New Year’s Eve in a big city can be amateur hour, or a great evening. It’s all in how you celebrate.
If you’re like me, having fun on New Year’s Eve isn’t the simplest prospect. And so this year, I turned to a professional. Who better to offer NYE advice than Justin Noel? He’s worked New Year’s for 12 years in 9 countries around the world, and he’s a New York City native — so he knows a thing or two about how to have fun on this crazy holiday. I tracked Justin down at his bar, 1534 in Soho, not long ago to get his take on the year’s most popular midnight celebration.
What’s the one thing people need to know about New Year’s in New York?
“The thing I tell all my bartenders and all my friends is that New Year’s is a shit show, always has been, always will be,” says Justin. “So understand that. Accept that. People think that every New Year’s is going to be this magical fairy tale. It doesn’t happen that way. Usually a lot of people don’t even make it to midnight because they’re blasted well before then.”
So hunker down in the panic room and wait it out?
“It’s the changeover from one year to the next. Should we celebrate it? Hell yeah! But at the same time, you gotta manage your expectations. If you go into New Year’s with the same expectations as you would a Friday or Saturday night out with friends, I guarantee you’ll have just as much fun and maybe even enjoy it more.”
What will you be featuring at 1534?
“1534 is all about the French Colonies, and so we’ll be doing some riffs on what I think are your classic New Year’s cocktails.” Justin will incorporate some French influences into his NYE cocktail menu and “play around with the different colonies.” He adds, “We’ll definitely be doing a lot of Champagne cocktails . . . riffs on the Old Fashioned, and we’ll definitely be doing some punch.”
“Yeah, man, you need to have a punch at a party; you can’t have one without it. Rum punch or Cognac punch, you’re making something festive that breaks down barriers. It’s a communal thing, like the water cooler. You put a punch bowl out on a bar, people are like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ They try it; they start talking. It’s a fun thing.”
Given your druthers, where would you celebrate?
“I [once worked] in a bar on the north island of New Zealand in a town called Mt. Maunganui, about three hours outside of Auckland. That was awesome. It’s a big surf town so New Year’s had much more of a beach theme. That beach celebration, for me, is a lot more fun than the wintry cold ones. I also find that when you party in an area where you get to wear less clothes, you tend to have more fun.”
What about the city?
“To me, New Year’s in New York is a fun night because it’s a city that has everything for everybody. If you can’t have a fun night on New Years in New York, you’re not really putting forth the effort,” says Justin. Whether you’re going to an open bar or a ticketed event, each venue is “just having a little more fun.” But he cautions against building up the evening in your mind: “people have these built-in expectations for what they want out of New Year’s Eve. Sometimes people don’t get what they thought they were paying for.”
Resolutions? How are you gonna change the world?
“You’re starting to get these spots opening up that are like crosses between cocktail bars, lounges and neighborhood bars. It’s great because at the end of the day, people are going to come out and drink. They’ll spend the money on a great cocktail, but they’re less inclined to go to spots where they’ll feel like it’s pretentious or where the mood isn’t fun.” Justin wants to make sure this trend continues at his own bar: “We can combine everything; we just have to do it in the proper way. You want to give people an opportunity to get a really great drink, but also a really great atmosphere . . . There aren’t a lot of places that are constantly doing that successfully. I think that’s where the industry needs to be going, and that’s what I’m pushing for.”
(Check out our Hooch Approved Bars for a list of great bars across the country that serve delicious cocktails with zero attitude.)
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How about some advice for people looking to celebrate the New Year?
“Learn to relax; have a good time.”