When's the Right Time of Day to Start Drinking?

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
April 9, 2014

Daytime drinking at a New York bar. Photo credit: Library of Congress, Flickr

The rise of the creative class has also spurred the rise of the daytime-drinking class, according to an article in the New York Post. Freelance workers tired of battling for laptop outlets and elbow room have taken to quiet-in-the-daytime bars, pairing pints with productivity.

But daytime drinking is a longstanding tradition in America. In the 1800s, points out New York Public Library librarian Rebecca Federman, who co-curates an extensive collection of old menus, people would drink beer throughout the day because the tap water simply wasn’t safe.

By the late 1800s, through the 1900s, it became common to see bars capitalizing on the trend. “Drinking small beers was something a lot of people did,” says Federman. “Free lunch did exist in that you’d go to a bar, and [there’d be] salty foods, hams and other cold cuts. It’d be however much for a beer, and food would be free.” Indeed, in 1888, at Hotel Vendome in New York, “Smoked fish, ham and stew came gratis with a 5-cent schooner of beer at the neighborhood bar.”

Prohibition, obviously, changed the game a good bit: “[That] obviously cut down on drinking [at bars] during the day but increased attendance at luncheonettes and diners,” notes Federman, laughing.

The mid-20th century saw the revival of daytime drinking—among the moneyed set, during the three-martini lunch of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ’80s—but Federman’s educated guess is that daytime drinking has actually tapered off, with more iced teas than martinis on restaurant lunch tables.

Everyone has a different rule about when it’s cheers-o-clock: Some seem to think the tap water is still unsafe, and have a few pints throughout the day. Others swear by the “no drinks before 5 p.m.” But let’s be honest: Few things are more pleasurable than a chilled glass of rosé, on a patio, on a sunny afternoon. Even (especially) in the middle of the week.

Are you a day drinker? Put down that pint a moment, and hit us up on the Internets to let us know.