Why New York’s New Bars Are Booked-Only


Tiff Baira is a self-proclaimed “Manhattan dating tour guide” known for giving nightlife recommendations on TikTok. Over the past two years, Baira has begun to notice a slew of new bars opening across the city that are accepting or requiring reservations. “Previously, reservations were for formal dinners or fancy cocktail bars,” says Baira. “However, I’ve also seen the shift to casual venues opening up for reservations.”

Over the last year or so, cocktail bars like El Pingüino, Bandits, Eavesdrop, Temperance, the Nines and Temple Bar have all launched on Resy (“You really, really won’t walk into the new Temple Bar without a reservation“Grub Street wrote). Showing up to a hip new bar with a crew at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night without a reservation? Don’t even bother. In simpler terms, spontaneity and the pleasure of having a drink on a whim are largely a thing of the past.

Baira doesn’t care about the trend. “What’s important to my followers is that you want to get out but it’s too crowded there, or people don’t know if they’ll come in,” she says. As reservations technology has evolved, it has provided some “insurance” for an evening, especially one with multiple stops.

“New York will always be an ‘I know a guy’ place, but now ‘know a guy’ is just having the technology to get in,” Baira says, adding that she thinks the booking trend is making the nightlife a little more accessible, although there will always be people trying to outsmart the system.

When it comes to dating, Baira believes bookings usually work in a couple’s favor. On the one hand, people are less likely to withdraw at the last minute. They don’t have to risk running out of conversation starters by the time they’re seated. Worse still, the person looking for a little liquid courage might be out of luck for hours before finding a spot.

While reservations are by no means unique to the current bar scene — cocktail bars like speakeasy PDT have long operated with a reservation system — a growing number of new spots are quickly making reservations the norm, solidified by digital booking platforms like Resy.

And it’s not just about new spots. In the summer of 2020, Aisa Shelley started taking reservations at her Chinatown cocktail bar, Mr. Fong, for contact tracing – although he has since ditched it to bring back the more laid-back, lively vibe. from the bar. At Shelley’s Tribeca bar Primo’s, however, he felt the addition of reservations would help rebrand it more as a sit-down cocktail bar, rather than a party venue. Since adding reservations in February 2022, Shelley says Primo’s has seen increased sales as more business has been launched midweek during happy hour.

In the hospitality industry, it has been reported that bookings have been harder than ever to score. Resy Told the the wall street journal that April 2022 was the booking platform’s busiest month since its launch, although summer is usually a peak for restaurant bookings. Resy and its main competitor OpenTable told Eater that they don’t have data on how many new bars have signed up for their respective services.

Yet bar owners and customers are noticing the difference. When El Pingüino opened in December last year, owner Nick Padilla said his bar did not offer reservations for customers stopping in for Negronis, martinis and fruit rounds. Wed. He says customer requests – via DM, phone and in person – factored into his team’s decision to convert all indoor tables to reservation-only while keeping bar seating and outdoor tables recently added open to walk-ins only. According to Padilla, a reservation allows “customers to relax and not feel rushed,” and they can even spend more money on food.

It also means that customers can never get a table inside by chance.

Gino Luigi / eavesdropping

Eavesdrop, which opened in Greenpoint in March, launched as a fully bookable cocktail bar on Resy. Eavesdrop wasn’t “reservation-only” in that they didn’t allow walk-ins, but “in fact, it was impossible to get in without a reservation,” co-owner Dan Wissinger told Eater by email.

“We had to tell people at 5 p.m. that we were engaged for the whole night, and that sucks,” adds Max Dowaliby, another owner. After hearing customer feedback, in April the bar began keeping some, but not all, of its bar stools for walk-ins. Dowaliby thinks Eavesdrop could actually increase revenue by having more space for appointments to mitigate last-minute delays or cancellations.

At both El Pingüino and Eavesdrop, walk-in availability accounts for approximately 50% of seats. A reservation is even more important at the other bars in town. Adam Fulton, owner of Bandits, says via email that about 70% of the 62 seats are reservable.

The ’70s-themed West Village bar finds itself with about 150 reservations on the books before it even opens on the weekend, Fulton adds. At the end of a weekend night, it hosts around 250-300 seated guests – not including the walk-up bar – with almost as many people regularly joining Resy Notify.

For customers frustrated by the growing number of bars taking reservations, going alone or stopping at an off-peak hour is the best strategy, Baira says. At El Pingüino, Padilla says customers can more likely enter from the later side while Eavesdrop sees a lull around 5 p.m. when the doors open.

Of course, the booking frenzy only affects a particular subset of bars. The dives can still be friendly to pass by, but as the pandemic has shown, the on-the-spot freedom that makes these spots popular also makes them vulnerable to shutdown.

No matter what New Yorkers think of this new fashion for going out, reservations don’t seem to be fading. At Primo’s, Shelley says, “The pandemic has heightened our interest in using a long-term reservation system.


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