On New Year's Eve, the party's never over
Published 12:05 pm, Friday, December 31, 2010
STAMFORD -- The New Year's Eve party appears to have escaped years of economic recession relatively unscathed, as revelers continue to find ways to toast a fond farewell -- or gleeful good riddance -- to the past 365 days.
Dec. 31 is one night of the year people save up to celebrate no matter how bleak the economy, said several local restaurant owners and party planners hosting year-end bashes. The evening is such a windfall that many eateries rely on New Year's Eve to tide them over for the rest of the month, said Pat Pascarella, co-owner of Salt Water Grille on Harbor Drive.
"The month of January is basically a wash for the restaurant industry," Pascarella said. "People are getting too many bills from Christmas. It's a tough month, but hopefully on New Year's Eve you could make anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 and that will carry you through the rest of the month."
The Salt Water Grille will feature three DJs playing house music, Top 40s, dance and hip-hop music at its celebration Friday. The restaurant will charge a $10 cover fee for patrons arriving before 10 p.m. and $20 for those who enter after 10 p.m. Customers paying $55 for a four-course prix fixe dinner are invited to stay for the after-party, Pascarella said.
During New Year's Eve 2009, when the Salt Water Grille charged a flat $100 fee for admission, an open bar and all-you-can-eat buffet, several customers took issue with the high entrance cost.
"There were too many issues with people trying to come in late, maybe after midnight, and they didn't feel like they needed to pay $100," Pascarella said.
The cover charge and pay-as-you-go method eliminates this problem and also allows the restaurant owners to provide bottle service, which Pascarella said is quickly growing in popularity. The Salt Water Grille will be selling bottles of Grey Goose and Ketel One vodka for $250 each Friday evening.
"I feel like it's smarter this way, doing $10 or $20 a head and then doing the bottle service," he said. "Usually for New Year's Eve we tend to sell a lot of Grey Goose, we tend to sell a lot high-end stuff. People are usually going all out, spending a lot of money."
Nightclub promoter Ilario Altamura said Dec. 31 is such a hyped party night, there isn't much more bars or clubs need to do to attract large crowds. Altamura, who owns the Stamford-based promotion company Velvet Rope Entertainment, said he has actually seen business improve since he began six years ago.
"As far as the nightclub industry, I don't think the recession has affected us at all," Altamura said. "Our numbers have been steady and in some cases they've actually risen. People are still going out, they're still enjoying themselves."
Altamura is hired by establishments to produce crowd-pleasing parties. He is responsible for everything from hiring the DJ to designing promotional fliers.
"There's been some newer places that have opened up in Stamford so there's a lot more competition," he said. "But I think each venue kind of holds its own."
This New Year's Eve, Altamura is organizing the party at Grand on Bank Street. The nightclub will feature Nomad, its Saturday night resident DJ, and charge a $20 entrance fee.
"It's all about the right music, the right DJ, the right vibe," Altamura said. "We'll have good dance music at Grand. I would definitely recommend arriving early to avoid lines, possibly even calling in to reserve a table or bottle."
While there won't be a DJ at Napa & Co.'s New Year's Eve celebration, the restaurant has been taking reservations for Dec. 31 since this summer and is now almost fully booked, said manager Marie Maguire.
"It's a night that everybody prepares for months in advance," Maguire said. "We had some reservations as early as June. I think it's the one night that, even if everyone doesn't go all out the rest of the year, they like to make a splash on New Year's."
The restaurant will offer two meal options Friday night. Customers can order off of Napa & Co.'s regular a la carte menu or order the prix fixe dinner of roasted snapper, garganeli pasta, wagyu steak and bombolini doughnuts. The four-course meal costs $85 a person without wine or $125 a person with wine, Maguire said.
"We always do a champagne toast at midnight," she said. "We do balloons, watch the ball drop on TV. It's quite a nice night. When our customers leave, we'll give them muffins to take with them for breakfast."
The stars appear to have aligned for restaurants hosting New Year's Eve dinners this year, said Nicole Griffin, executive director of the Hartford-based Connecticut Restaurant Association. The holiday falls on a weekend, and many people are anxious to go out after being snowed in for the first half of the week.
"We're hearing from a lot of our members that reservations are up for New Years and they're expecting a great turnout," Griffin said. "I think we're seeing an increase in people going out to dinner on New Year's Eve this year compared to last year."
One way that restaurants are attracting customers this year is through e-mail and social networking, Griffin said.
"A lot of restaurants are on Facebook or they're tweeting," she said. "The social networks and e-mail blasts are the ways they communicate and let their customers know what specials they have."
At the Marriott Hotel in downtown Stamford, at least 300 people will gather Friday night to support the community's youth. Former Stamford resident Dirk Miller, president of the Friendships Support our Community Foundation, is throwing a black tie gala to raise money for a teen center to be built at the Yerwood Center.
"It's called black tie gala, no tuxedo required," Miller said. "A lot of people don't wear tuxedos, we wanted as many people to come out as possible. We don't try to give a strict dress code, just come as you are."
Miller is hoping to raise $100,000 for the teen center in Stamford. Friday's charity gala will feature a jazz band, DJ, silent auction, red carpet, open bar and dinner.
Connecticut partiers who choose to ring in the New Year at a bar or restaurant will have an extra hour to drink -- or sober up -- Friday night, said John Suchy, director of the Liquor Control Division at the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. State bars and restaurants are allowed to serve liquor until 3 a.m. on Dec. 31, a one-hour extension of the normal curfew.
"It's our recommendation that although bar owners have the right to remain open and to serve until 3 a.m., we've recommended that bar owners consider using that extra time to offer food and coffee and water to patrons," Suchy said. "To ensure that when people leave these establishments, they're able to be sober and to travel on our streets and highways in a safe, responsible manner."
Revelers who manage to escape the New Year's hangover and wish to continue the party on New Year's Day will have to plan ahead thanks to an old Connecticut law that prohibits the sale of liquor or beer on Jan. 1.
"Liquor stores are, by law, closed on New Years' Day and grocery stores that are licensed to sell beer are not allowed to be selling beer on that day," Suchy said.
Staff Writer Kate King can be reached at email@example.com or at 203-964-2263.