’s not stopping anyone from ordering a third at regular price,” a staffer quipped, as Side Dish tucked into a perfectly prepared herb omelet.
And while the old-school restaurant has not become a scene of over-the-top inebriated daytime antics, lunch reservations are now full – even with a waitlist, a staffer said.
Inspiration for the concept at Anton’s came in part from New Orleans, which launched an informal campaign to bring back the “three martini lunch” best popularized in the hit TV show Mad Men. A 2017 New Orleans article cited participation from restaurants including Cafe Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar, Antoine’s and Commander’s Palace.
“We wanted to create a fun New York moment by borrowing a classic New Orleans tradition,” Anderer told Side Dish.
Co-owner Natalie Johnson said the response to the 25 cent special has been “great.” The offer ends at the end of the month, she said, but they hope to have stoked enthusiasm that will last through the rest of winter and beyond, she said.
In the meantime, other Big Apple restaurants are also launching creative cocktail draws in hopes of tempting the sometimes-sleepy winter crowds.
At HOWM Cocina & Cocktails in Chelsea’s Selina Hotel, frequented by celebs like Jessica Chastain, Zendaya and Ryan Gosling, there’s a “cocktail punch card” starting this week. Diners buy four cocktails and get the fifth on the house.
“It’s similar to the coffee punch cards, to get patrons through the door during these hard times,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the popular $16 cocktails include the Paloma Remix, with blanco tequila, pink peppercorn bitter aperitif and clarified grapefruit.
“We have a number of cafes in our portfolio and we always see success with the coffee punch card. We have a great bar scene, so why not put out a similar incentive and generate visitation with rewards and loyalty around cocktails?” said Jonathan Knudsen, principal of the Gilded Group, which runs the hotspot.
“There are happy hours and bottomless brunches, but we thought this would be a fun way to incentivize people to come back,” he said.
And at Daintree in the Hotel Hendricks, there’s an offer to watch the sunset over the Empire State Building with a dozen oysters and a classic cocktail – all for $12. Normally, the cost would be $71: cocktails are $19 and a dozen oysters are $52.
The special deal kicked off on Jan. 15 and runs Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (during sunset hours) until the end of February.
“We’re lucky to be able to experience an incredible Manhattan sunset every evening at Daintree,” said Tom Rowse, marketing manager of Parched Hospitality Group.
“The sun goes down early in winter, and we wanted to provide something to look forward to — oysters and a cocktail from this stunning vantage point,”
Meanwhile, hospitality industry bigs are trying to persuade New York lawmakers to make permanent the “to-go” cocktails that Gov. Kathy Hochul has thrown her support behind making permanent.
The popular program that launched under emergency powers of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo during lockdown has become a vital source of income to the industry and a way to raise the spirits of many New Yorkers stuck at home.
Mayor Eric Adams says he supports the return of to-go cocktails. But liquor laws are controlled by the state.
Legislation still needs to be introduced, to go through the legislative process, to get passed and to get signed into law by the governor, says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.
“Permanently bringing back drinks to go provides an important revenue stream for many struggling restaurants and is extraordinarily popular with the public,” Rigie tells Side Dish. “Our state lawmakers need to make reinstating drinks-to-go a priority. Struggling small businesses need it now,” he added.
Indeed, on Tuesday night, when Hochul’s budget bills are released, they will include a proposal to legalize to-go drinks. “The governor can’t just snap her fingers,” a source told Side Dish. “This has to be negotiated over the next couple of months. We are moving as fast as we can.”