How to Celebrate New Year's Eve Like a Professional Bartender

Champagne, here at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, is the order of the evening.
Champagne, here at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, is the order of the evening. Danielle Lirette
Yes, if you were really to usher in 2018 like a professional bartender, you'd be working: "When it comes to ringing in the New Year, my favorite thing to do is to work," says Frasca Food and Wine bar manager Brent Oberholzer. "Being behind the bar on such a high-energy night with everyone in such a jovial mood is something that I look forward to every year."

"I spend 55 to 60 hours a week with my staff and colleagues," adds Kevin Burke, bar manager at Colt & Gray and Ste. Ellie. "There's nothing more rewarding than going into the cooler at midnight and drinking something really nice. It's, hey, we knocked out a year together — onward and upward to new adventures, new mistakes and old friends. That’s how I’ve grown to see the holiday. That’s kind of the party that I like to throw."

But assuming you're not actually going to be behind the bar for this momentous occasion, it's worth considering advice from this city's professional booze purveyors to make the most of your New Year's Eve. For although it seems impossible to do this holiday badly — all you really need is a bottle of Champagne and the wherewithal to make it to midnight — we still find ourselves making amateur mistakes year after year: party-hopping and missing the ball drop, drinking so much we can’t function the next day, ringing in the year in a crowd we don’t know.

How do you avoid blowing it?

First, decide where to go, and stay there. “It’s always going to take longer to get somewhere on New Year’s Eve,” says Steven Waters, bartender and owner of the forthcoming Run for the Roses. “You don’t want to be stuck in transit when the countdown starts. Plan ahead and pick a spot, or pick two spots and stay there.”

“Think about how you see yourself wanting to ring in the New Year — that’s the party you should go to,” advises Burke. While acknowledging that there’s a space for the blow-out party, Burke says it’s also nice to think about hitting your regular restaurant or neighborhood bar: “You can let your guard down, you can over-serve yourself, you can be loud and a little surly — you’re among people who are going to forgive you.” Just be sure to make a reservation — Ste. Ellie, he says, will book out the entire room that night, to make sure people who want to spend the night there have a seat.

If it is a blow-out party you’re after, you might consider checking into a hotel and seeing what they have going on for New Year’s Eve. Makeda Gebre, a bartender at Corinne and 54thirty in Le Méridien, points out that this gets you VIP access to whatever the hotel has going on — in Le Méridien’s case, hotel guests don’t pay a cover for the rooftop party. Moreover, “it’s a one-stop shop,” she says. “New Year's is always filled with people trying to get from one place to another. If you’re staying, you get ready, have dinner, celebrate and then crash, and you don’t have to worry about driving.”

click to enlarge Hashtag's fro-J will take the edge off of your inevitable New Year's Day hangover. - TAG RESTAURANT GROUP
Hashtag's fro-J will take the edge off of your inevitable New Year's Day hangover.
Tag Restaurant Group
No matter where you’re going, “act like you’ve done this before,” says Waters. “There are a lot of people who go out and want to go big, so don’t forget that you’re in a public space where there are other patrons that are just as important as you. Don’t be a dick.”

Now that you've picked a location, what should you drink? Whether you end up at a party or a bar, Champagne is the order of the evening, and Bar Helix owner Kendra Anderson says you should really lean into that. “Make New Year's Eve an opportunity to really drink Champagne versus just toasting with it at midnight. While the big-name houses are always fabulous, I recommend checking out grower bubbly, which is the term we use for the wines from Champagne producers who might supply some of those famous brands with their grapes, or who make wines that are just as phenomenal — but usually for a much more budget-friendly price. A few of my favorites are Etienne Calsac, Gaston Chiquet and Pierre Peters.”

Daniel Kratzer, regional manager at importer Domaine Select, shares a few more pointers on picking a great sparkling: “You have two routes — you either go quality or quantity. In both instances, look for big bottles; make sure it’s at least a magnum. If anyone’s got a magnum of something, it’s going to be good, as long as it’s not on the bottom shelf. Not a lot of people buy magnums — so if you do see them, they’re always a really good value, even if they seem expensive.” If it’s quality Champagne he’s after, Kratzer looks for monovarietals — 100 percent blanc de blancs or 100 percent pinot noir, a good rule of thumb for well-made wine from this region.

Further, says Anderson, “swap your flute for a regular wine glass  — you'll be amazed at how much more of the Champagne's aroma and flavors you're able to notice.”

And finally, mitigate your inevitable hangover. “Drink one-to-one water to drinks; that will help,” says Waters.

If you do wake up with a headache, take your cue from brunch bartenders: “Let’s be honest, no one is waking up New Year’s Day and making themselves a green smoothie,” says Nikki Guard, TAG Restaurant Group beverage director. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your blender to good use. HashTAG’s Fro-J is the perfect hair-of-the-dog drink, prepared with Sunny D, Galliano and vodka blended with ice.” If you head to HashTAG on New Year’s Day, pair it with the Ancient Chinese Secret soup. The combo works wonders, Guard says.
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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk