How to Stay Out All Night in New York City Like an Absolute Pro
Staying out all night isn't for the faint of heart, but someday you’ll ask yourself, Isn’t it too late to stay out -- and too late to go home? There's a special alchemy known to those of us in the night-job/vampire set, a romanticism or weirdness (or, depending on what you're into, sometimes both) that blooms just before world reignites at dawn.
The night will see casualties all around you. They’ll tap out for overindulging, for romantic matching, for pure animal fatigue. Yet hang in there, and in the cool fog of morning, brave yet bleary-eyed friends and lovers will forge home with arms slung around shoulders knowing that they've lived -- really lived -- through something. The city that never sleeps isn't just a slogan: it's an invitation. Even if you're not naturally nocturnally inclined, here's how to accept the call.
I was regularly up til dawn well before I was ever a bartender. I don't personally recommend mornings by rule, but if you absolutely must have one, plan to laze, relax, chill, and stay out of the light. "No way I can be the bon vivant people expect of a good bartender if I was up at the crack of dawn,” says Luke, a Brooklyn bartender. “No morning, no way.”
See, sleep/wake cycles run on an internal circadian rhythm supported by external cues, most notably morning sunlight, which jogs your brain into wakefulness and bookends your day. If you're aiming to stay, not just up, but OUT all night, you're going to want to mess that rhythm right the fuck up. Conserve your resources. Stay in, dim the lights. Definitely have coffee and breakfast, but don't get up and at 'em.
This is as good a place as any to mention that no, the endeavor in question isn’t the healthiest. “It’s definitely not good for you,” says Dr. Jocelyn Cheng, a sleep specialist at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. She notes that a lack of sleep can affect cognition, lower the seizure threshold (yeah, let that sink in) and affect blood pressure. However, don’t mistake Dr. Cheng’s warning for a death sentence. “One night is very unlikely to do anything harmful to you long-term,” she says. Still -- wake at your own risk.
It’s probably a Saturday, free and easy as the olive oil samples at Fairway. And don’t we all love a trip to The Met, a picnic in the park, a stroll on the High Line? Of course we do. Avoid them. Any excursion you could possibly plan has, no doubt, also been planned-upon by hundreds -- if not thousands -- of New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And worse: tourists. Now, the above-mentioned activities are worth doing. But today is not the day.
Psychologists have suggested that willpower is a finite resource that depletes each time it’s drawn upon and is replenished by a good night’s sleep. If you’re trying to conserve your stamina, don’t blow it on daylight shenanigans.
Besides, does an afternoon spent picking the low-hanging fruit off your honey-do list sound so bad? Listen to podcasts as you tidy, call mom while grocery shopping, engage in some mind-clearing yoga or a leisurely run -- anything that would typically take a backseat to mandatory weekend afternoon fun.
Naptime. I know, you haven’t really done anything, but see if you can’t squeeze in some shuteye. “Napping would certainly help if you’re trying to stay awake all night,” Dr. Cheng says. How long should your disco nap be? Cheng says it depends. If you’re a five-hour-per-night go-getter, you’ll require shorter downtime than someone who’s a zombie without their full eight. Try to snatch a half hour.
Once you’re re-rested, it’s time to fuel up -- and you’re not gonna tackle this night by yourself. Get together with a ride-or-die with whom you’ll eat dinner/strategize/get hyped. A friend, singular. Balancing the needs and energies of a group can be complicated. We’re streamlining things, so get your Thelma and Louise on and tap someone who’s not overly anxious or fussy, who’ll back you up on whatever the next move may be.
Maybe you’ve been craving that one Kale salad with cranberries, that cheesy mound of pillowy gnocchi, your favorite secret Chinese spot tucked out of the way in Flushing. These are all awesome dinner choices, for a different night. Pick a place within walking distance of where you want to begin your night in earnest, and order a meal substantial enough to sponge up booze and power you through the next several hours without weighing you down. That means protein and complex carbohydrates; healthy, but you don’t have to go nuts. “Nobody’s gonna be eating quinoa late at night,” Dr. Cheng says. “But that would certainly not contribute to you being sleepy.”
Now, in the calm before the storm, would also be a good time to throw back a cup of coffee -- not an energy drink. In fact, avoid anything too carb-laden. After sugar comes the crash.
Before we get to the choose-your-own-adventure portion of the evening, let’s go over the elements common to any successful nocturnal exploit.
Try to say yes more than no. Within the bounds of safety and comfort, that is. Much like the yes, and… rule of improv, assent allows a night’s current to continue unobstructed, whereas “no” brakes your momentum.
Pace your drinking. If you’re stumbling and slurring by 1am, you’ll have already ceded your all-important resolve, and once booze stops (officially) flowing at 4am, ready or not, here comes a hangover. Every bar has a watery, nearly transparent beer on the menu. Often this beer is Mexican. Rarely will you get bombed on it.
