With the shaky return of workers to the office comes the shaky return of happy hour.
The Beer Authority’s second-floor bar in Times Square was nearly full when Peter Torres and Jimmy Pazan, both 29, walked in on a Wednesday night last month but managed to find two open stools on the corner across from a TV. displaying sporting highlights.
The two, who were hired by a Midtown bank during the pandemic and began returning in person last year, had just wrapped up their workday.
“After a particularly difficult day at the branch, we left,” said Pazan, whose drink of choice is whiskey and ginger ale.
“It’s not planned; it just happens,” said Torres, who prefers a Stella.
With more than 40 people at the bar, general manager Aoife Canny said it was slower than it had been in weeks.
Even as companies struggle to coax workers back into the office, some bars are reporting that weekday happy hour, an institution that has been around since the 1930s, is reaching a semblance of pre-pandemic times. With nationwide office occupancy averaging 41% — less than half the pre-pandemic level of 99%, according to workplace safety firm Kastle Systems — central business districts are emptier than ever before. in 2019.
Still, those back to the office are heading back to the bar after work.
Melisa Rodriguez, 24, and Samaya Mayes, 22, employees of an events company in Midtown, joined about 10 colleagues for an impromptu happy hour at the Beer Authority on a recent Wednesday. Their company is back in the office twice a week.
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“It’s a nice break from focusing on work,” Rodriguez said, adding that it provides a break between the workday and your commute home.
Mrs. Mayes, who was recently hired, enjoys the company of her coworkers outside the office. “It’s time to be ourselves and not get tense,” she said.
The pandemic has closed about 90,000 bars and restaurants across the country in the past two years, according to the National Restaurant Association; establishments that have survived or have since opened face fewer customers and inconsistent business as coronavirus cases in the United States hover around 110,000 a day, according to a New York Times database. And soaring prices for gasoline, groceries and other goods have been “sort of a double whammy for happy hours, in particular where consumers may feel uncomfortable spending,” said Emily Moquin, food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult.
At Jimmy’s Corner in Times Square, Adam Glenn, the owner, said that before the pandemic forced his bar to close for 18 months, the happy hour crowd would start arriving before most offices closed.
“If you weren’t there at 5 o’clock, you probably wouldn’t get a seat,” Glenn said. “You’d be up, and we’d be packed.” The bar has been in his family for 50 years.
But even with more offices reopening or requiring workers to return in a few days, happy hour at Jimmy’s Corner is still not what it was before the pandemic.
“We are, I would say, much closer than we were before and very happy with the amount of stuff that has grown since we reopened in October,” Glenn said. “But it’s still not the same post-work, pre-theatre crowd that we used to have.”
Emptier offices had a ripple effect in central business districts, Moquin said.
“These changes in working hours mean absolutely less business for bars and restaurants, less traffic to come through the door,” she said. “These hybrid work schedules and these work-from-home schedules are having an impact.” Average monthly visits to a bar have fluctuated — up from 1.5 in February and 1.2 in March, according to the latest data from Morning Consult.
Jimmy’s Corner has also faced what Glenn called “small obstacles” in recent months, including the Omicron winter wave and a wave of Broadway closures. Two musicals – “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Tina” – recently announced that they would end their run this summer. Glenn said his happy hour didn’t have the same “consistency and predictability” as before.
Happy hours at 2Twenty2 Tavern in Chicago’s central business district have been closer to pre-pandemic normal in the past couple of months, said Chris Mannos, owner. But unlike the Beer Authority and Jimmy’s Corner, “you still have people who wear masks on the inside and they still seem worried about what’s happening with Covid,” he said.
In Cook County, which includes Chicago, at least one in five residents has been infected with the coronavirus — more than 1.2 million cases — since the start of the pandemic.
While some bars in the area have reduced their opening hours or closed on certain days, 2Twenty2 Tavern has not, Mannos said.
“We’re a family business, so if we go down, it’s our entire livelihood,” he said. “We just sorted this out, and I think it was worth it.”
At the Everson Royce Bar in Los Angeles, Jason Moore, general manager, said large groups have started returning for happy hour, including a 50-person departure from Spotify.
“You can definitely tell the difference from the beginning of the year, when everyone was still kind of freaked out by the new variant,” said Moore, who books large groups for the bar.
Happy hours at the bar vary in size, from a few coworkers showing up to get drinks to large groups calling to reserve tables, Moore said.
He added that this summer, the Everson Royce Bar was expecting even larger groups of people for after-work drinks.
“This summer is going to bounce,” he said. “We are going to see pre-pandemic numbers – if not higher than pre-pandemic – just because more and more people are being clamped down on.”