Nightlife Inflation: Why Beverage Prices and Entry Fees Are Rising
On Saturday night at Pieces, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, Gregory Keller and three friends claimed a spot on the floor shortly before drag performer Jasmine Kennedy took the stage. One of Mr. Keller’s friends bought the first round, another got the second, and then it was his turn. After a few unsuccessful attempts to take down a bartender, he orders four vodka sodas.
Overall, except for the cost, it was a great night out.
“I remember just going ‘yikes’ when signing about an $80 bill,” said Mr. Keller, a 25-year-old architectural designer.
New York is known to be an expensive city, and drink prices aren’t exactly set in stone. But Mr Keller said the surprising bar tabs of recent months have him wondering if he can continue to justify his nights on the town.
“As much as I love going out, hanging out with friends and dancing, I hate the next morning seeing my credit card damage,” he said.
Inflation has been rising at the fastest rate in nearly four decades, affecting the prices of almost everything from pizza to fare. Amidst the boom, nightlife is taking a hit.
In an effort to meet the increased cost of labor and supplies, many establishments have resorted to hiked entry fees and charged higher food and drink charges, measures that could make nightfalls less accessible.
Ponyboy, a club in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, raised the prices of its drinks by a dollar, said owner James Halpern, who said he felt bad about passing the costs on to his customers. “Nightlife should be for everyone, not just the elite who can afford it,” he said.
He said Ponyboy’s electricity cost has almost doubled and he is paying more for various staples. A case of limes, which cost $20 or $30 a few years ago, is now $100, he said.
“You turn it into lime juice, and it costs more for an ounce of lime juice than an ounce of top-shelf tequila,” Mr. Halpern said. “We end up doing little things like not giving someone a slice of lime with a tequila shot unless they asked for it.”
Before inflation, the typical ticket price for a Friday or Saturday night at the House of Yes, a club in Bushwick, Brooklyn, known for featuring Hawaiian artists and dancers in elaborate costumes, was $20 to $25. KA Burke, one of its owners, said. Now the price is $25 to $30, she said.
Justin Ahion, a co-owner, said that “every straw, every napkin” has become more expensive in recent months. Due to tensions, the venue is no longer open on Sunday, which used to be a “break-even” day, Mr Ahion said.
“Sundays were really fun for the community,” he said, “but now they’re just a direct loss.”
For Kind Regards, a cocktail bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, disruptions to the liquor supply chain have been the main challenge. The owner, Michael Bray, said he had to buy premium liquors in large quantities, for fear they would not be available again soon, meaning spending more than usual. “You take those big drop decisions carefully, but we have to make them recklessly,” he said. Mr Bray also said that a major liquor supplier had told him to expect a 15 per cent increase in prices in the coming months.
A restaurant and bar with a retro feel on the Lower East Side, Flower Shop is also feeling the squeeze. Co-founder Dylan Hales said the price of fryer oil has risen from 67 cents to $1.28 a gallon. A pound of chicken wings, once available for $2.49, now costs $4.49. Mr Hales said he has raised the prices of some menu items, but only slightly.
“We can’t charge $35 for a bowl of chicken wings,” he said.
Ariel Palitz, senior executive director of the New York City nightlife office, said most bars and clubs in the five boroughs are trying to “not raise prices so much that it causes sticker shock.” At this point, she said, “the need for socialization outweighs the cost.”
Although there are some regular deductions. Conor McInerney, 26, who works for a media company, said more nighttime spending means he’s more at home. “There are very few two-night weekends and more one-night weekends,” he said.
Inflation has disrupted places across the country. The Elephant Room, a jazz bar in Austin, Tex., has charged $5 on Friday and Saturday nights for decades. This month, it increased the cover to $7, according to the bar’s director of operations, Aaron Frescas.
Scott Gerber, chief executive of the Gerber Group, which owns nightlife properties including Mr Purple in Manhattan, 12 Stories in Washington, D.C., and Whiskey Blue in Atlanta, said the company has had to increase prices of the drink by about 5 percent. Country. And in an effort to keep its workforce hanging on during the so-called great resignations, it has even increased the wages of some employees by more than 25 percent.
“Due to the labor shortage, we have had to increase our hourly rates and make sure people want to come to work,” Mr. Gerber said.
For some people who make their living at night, such increments have become a life raft. Pablo Romero, who worked as a DJ and light and sound technician, said he had been out of work for months during the pandemic, when it was dark in some places. He said that things started to show up when Public Records, a music and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn, started paying more for his services.
Not everyone is encouraged. DJ and producer Matt FX said he has noticed that DJ fees have dropped recently at some locations in Manhattan. “Before, you could potentially earn between $500 and $1,000 a night,” he said. “I see all these charges resetting to $250 and $300.”
Comedian and writer Melissa Rich said she would rather stay at home than face Bill’s anxiety. “The feeling of worrying about money when you’re out there is very stressful for me,” she said.
On a recent Tuesday night, 32-year-old Ms. Rich had plans to meet up with friends at her Lower East Side club, The Box. Arriving later than the others, he ordered a gin and tonic alone at the bar. When the bill came in at $28, she was shocked—and a little relieved.
“Thank God I was by myself in that moment,” she said, “because if I were getting two friends drinks at $28 each, it would have been a different scenario.”
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