Should we splurge on a $100 baked potato at 10 p.m. on a Monday night? It’s a question I ask my friend as we settle into a back banquette at New York’s scene-iest piano bar, The Nines. Despite the less-than-prime reservation time, the red-hued bar is packed. A table crowded with Gen Zers sings “Happy Birthday” to a friend, while at a nearby two-top, much older men work their way through the bar’s complimentary snacks: potato chips, olives and nuts, served in a caddy of crystal bowls. A pianist at the back of the room sets the sultry yet playful tone, seamlessly transitioning among jazz standards, classic rock and popular TikTok anthems, like Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”
Browsing the menu by flickering candlelight, there’s no question that we’ll be ordering the No. 9 Martini, the bar’s signature stirred combo of gin, vermouth and manzanilla served with a chilled sidecar to keep us going. We skipped the three-figure baked potato topped with caviar. Maybe next time.In a pandemic-changed world of nightlife, where disco balls hang from nearly every ceiling, cocktails lean into nostalgia and every reservation is an opportunity to showcase an OOTD, the drink-and-a-show evening has also found an audience. “[It’s] transportive and brings guests to a time when going out was more of a celebration,” says Jon Neidich, chief executive of Golden Age Hospitality, which opened The Nines in 2021. “I think about café society culture, when going out was a big deal, people got dressed up a little more, it was an occasion.” The idea of a drink theater is nothing new. But unlike the previous generation of drink theater venues known to attract tourists, these new venues place food and beverage at their core, with the entertainment acting as a bonus. The genre’s revival also comes as we’re more eager to turn a night out into an event, and to order cocktails worth their inflation price tags.