At the 21 Club, a longtime redoubt of corporate chieftains and big names, alcohol sales are up 9 per cent from last year, and businessmen can be seen drinking $14-a-glass cocktails as early as 3pm on a weekday.
“Where people used to have one vodka on the rocks, now it’s a second one or maybe a third,” says Roger Rice, the floor manager. “I don’t know what to attribute it to. Maybe it’s the last year of the expense account.”
Others say their customers are drinking more to drown their sorrows. “People want to feel a little numb because it’s numbing out there,” says Steve Millington, general manager at Michael’s, the restaurant of choice for publishing and media executives.
He reports that alcohol sales are up a fifth from last year. “At dinner, hard liquor sales are up, cocktails and martinis. It’s less so at lunch. People are drinking wine at lunch, less the high-end wines and more medium-priced wines.”
Times are good at Delmonico’s, the 181-year-old fine dining restaurant, says Dennis Turcinovic, managing partner.
“It’s scary to say, but our business is up 6 to 7 per cent,” he says. “Alcohol sales . . . help a lot, they’re about 15 per cent up this year. The bar’s busy all day. I’ve had to hire extra barmaids.”
There are few signs that people are saving money on food either. At San Pietro, an upmarket Italian restaurant, business remains brisk. Gerardo Bruno, president, says overall business is up 12 per cent from last year.
In spite of the turmoil in the markets, one rule has held firm at San Pietro. “Americans, they never drink at lunch,” Mr. Bruno says. As for dinner, hard liquor sales are down, but after-dinner drinks, particularly grappa and cognac, are up, he adds.
Wine sales remain strong, especially at dinner, except for one noticeable change. “When times are fantastic, the host does not lead, he lets his guests lead in choosing the wine,” says Mr. Bruno. However, in the current climate, dinner hosts are turning to him to ask for wine recommendations, a clear sign that restraint is in order, according to Mr. Bruno.
Yet not everyone has suffered in the economic downturn. Mr. Bruno produced two empty bottles of 1947 Petrus, consumed recently by a Chinese customer who called ahead to order the wines.
A mere $12,000 each.