Sloshed: The Pro-Am Guide to New Year’s Eve Drinking

Don't be this guy.
Don’t be this guy. Photo: Bettmann/CORBIS

New Year’s Eve is our one mandatory holiday — you must celebrate. Try telling people you’re staying in on December 31 and you will see them go through stages of confusion, disbelief, moral outrage, and activism that will end with them making plans for you. But while the idea of everyone being out is fun in theory, it’s sloppy in practice. Seasoned party veterans mingle with nightlife n00bs, and nobody can get a drink because every bartender in America is in the weeds. This has to stop.

In the interest of giving everyone the best chance to enjoy this forced march of a party, Sloshed HQ has prepared two sets of drinking advice: one for the amateurs, those people who maybe don’t have the experience required to handle six hours of Champagne consumption and ready access to noisemakers; and the pros, people accustomed to grown-up drinking sessions whose nights will surely be ruined by some guy throwing up in the corner.

The important part here is to be honest about which camp you fall into: Being able to handle a night of drinking light beer and downing shots of Jack at a keg party does not make you a pro-level drinker. Nor does dropping $300 for a bottle of Patrón at some club.

Pro drinkers have both a preferred whiskey and a preferred garnish for their Manhattans. Pro drinkers know which variety of Chartreuse — green or yellow — they are partial to. Pro drinkers can tell you what their favorite mezcal is and why. If this doesn’t sound like you, you’re one of the …

Amateur Drinkers
First, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. Some of the best Olympians and adult-video performers are amateurs. Your goal should be to play and enjoy the game at your level and marvel appreciatively when you catch a glimpse of the seasoned experts.

What to Eat
Don’t go to a restaurant that’s serving a New Year’s Eve prix fixe. Just don’t do it. You’ll be paying too much money for too little product — the dining equivalent of buying printer ink. Remember that New Year’s Eve isn’t really an eating holiday (we’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas for that). So your food intake is really just about complementing and abetting your alcohol consumption. The easiest thing is to eat something protein-rich at home before you go out. It will regulate how quickly alcohol hits your blood and will keep you from gorging yourself on party snacks later. If you do this right, you’ll be just hungry and drunk enough to really enjoy that 4 a.m. slice of pizza.

Where to Go
A bar, a club, a house party. Go wherever you’ll have the best time and drunkenly meet “lifelong” friends that you’ll forget all about the next day. Try to avoid places where too many of your amateur brethren are congregating — especially those who don’t care enough to inform their New Year’s Eve merriment by consulting an expert guide such as this one.

What to Drink
It’s time to talk about Champagne: It does, in fact, get people drunker faster. The bubbles cause your body to absorb the alcohol more quickly. What’s more, something about the double fermentation makes hangovers worse. Add any sugary food to the mix and you’ll be a sloppy-but-excitable mess.

Have one glass of champers when you arrive at a party and one when midnight rolls around. In between, stick to drinks that have soda water and will at least hydrate you a little. Keep it simple: A gin and tonic works, as does a whiskey and soda.

What to Watch Out For
These are a few danger zones to be aware of so that if and when you find yourself in trouble after a few drinks, you can steer your ship away from the rocks.

• Waving money at, or calling out to, a bartender: A bartender on New Year’s Eve is probably working harder than you worked all year. They see you, and they’ll make sure you get your drink as soon as they have a chance.
• Cutting in line for anything, anywhere (bathrooms, ordering at a bar): Just because you’re wearing a glittery hat doesn’t mean you can be a dick.
• Howling on the streets or making that triple “ow ow ow” call: Why are you doing that? Are you trying to locate other packs of drunken jerks?
• Noisemaker abuse: Give it a rest with that thing already, will ya?
• Showing off parts of your body that would otherwise be clothed: This is not spring break, and you’ll just rile up other awful people.
• Crying or getting in any way more emotional than normal: Whatever you say, you’ll regret it tomorrow.

If you find yourself doing any of these things, make water your drink of choice for a while.

Professional Drinkers
As mentioned above, the idea of celebrating Earth taking another trip around the sun is fine; the issue is that most people are really terrible at it. Rather than turn your back on the whole thing, elevate yourself above the fray.

What to Eat
This is the night to do dinner with friends. Not out but at someone’s home. Invite some people over, cook some nice, simple, classy grub, set out some sparkling wine. (There are some good picks right here.) The idea is to avoid the colossal maelstrom of suck that is the New Year’s Eve dinner special (see above) while starting your night off right.

Where to Go
What you want to do is find an enclave among the hysteria, a place where you can surround yourself with like-minded people. Don’t leave things to chance or hope for the best. Head to a low-key bar that you know won’t be a disaster, a friend’s apartment or house, or even a rooftop where you can watch the chaos below with a flask in hand. Find a good group of people, and secure yourselves accordingly.

If by your own inebriated will you somehow end up in a crowded club or bar — or, God forbid, Times Square — you deserve whatever comes your way.

What to Drink
It’s hard to escape the authority of sparkling wine here, but it’s easy to turn that sparkling wine into something more. Specifically, a Champagne cocktail. Place a sugar cube in a flute, douse it with bitters, and top it up off Champagne.

What’s great about the Champagne cocktail is that it can be so easily fancified and improved. Replace the sugar with an ounce of absinthe and float a tablespoon of cognac on top — you get a Casino cocktail. Add a half-ounce of Campari in the place of cognac and reduce the absinthe by half — you get a Death in Venice. One particularly nice concoction is the French 75: traditionally sugar, lemon juice, gin, and Champagne. But better to make it with cognac in place of gin (ditch the sugar and lemon juice completely and you’ve got a King’s Peg).

Of course, bubbly, though festive, doesn’t have to be mandatory. New Year’s is a great time for reflecting upon your previous year and setting intentions for your upcoming one. One lovely way to spend the evening is inviting over friends to prepare and consume the Most Important Drinks of 2012. Compile the list ahead of time along with your other end-of-the-year best-of lists. Create a sort of multi-drink sequence of toasts.

What do these drinks say about your year? How would you like next year to be different, drinks-wise? These are questions you should discuss. At midnight, in addition to whatever kissing situation you might be in, inaugurate, make, and enjoy the official cocktail of 2013. What drink will that be for you? It depends on your tastes, but for Sloshed, it will involve green Chartreuse.

What to Watch Out For
The amateurs, obviously.

Matthew Latkiewicz writes about drinking and other subjects at You Will Not Believe. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Wired,, Boing Boing, and Gastronomica. Follow him on Twitter.

Related: How to Deal With That Inevitable New Year’s Hangover

Sloshed: The Pro-Am Guide to New Year’s Eve Drinking