Most happy-hour menus trot out a handful of drinks to lure people through the door during those quiet moments before the real drinking starts. But at NYC’s Suffolk Arms, the oversize laminated menu contains more than a hundred different cocktails. And yes, they’re all marked down until the clock chimes 7 p.m. Proprietor Giuseppe González explains his thinking behind this most unusual phenomenon.
What’s the deal with your happy hour?
I don’t drink anymore, but when I used to drink, I would avoid happy hours like the plague. It’s often a reflection of a bar at its worst, even a bar I know to be great otherwise. It can inspire irresponsible drinking, the energy at the bar is lower, and the bartenders aren’t interacting with people.
I have the same problem that bar owners around the world have: From 7 to 9 p.m., we’re busy. Before 7, not a lot of people are coming out.
I said, Instead of 30 happy hour drinks, we’re going to do 100. It’s a good number—people remember it. And not just two-for-one Margaritas—come on, show some imagination. I said, Let’s pick 100 cocktails that people should drink.
So what’s on the menu?
These are drinks I make all the time. The Jersey Kilt, one of my favorite Islay cocktails, was at Pegu; now it’s at Goto. The Old Pepper, A Charles Baker cocktail, is a savory whiskey drink. The Jungle Bird. The Gunshop Fizz, with two ounces of Peychaud’s bitters. It gets people excited about the drink, even cocktail people. And that’s kind of the point. I’m not worried about the price. I’m more worried about showing my bar at its best.
Instead of making it easier, happy hour here is harder. Luckily, I have seasoned bartenders, who can handle getting an order with 20 different cocktails—a few shaken, stirred, frozen, rocks. It’s not easy.
Why would you want to make happy hour harder for your staff?
What sold me on the happy-hour menu is I have this ongoing problem: getting bartenders to think critically about cocktails. I don’t like training robots.
This approach gives me bartenders who know cocktails better. Over time, it gives bartenders the experience I need them to have. You have to be able to work off-menu. Milk & Honey always had that down: They solved the problem by not having any menu, so you have to talk with the bartender to get a drink.
I do it with a large menu—same effect. The bartender has to know how to navigate the menu, has to know the cocktails, the flavors. How do you get your bartenders to develop their style and not stick to a script? It comes from talking and engaging, and the more you do it, the more you benefit.
The drinks aren’t organized on the menu by spirit or by style. Is that intentional?
I had them organized once. I said, That’s way too easy. People only looked at one part of the menu. This way, it’s a forced interaction but also a natural forced interaction. I just presented something to you that you will not be able to peruse perfectly. There’s no order to it—vodka there, gin there. The bartender has to help you pick options. And the less the guest communicates with you, the more likely it is that they’re having a bad experience. It’s like a bad date. And I always want people to have an incredible experience.
It’s counterintuitive. You think that if it’s easier, you’ll be happier. But you need a little push.
That’s a lot of drinks to offer at a happy hour discount.
Price shouldn’t mean diminishing quality. I try to figure out how to give people more for their money. It’s something my grandfather used to do. If you make it accessible, people will go there.
What inspired this idea?
I was inspired by Kenny Shopsin. Have you seen his menu? It’s a complete clusterfuck; it’s representative of his mind. I remember thinking, This is wonderful, it’s beautiful, it’s overwhelming, it’s cluttered, there’s no connection between the food items. You come in thinking you want one thing, but then you order something different. I thought, This is what I want.