New York I Love You But You Murdered My Liver

Anyone who’s lived in New York knows that to survive, you drink. A lot.

You drink on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. You definitely drink on Friday and Saturdays. Thursday? You didn’t plan on drinking today, but everyone from work invited you out. Sunday scaries? A few glasses of wine will stave that off right quick.

The five years I spent in New York were brimming with booze. I drank at bars almost every single night — that’s not an exaggeration!—and so did most of my peers.

Shots and gossip at the Scratcher, cheap beers at Botanica, tumblers of dark liquor much too late followed by dizzy, expensive cab rides home over the bridge. And that was just Tuesday. Back in Brooklyn, I learned my neighborhood places. Brookvin has all night $5 rosés on Mondays. Commonwealth has free popcorn. Sharlene’s is cozy like a rum cider and rarely crowded. (Is that still true?)

Bar-hopping on weeknights wasn’t something I ever started my day intending to do, but social life in NYC is largely synonymous with alcohol. This transcends industry. You meet your friends at a bar, you meet your enemies at a bar — a ritual commonly known as media happy hour — and you meet dates at a bar.

Without a doubt, many daily drinkers in Manhattan, and everywhere, are alcoholics. But in New York, boozing is also just What You Do. Everyone is simultaneously competitive and insecure and needs to blow off steam. No one wants to sit alone in their tiny apartments, no matter how much drinks cost at the bar. After working a brutal 12-hour day, I needed a salve, not a smoothie.

And so, you drink. You drink and talk about your misery, you drink and say things like “I fucking love this city, though,” you drink more and start getting everyone on board for a weekend trip to Maine.

When I moved to San Francisco two and a half years ago, I was 10 pounds heavier, mostly from a steady dinner regimen of cocktails followed by a digestif of dollar pizza slices. My daily happy hour habit was also a little baffling to some of my new West Coast colleagues.

“Who wants to grab a drink?” I said, around 5 p.m. one day, to everyone and no one in particular in our new co-working space. People looked at me blankly.

“Uh, it’s Tuesday.”

I had to confess, I didn’t really see the issue.

I still drink here in San Francisco, but I drink way less often. Maybe I’m just old now, or hanging out with fellow olds too much! But I do also cite geography. For one, SF just has less of a drinking culture than New York. Bars close early here, and you don’t see really packs of bros or girlfriends roaming the streets on a bar crawl unless you’re up in the Marina. The media scene, which usually comprises a crew of heavy drinkers, is much smaller. There’s booze at events, definitely, but usually half of the people are marathon training, or “taking a break from alcohol,” or like, drink only Soylent.

Second, everyone’s outdoorsy here, and it’s easier to escape the city and get into nature. There’s a fetishizing of getting up on Saturday morning and hitting your mountain bike or the hiking trail instead of nursing a bourbon cocktail hangover. Yes, people are smug about this.

It’s still easy to drink in this city: wine tasting in Sonoma, cold pints of Anchor Steam. But to me, it feels less urgent.

Booze for me is still shorthand for New York City itself. Icy margaritas on tiny sidewalk tables. Light pink highballs daggered with bushy sprigs of rosemary. Glasses of $18 white wine on swanky hotel rooftops. It’s fucking freezing outside. Order another hot toddy. Drinking in New York made me feel edgy and urbane, a young woman taking the city by storm.

I miss New York, and sometimes I miss my nightly ritual of annihilating my insecurities with dark brown liquids. But I think it’s more that I miss my 20s and feeling invincible; not just to hangovers, but to ennui. When I had nothing but years of new things ahead of me and gin and tonics to toss back.

I’ve never truly been a problem drinker, even though that DNA is striped through my family like fudge ripple. But I did start to wonder in New York, as I neared 30, if my coping mechanism of choice was preventing me from really working through some of my anxiety and insecurities. I mean, duh. And, hoo boy, not that I’m close to solving some of those, but glazing them over with a veneer of cocktails every night surely wasn’t helping.

I still like to drink, and probably always will. But—thanks to age? California? Realization that Fireball is actually pretty disgusting? — it’s been good to slow down a bit.

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