How to Make Your Bar a New Year’s Eve Destination

Offer something special to set yourself apart.
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Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director at A16, suggests serving festive, good-luck-themed drinks on New Year's Eve. (Photo: Shelley Lindgren)

With champagne toasts, festive balloons, rockin’ music and fancy food, New Year’s Eve is one big party. But with nearly every bar and restaurant in town looking to cash in, you’ll want to get a little crafty to make sure that everyone knows your bar is the place to be come midnight.

Allow walk-ins

Selling tickets for a big New Year’s Eve party is great, but there’s something to be said for letting guests wander in for a quick drink or hunker down and make a night of it.

Though GreenRiver in Chicago will have two dedicated prix fixe dinner seatings, its next-door neighbor cocktail bar Annex will happily host those who don’t want to do the formal dinner thing.

Keep it low-key if that’s your style

Some customers crave a casual, comfortable space to ring in the new year with friends versus competing with hordes for a spot at a crowded bar.

GreenRiver (and Annex) head bartender Julia Momose said one of her ideal ways to spend New Year’s Eve casually would be to grab a bunch of friends and head over to gin-focused bar Scofflaw, which has cozy fireplaces and couches, for a sort of gussied-up “house party.”

Pull out the stop(per)s

Julia Mormose

Julia Momose recommends a special drink menu for New Year’s Eve. (Photo: Gregory Buda, Buda Photography)

If you want to fancy up your New Year’s Eve offerings to reflect the party atmosphere, do it. A special drink menu is the perfect way to show your guests what you’re capable of.

Momose said it’s a chance for bartenders to show off “their essence” and allows the team to “go out with a bang.” Check out these festive holiday drink ideas if you need inspiration.

Embrace the good luck theme

New Year’s is all about well wishes for the new year. Whether it’s prosperity, good health or happiness, cultures around the world partake in foods that signal good luck. Embrace that theme by including relevant ingredients in special New Year’s Eve cocktails or, if you’re serving food, add some good luck dishes to the menu.

“[W]e’ll have festive, good luck kind of cocktails for the new year, like, same with our menu,” said Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director at San Francisco’s A16.

Lindgren mentioned bay leaves as one ingredient that signifies well wishes for the new year. (She said they also use in-season fruits such as pomegranates, warming baking spices such as cloves and dry pine needles for a festive cocktail rim.)

In Spain, according to Epicurious, revelers eat twelve grapes at midnight — one for each stroke of the clock or month of the new year. Lentils and cooked greens are considered good financial luck in many cultures.

Cultivate community

The best way to celebrate a holiday, or any special occasion or event, is with friends, family, neighbors. A sense of community is a strong pull.

“We just try to be a great environment for the community to come and participate.” -Shelley Lindgren

“I’ve taken care of so many people who I’ve known when they were dating, they’re married, they have kids, the kids are growing up, you see it. We really get to know the families. Taking care of people is just one of the coolest, really very rewarding parts of being involved with the public.”

People want to be where they know they fit, especially when the clock strikes 12. Bartenders can help facilitate that. “Be the type of bartender that people want to spend that moment with,” said Momose.

Get the word out

Have bartenders and servers talk to your guests about what you have in store for the big night. Make a digital flyer and post it to your social media accounts and website. San Diego’s Polite Provisions made a Jazz Age-style flyer for its New Year’s Eve bourbon and jazz ball (tickets include two specialty craft cocktails and a champagne toast at midnight).

NYE 2016

(Photo: Polite Provisions/Instagram)

And Momose said last year GreenRiver had postcards made and slipped them into check presenters.

The more chances people have to find out what you’re planning, the more likely they’ll realize that your bar is where they have to be come New Year’s Eve.

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