Good news! Day drinking is healthy, seriously.
— Kristen Hawley
(Bloomberg) — The luxury of day drinking is not just a Sunday Funday specialty anymore. Restaurants across the country are expanding their menus to offer drinks that are well-suited to daytime imbibing during the week as well.
Low-alcohol spirits like vermouth and healthy mixers such as green juice, kombucha, and matcha are aimed at cocktail customers who want a relaxing pick-me-up, or just a treat when they’re not working. Journalist and TV food show regular Kat Odell has a new book on precisely this subject: Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz (Workman), which includes recipes for multiple variations on the michelada, including one infused with salsa.
Although the past decade’s cocktail revolution has highlighted heavier, spirit-forward drinks, lighter fare rules during the daytime. “The ongoing fashion for pre-Prohibition-style cocktails—highly alcoholic blends of spirit and bitters—is very unfriendly at lunch,” says James Truman, who’ s introducing a lunchtime cocktail program at his vegetable-focused restaurant, Nix. “Especially if you’re planning to go back to work.”
Anna Weinberg, whose San Francisco restaurant empire includes Marlowe and Leo’s Oyster Bar, says the Financial District locals come through midafternoon. “On the West Coast, the financial market starts at 6 a.m. By 3 p.m. the industry is ready for happy hour.”
She has seen an increase in cocktail orders on early afternoon weekdays in the past few years and serves a full cocktail list all day. “It’s a social thing. Now that more people have flexible work schedules, day drinking is something indulgent that validates your lifestyle,” she says.
The Breakfast Wine List
The next time you eat brunch at Freek’s Mill in Brooklyn, N.Y., you’ll be handed a brand-new menu: the breakfast wine list. Says beverage director Alex Alan: “We have such an extensive wine list at dinner, I wanted to create something smaller and more manageable, full of crisp, fresh wines that are easy to drink throughout the day.” These include the sparkling Parigot Crémant rosé from France and 2014 Paumanok New York chenin blanc Minimalist; the most expensive bottle is the Paumanok, at $70. “These wines won’t slow down your day. You know—breakfast wine,” Alan says of the 14-bottle list. He also offers a rotating vermouth by the glass; his inaugural one is the rhubarb-flavored Uncouth.
The Juice Factor
At Houseman—the modern Mediterranean-style cafe in New York’s Tribeca—the menu has a “spa” section, and on it is an item simply labeled “green juice,” for $12. It seems innocuous enough, but this particular green juice is made with a splash of gin, which explains the price tag; if you want it sans alcohol, order a virgin version. Chef/owner Ned Baldwin says it includes kale, ginger, and a lot of cucumber. “Not news to anyone that cucumbers taste great with Hendrick’s gin,” he says. “It was a no-brainer to add a splash to the drink.”
It developed such a following, he also invented the Casa Kombucha, a restorative drink infused with blanco tequila. “Kombucha is sour and settles the stomach, and we all know that tequila makes things a little more fun,” he jokes. “These drinks are popular with our daytime drinkers, because they satisfy both the angel on your left shoulder and the devil on your right.”
In Las Vegas, the Juice Standard at the Cosmopolitan has a menu of drinks such as the Wealth Maker, a kale and apple juice with vodka and ginger beer. The Dirty Martian is a green juice infused with vodka, vermouth, and olive juice; a Happy Russian consists of coconut water, nut milks, local honey, and, of course, Kahlúa and vodka. They’re served all day long, from opening time at 7 a.m.
The Low-Alcohol Lunch
Happy hour starts at noon every day at Loosie’s Cafe, the newest outpost of the New Orleans-style Loosie’s Kitchen in Brooklyn. At the plant-filled space, the vibrant and slightly earthy kale matcha margarita ($5 until 6 p.m.) is already one of the best-sellers. The summery vibe of the place inspires patrons to reach for a refreshing drink, according to co-owner Vincent Marino. He preaches the vacation-style sense of relaxation that comes from midday drinking and extols the feel-good sense of the cocktail, which people are more mindful of in the day than at night. “We love our margaritas, and we love our matcha,” Marino says. “We like to think of it as drinking and detoxing at the same time.”
And this week at Nix , guests can start drinking lightly alcoholic, fruit-forward concoctions midday. In place of hard liquor, Nix will use vermouth for cocktails made with seasonal fruits and herbs—cucumber and basil, or strawberries and chamomile. “It is the Italian idea of the aperitivo, with a dash of mixology thrown in,” he says.
Even a restaurant known for its expanded wine list is getting into the lunchtime cocktail game. Café Altro Paradiso, also in New York, has two low-alcohol drinks as part of its new, all-day menu. One, the Tumeric Tonic, comes with apple, ginger, cayenne, and a splash of sauvignon blanc; the other is the Fennel Apple Fizz, an invigorating mix of apple, fennel, and soda with pastis providing the kick.
In San Francisco, Weinberg’s comfort-food spot Marlowe is located near the offices of Dropbox Inc. and Airbnb Inc. “Tech companies like to promote the idea that their employees have fluid schedules; they can drink and play pingpong while they do business. And they absolutely do that.” Both Marlowe and Weinberg’s 15-month-old Leo’s are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
The off-hours cocktailing is also good for her bottom line. “If we can get people in here drinking around 3 p.m., normally a dead time, that’s incredible for us,” she says. One of the most popular daytime drinks is the Juicer, a mix of gin, serranos, cilantro, lime, and cucumber.
Weinberg also credits November’s election for contributing to a spike in her daytime alcohol sales. “In the months leading up, our daytime booze sales were up about 30 percent,” she estimates. And the trend appears to be holding: “They’re still pretty high.”
(Clarifies restaurant name in the tenth paragraph)
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.