New Year’s Eve might just be the most miserable holiday to celebrate in the New York City metropolitan area. It’s winter vacation for many, so tourists clog the already crowded streets, and the sheer number of party options foster a #fomo mentality that’s hard to push past. In fact, it tends to result in people shelling out too much cash for sub par experiences.
Having moved to New York in my early 20s, I’ve witnessed the gamut of New Year’s celebrations this city has to offer. I’ve been cornered in packed bars by drunk hopefuls looking for a midnight hookup; I’ve rung in the New Year while on line for a Williamsburg warehouse party featuring Moby; and I’ve attempted to skip out on the event entirely. With each New Year, I stockpiled new information. Now, I know when to turn down a New Year’s Eve invite and when to say, “Okay, I guess that sounds fine.” I’d like to share this wisdom by listing some select, New York New Year’s Eve experiences from worst to best.
For readers living outside of NYC, consider this article confirmation that you’re probably making some smart life choices.
Note: I’m excluding Times Square because it is obviously the worst. People go there wearing diapers because it’s impossible to escape.
#7: Decked Out Manhattan Venue Party
I admit, I’ve never done this on New Year’s Eve, but I’ve been talked into it for other holidays, so I know how this sort of evening goes. Also, my ex-boyfriend used to live in an apartment building that overlooked a gaudy, jam-packed rooftop bar called 230 Fifth, and I’ve seen the place during New Year’s Eve. It’s terrifying. Most crowded places appear extra-crowded from above, but 230 Fifth was literally shoulder to shoulder for hours on the last night of whatever year I witnessed from my ex’s balcony.
NYE parties at such venues tend to cost close to $200 at minimum. Upwards of $300 and you can actually guarantee you get food and drink. Otherwise, you’re stuck with an “open bar” from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. that you can never seem to reach thanks to the dense crowds of people desperately jostling for free booze. You may even manage to grab one cold pig-in-a-blanket that no one managed to pluck off the migrating hors d’oeuvres tray before you.
#6: DJ-Fueled Williamsburg Warehouse Party
Back when the Williamsburg waterfront didn’t feature rows of giant, glass high-rises, the semi-vacant area housed mostly warehouses where cool punk bands and lame DJs performed. My friend once encouraged me to pay close to $100 to go to one of these on December 31… because Moby was going to DJ. Though we’d prepaid for our tickets, the line to get into the warehouse still stretched far down the block at 11 p.m. We were still waiting in that line when the countdown to January 1 took place.
Several minutes later, we finally made it into the warehouse. The crowd was sparse considering how long we’d had to wait outside, and the numerous “activities” and art installations we’d been promised looked pathetically homemade (not ingeniously homemade, as I’d hoped). As for Moby, yeah, I like his music. But he wasn’t performing his music. He was DJ-ing. Call me unenlightened, but I’m rarely able to grasp the artfulness of a DJ’s work. Moby, for being Moby, failed to make any impression as a DJ. Ultimately, we spent about two hours at the party, about twice the time we’d spent waiting in line. What can I say? We were naïve.
#5: Downtown Trendy Prix Fixe Restaurant Dinner
Sitting in a restaurant with classy ambience, tasty food, and a small group of people you consciously chose to spend the evening with is definitely one of the best things you can do on a Friday night, let alone a major holiday. However, trendy restaurants mean small portions and snooty patrons. Being surrounded by both can sour even the best of low-key celebrations.
Also, watching extremely trendy people attempt to ring in the New Year earnestly is unsettling. I remember seeing a couple whose faces seemed frozen in those yawn-I’m-too-good-for-everything expressions wearing shiny, paper party hats while balloons flitted down around them at midnight. As I peered between the falling balloons, I realized most people in the restaurant looked like that couple. It was like the opposite of watching a bunch of crawling babies suddenly stand up on two legs and speak to you like they’re the Harvard English department. I didn’t like it.
#4: Downtown Mediocre Japanese Restaurant Dinner
Strip away the pretention and dollar signs on Yelp from the last New Year’s celebration, and you’re left with this one. The food may not have been as special, but the atmosphere was cozy. Plus, none of the other diners gave off the impression of slowly draining the fun out of the room.
Restaurants like these aren’t particularly crowded on New Year’s Eve because they aren’t “places to be.” No one at the Japanese restaurant my friends and I went to seemed to care that it was a holiday. The evening would have been perfect if not for the trek back to my apartment in Brooklyn, where I had to encounter hoards of drunken revelers on a viciously packed train. If you can manage to end your meal well before midnight, though, I recommend this.
#3: Working at a Brooklyn Restaurant/Bar
After encountering multiple letdown NYE moments in the city, I decided one year that I would just spend the night working. As a busser at a neighborhood restaurant/bar, where my coworkers were young and cute and many patrons came regularly, I’d made the right choice. People gave better tips because of the holiday, and the charmingly alcoholic bartender, still recovering from a drunken fall’s broken ribs, liberally filled all the staff’s glasses with champagne at midnight, an hour before our shift ended.
Honestly, I would have rated this New Year’s Eve higher if I hadn’t ended up continuing to drink champagne with my coworkers for another few hours. Champagne hangovers are life changing in a bad way, and they’re really hard to escape when celebrating the New Year post-shift with a bunch of restaurant workers who love their liquor.
#2: Intimate Apartment Party in the Same Borough as Your Apartment
This is almost always the way to go when it comes to celebrating holidays in New York. You avoid the crowds, see (mostly) only the people you want, and can usually manage to return home with little hassle (unless you live in a particularly bustling neighborhood or anywhere in Manhattan).
My friend who threw this particular party is good at curating, so the guests meshed well. No one felt too shy to dance or too comfortable to dance in a way that broke things. An enforced BYOB rule meant we were well stocked all evening and into the wee morning hours.
#1: Escape to Atlantic City
Very few people still frequent Atlantic City, let alone go there at all if they don’t already live there, thanks to newer casinos popping up in more attractive locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic area. But New Year’s Eve in AC, if you go there with a good group of friends, is still fun. I’d recommend renting out a lavish hotel room with 10 or so people in a gaudy casino. The room will be cheap once you split it so many ways, and you’ll all find a place to crash, whether it’s in the king-size bed with a mirror above it or with extra blankets in the deep set Jacuzzi.
When my friends and I did this, we stayed at the Taj Mahal (RIP) and dressed like we were going to a fancy party but actually spent most of our night in the hotel room eating room service and drinking bottles of Andre we’d taken with us from New York (not sure why we did that — we probably figured Atlantic City was too much of a ghost town to have liquor stores). At one point, we migrated to the slots, where elderly women appeared mesmerized by the machines’ flashing lights. The hopeful sentiment felt much more genuine than it would have in Times Square.
Happy New Year!
Image via Flickr/Anthony Quintano