Happy hour, the after-work tradition, may be on the decline nationwide, but it has become a booming business in downtown White Plains.
The city of White Plains has transformed itself into a destination for those looking to relax and blow off some steam after work, with numerous bars, especially on downtown Mamaroneck Avenue, catering to the happy-hour crowd.
Bars across the country have seen the tradition disintegrating, with an economic recession that has made people more cautious with their dollar. The loss of manufacturing jobs, concerns about healthy living and stiffer drunken-driving penalties are also to blame for happy hour’s decline.
Smoking in bars, illegal in Westchester and elsewhere, has also caused the decline. Bar owners have said that smokers simply choose to drink at home, rather than go to a place where they can’t light up.
Since the economic recession, beer drinking has declined by 5 percent, according to the Beer Institute, a Washington-based trade group.
“Contrary to the myth that people go out and drown their sorrows, the truth is that beer drinkers are pretty responsible people and when they have to cut back, they’re cutting back on their pleasures,” said Chris Thorne, vice president of communications at the Beer Institute.
A place like White Plains, with more white-collar than blue-collar workers, has not been subject to the same happy hour malaise plaguing the rest of the country.
The Brazen Fox has become one of the city’s most popular happy-hour destinations since it opened in 2008. Manager Neal Alpuche said the bar’s prominent location at 175 Mamaroneck Ave. makes it a perfect meeting place.
“Happy hour is a starting point for us,” Alpuche said. “People like to come and see other people, they like to see what we have going on.”
Brazen Fox offers wine by the glass, discount martinis and appetizer samplers during happy hour. Alpuche said their bar is a place for people to be social, with its horseshoe- shaped bar allowing for better interaction.
“We market a reasonable price,” Alpuche said. “The prices aren’t sky high for food or drink; we appeal to a regular middle-class demographic.”
Ron Blacks Beer Hall is next to Brazen Fox at 181 Mamaroneck Ave. Both bars are owned by Declan Rainsford, who also runs Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers. Ron Blacks appeals to a similar demographic as Brazen and patrons frequently go back and forth between the two during happy hour.
Ron Blacks happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. with lunch specials Thursday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Happy hour deals include $4 drafts and $5 wine by the glass, with sliders, tacos and waffle fries going for $2.50. The bar also attracts a late night crowd with a DJ.
“We are busy at all different times of the day,” manager Peter Quinn said.
While Ron Blacks still does well during happy hour, Quinn said he has seen some impact from the recession. Quinn remembers working in lower Manhattan where people would cash their checks at the bar on payday and then spend all their money that night.
Ron Blacks features a mix of students and white- and blue-collar workers. “We are a destination for people from all over Westchester,” Quinn said. “We have 40 beers on draft and we’re constantly changing.”
Quinn said that having so many bars on Mamaroneck Avenue is good for business since it brings in more people to the area and more people into Ron Blacks.
“We welcome all competition,” he said. “Whatever gets people here. We see people rotate from one place to the next.”
Butterfield 8 is the new kid on the Mamaroneck Avenue block. John Gazzola, a partner in the restaurant, also runs Mulberry Street Italian Kitchen at 189 E. Post Road and Lola’s Mexican Kitchen at 147 Mamaroneck Ave. Butterfield 8, located at 147 Mamaroneck Ave., opened in October.
Gazzola said the restaurant has done good happy hour business since it opened, with $3 beer, $4 wine and $5 mixed drinks served from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“The happy hour concept is conducive to the crowd that we draw,” Gazzola said. “There’s a lot of corporate business in the area. White Plains is the hub of Westchester for a lot of different segments of business.”
While other restaurants and bars focus on atmosphere or drinks, Gazzola said that Butterfield 8’s food is its main draw.
“We have a big open kitchen that you see when you walk in. We have customers that come in just for dining and we have an overflow of people that come in for happy hour and then stay for dinner.”
On the 42nd floor of the Ritz-Carlton Westchester on Renaissance Square, the restaurant 42 offers a different experience than the bars on Mamaroneck.
42’s happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with drink specials and food specials, including its popular $1 oysters.
“White Plains is becoming a destination,” said Christine Goncalves-Bedder, chief of staff at 42. “We are so unique, being 42 floors up. We offer a really great ambience with great views. We strive to create the best guest experience through services and cuisine.”
Like Butterfield 8, 42 is focused on its cuisine, offering a mix of New American with Portuguese dishes, with an extensive wine and beer list.
Among the workforce, happy hour is still popular. In a recession, patrons said they seek out places with good drink specials. Debbie Muscara and Stephanie Gonzalez, who work at Citrin Cooperman in White Plains, said they both love The Brazen Fox.
“They offer good food and atmosphere,” Muscara said. “They also have $4 drafts. We tried others, but we always come here. It’s the one and only.”
Not everyone is into happy hour. Robert Signore, a banker at Bank of America, said when his coworkers go to happy hour, he hits the gym.
“I’ve never been a happy hour guy,” he said. “When I go out to drink, I drink. It’s just a marketing ploy to entice people to come in.”