Be careful with drugs. So to be clear: legal, illegal -- doesn’t matter, nobody here is advocating taking any drugs, even if they’d help you stay awake. Even nicotine, Dr. Cheng says, “can actually help keep you awake, but I certainly don’t advocate smoking.” If you do happen to partake, consider the following: bring your own, to be surer of what you’re getting. Don’t take depressants (i.e. weed, downers, opiates), a class of drug that slows nervous system function and can make you sleepy. And don’t rely upon any substance. Banking on drugs to facilitate your enjoyment of this night is missing the forest for the trees.
Don’t force it. If you catch yourself falling asleep or you’re simply over it, get outta there. There’s no shame in making what is, on balance, the wise decision to go home and sleep.
Now, to what you actually do in these extra eight hours of darkness! There is, of course, no wrong way to spend your night. But here are some of the right ways:
Part pub-crawl, part odyssey, this night is about sojourning through the city. Don’t get too attached to any one place. In fact, if you keep your eyes on the horizon, you don’t have to worry as much about inertia setting in. “Physical activity actually makes it harder to sleep,” Dr. Cheng says. “That’s why we advise patients not to exercise before bed.”
You want your first stop to be someplace far-flung, because you’re going to work your way backward. Draw a line between there and home and hit spots along the way.
Say you live in Sunset Park: Begin with a pint at the Bronx Alehouse up on West 238th Street. Then hop over to Dyckman Bar in Inwood, head south for a show at Harlem Nights, and stroll around Convent Avenue to take in some gorgeous history. After a short subway jaunt to West Fourth, a falafel at Mamoun’s or a perfect slice at Joe’s, or another pint at Blind Tiger, one of NYC’s best beer bars awaits. The jazz at Small’s is cool forever, and what’s more beautiful than a stroll through the Village and down the Hudson? A few laughs at one of New York’s oldest bars, Ear Inn could cascade East onto wonderful weirdness at Tribeca honky-tonk, The Patriot Saloon.
Walk it out across the Brooklyn Bridge and appreciate the city shimmering below, then blast some karaoke at the Brooklyn Heights classic Montero’s and make the straight shot down the promenade to the pride of Red Hook, Sunny’s Bar, where bluegrass rings out on Saturday nights. A quick taxi ride to Gowanus yields DJs bumping all-night dance parties at Analog or Bell House; or if that’s not your scene, South Slope’s late-late-night favorite Freddy’s Bar is happy to accommodate. J'eatjet serves delicious food and drink ‘til 4am, and if you’re too late, take a trip to the 24/7 Sunset Park Diner & Donuts. By the time your check comes, you’ll be face to face with the sun, feeling like you’ve earned that belly-flop into bed.
The Trees Lounge
Be it a bar, pool hall, lounge, or venue, this tack is about sticking to your local. Stake out your spot, strap in, and hold on. Maybe you don’t yet know your bartender yet or maybe they’re an old friend. Either way, you’re a team now. Tip well, keep your manners about you, and you may find yourself working your way into your host’s inner circle by the time the rowdier, sloppier crowds have thinned.
A word of caution: this approach somewhat of a gamble. You’re a guest in somebody else’s domain, and if the host isn’t game to do an all-night lock-in, you’re SOL. However, I know very few bartenders who aren’t happy at the end of a long night to lock the doors after last call for a more intimate round or two or three.
Walk out into the daylight with your bartender and the next time they spot your face among the Saturday night crowd, I promise you’ll get your drink before the flailing masses.
So you’ve encountered someone amazing on your quest to the dawn. Retreating to your respective apartments feels like a missed opportunity, yet rushing off to bed feels tawdry. So enlist that person on your mission to stay up to greet the dawn. If they’re game, you’ll get a charge of energy yourself: studies suggest that sharing novel, challenging experiences can help deepen romantic connections.
While away the night in a diner over dessert and coffee. Take a pilgrimage to a sunrise-viewing spot (the beach at Coney Island, an apartment rooftop, or any bridge’s pedestrian walkway). Or simply embark on an aimless stroll as the world wakes up. Any of these will find you holding one another close in the cool morning air, batting eyelashes to the sound of birds greeting the day -- a memory forged in the light of a new day’s sun.
Morning: The Sequel
You’ve arrived on the other side! The experiential aspect of this endeavor is drawing to a close, so unless you’re planning on toughing it through the next day (why?) you’re about to crash. As you drift off, notice of how serene the city is at 5:50am, the depth of your connection to your all-night compatriots (maybe snuggle close to them), how it feels simply to be as daylight trickles through the drawn shades, and how grateful you are to live in a place where this is all possible, if you accept the call.
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