New York City and Boston have at least one thing in common aside from sharing space in the Northeastern United States: They are both drinking cities. But that’s where the commonalities end. There are many differences between Boston and NYC’s drinking cultures: People visit New York for the newest and most innovative in everything, including cocktails, while Boston is an old college town with a serious beer history. And that’s not all. Here, bartenders from both cities reveal the differences between drinking in Boston and drinking in New York City.
New Yorkers Love Happy Hours; Bostonians Don’t Have the Option
You can’t live in New York City without hearing “Do you want to go to happy hour?” at least twice a week. Bars and restaurants in the Big Apple heavily promote after-work drink specials, but legally Bostonians aren’t able to enjoy those pleasures. “There are pretty strict blue laws,” says Will Thomson, Grand Marnier brand ambassador and former beverage director at Yvonne's in Boston.
“Happy hour is banned for liquor. There are things here designed to stop people from binge-drinking,” says Kyi Davenport, bartender at Boston’s Shōjō. It no doubt helps that many New Yorkers can hop on a train after downing a few drinks rather than getting in a car; Boston’s “Happy Hour” law is the result of a drunk-driving incident in the 1980s.
New York Can Afford to Offer Exciting Cocktails; Boston Has to Stick to the Classics
Thomson notices a lack of 25- to 30-year-olds with plenty of disposable income in Boston. “Those consumers tend to be a lifeblood for these bigger cocktail bars. In New York, you get rewarded for novelty, like the wildest list or a funky menu. It’s fun on the production side to be able to come up with all kinds of new creative drinks,” he says. “In Boston, with the absence of that consumer, I don’t think you’re awarded for creativity in the same way. People seem to respond well to comfort. Margaritas and Old Fashioneds do really well.”
“It’s a lot more intense, a lot more demanding,” Fausto Gonzalez, head bartender at New York’s Sessanta and The Gordon Bar says of NYC. “Customers come and ask for more obscure classic cocktails: Last Word, Vesper, Aviation. If you’re a bartender who’s not experienced in that, you’re like, ‘What?’”
New York City Likes Beer; Boston Loves It
While New York City has a burgeoning brewery scene, it’s long been the standard in Boston. “Boston has focused on local breweries and beers instead of using liquor to develop more of a sense of culture,” Davenport says. “Where I’ve worked, there’s something rotating constantly, and it’s usually from down the street. Sam Adams has been here forever.”
College Bars (and College Students) Rule Boston
College students dominate Boston, and they come in “waves,” according to Davenport. College-oriented bars are especially prevalent in major tourist areas like downtown, she says, where you’re more likely to run into a group of early-20-somethings knocking back Miller High Lifes, Boston’s cheap beer of choice.
New York Is Fancy; Boston Is Always Casual
“Everyone’s got their college white shirt. People wear a sweatshirt and jeans. It’s very relaxed,” Davenport, who used to live in New York, says of her new home city of Boston. “In New York, outside of the dives, there’s a little bit more of a showiness. When I first got to Boston, I’d hang out with my friends, and they would say, ‘Why are you so dressed up? What is going on?’ Boston is small—everyone knows everyone—so who are you trying to impress?”
New York Really Is the City That Never Sleeps; Boston Closes at 1 a.m.
“People I know who are leaving New York City to come to Boston are looking for more of an adult experience, but Boston is still a 1 a.m. city,” Davenport says, referring to the time at which bars close. “It kind of curbs the culture.”
Meanwhile, in New York, the insomniac stereotype has never been truer. While bars legally close at 4 a.m., that doesn’t stop night owls. “After they close, the bars let you stay,” Gonzalez says. “The people who are working the bars say, 'OK, don’t worry. You stay here. We stay until 5 a.m.’” As the old saying goes, no sleep ‘til Brooklyn—or Manhattan or Queens or the Bronx or even Staten Island.