Exploring The Roots Of Binge Drinking

bar story continental drink specials
bar story 13th step beer specialSimon McCormack Bars around the East Village, including The Continental (top) and the 13th Step, regularly offer promotional deals on alcoholic drinks. Research has found a link between those promotions and instances of binge-drinking.

Kelly Kellam and Michael Russinik were walking on Third Avenue near St. Marks Place when something caught their eye.

The sign over the door of the Continental bar where Mr. Kellam and Mr. Russinik found themselves one early Wednesday evening read simply: “5 shots of anything $10 all day/all night.”

“We said jokingly, ‘Hey, let’s each go get five shots’ and then there was that awkward pause,” Mr. Russinik said. “Then we were, like, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Mr. Kellam and Mr. Russinik said they would not have come into The Continental if it weren’t for the prominently advertised drink special. But do bargain drink prices at bars encourage people to drink too much?

Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said bars have a major impact on drinking culture.

“The research finds a significant link between price-related alcohol promotions, easy access to alcohol and binge drinking,” Ms. Foster said in an e-mail message. “Study findings suggest that an environment that is not only conducive to drinking, but encouraging of drinking, and in which alcohol is inexpensive and easily accessed, makes excessive alcohol use seem normal.”

The New York City Health Department defines “binge drinking” as consuming five or more drinks in a night.

Isabella Turturro, a bartender at The Continental, said she has to make sure customers don’t over order, because sometimes they can’t accurately gauge how much alcohol they’re drinking.

“It’s almost like a buffet where people will think they’re fine and then order more because their eyes are bigger then their stomachs,” Ms. Turturro said. “When people do come up here immediately after they’ve just ordered, I maybe ask them to take a minute and make sure they’re fine.”

Mr. Kellam said he doesn’t think bars like The Continental encourage binge drinking, but they might attract the type of clientele who are more likely to drink excessively.

“It has more to do with what’s going on in that person’s life and whether or not they can control themselves,” Mr. Kellam said. “But these types of drink specials probably attract people that binge drink. They’re not the type of people who have one drink a night.”

bar story continentalSimon McCormack A sign outside The Continental advertises drink specials.

Gretchen Hartig, a bartender at The 13th Step on 149 Second Avenue, said her bar’s drink specials are what separate it from the other bars in the East Village.

Patrons can get $1 drafts from 8 p.m. until closing on Tuesdays, $3 beers or shots on Wednesdays and $1 beers and $2 shots during Saturday “Power Hour” beginning at 8 p.m.

“You can get a lot more for your buck here,” Ms. Hartig said. “You can go out and have a good time and get pretty damn drunk for half price, depending on the night.”

But Randy Shehady, 13th Step’s co-owner, said people who want to drink a lot will do just that, regardless of what drink specials his bar offers.

“You can get cheap drinks anywhere in the city,” Mr. Shehady said. “If you go to a grocery store or deli, you can buy a six pack for the price of one beer. If you want to get drunk, you’re gonna get drunk.”

Ms. Foster said bars can help limit binge drinking by training staff to refuse alcohol sales to customers who are obviously intoxicated, serving alcohol in standard sizes, limiting sales of pitchers of alcohol, and promoting alcohol-free drinks.

“Unfortunately, there is little incentive for alcohol establishments to implement these policies,” Ms. Foster said.

Leo Santiago, a bartender at the Odessa Cafe and Bar on 119 Avenue A, said his bar has two-for-one drink specials because they keep customers coming back.

“We always offer something here to make people happy,” Mr. Santiago said. “That’s what we’re all about.”