Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Let’s mute the snobbery, at least until the holidays are over.
A few years ago, my aunt and cousins drove down from Toronto in wet, heavy, miserable snow to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I couldn’t understand it.
They’d have to queue up in the middle of the afternoon! They’d have to see Ryan Seacrest’s pinched face and disarming enthusiasm projected on a massive billboard! They’d be surrounded by people who might literally be crapping their pants with excitement, or because it was too crowded to weave their way to a bathroom through the throngs of revelers freezing their drunken butts off.
It’s so easy to hate on the New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square. The party generates lots of trash (last year, 48 tons of it). Packing a million people into a few-block radius puts police on high alert. And it’s tacky. With sparkly glasses and hats, flurries of confetti, unsubtle product placement, and performances from pop stars, it’s garishly, wildly, unapologetically tacky. Many self-styled urban sophisticates can’t understand why that would be fun for people.
Take, for instance, this year’s installment of the annual eye-rolling. The Olive Garden restaurant in Times Square has gotten a lot of flack after the New York Post reported that it’s charging $400 a person for a New Year’s Eve dinner of sauce-smothered pasta and a “limited view” of the ball drop. (Bubba Gump Shrimp, which has a better view of the glittery ball, charges $799 per person; at the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday, prices range from $349 to $1,699.)Quips flew fast and furious on Twitter:
The Olive Garden in Times Square is charging $400 for their NYE party. Because "When you're here you're.....obviously out of options".— Michael Bennett (@BennettOnAir) December 29, 2015
@NishaChittal you'd honestly have to pay me $400 to eat at the times square olive garden on a regular day.— nick ramsey (@nick_ramsey) December 28, 2015
Essentially, you could be in an Olive Garden in Topeka and have the same experience, but just with more potential for people peeing in the doorway of the restaurant all day.
But that’s the thing: For some of the people who want to spend New Year’s in New York, the city is the whole point. The appeal is that it’s not Topeka. On the eve of 2010, one partygoer summed it up this way to the New York Daily News:
Many people would disagree with Trevino’s conclusion, but the point is, for him, the lit-up intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway is something wondrous. That’s a thread that Kevin Roose teased out this morning over at Fusion. Roose wrote:
Try putting yourself in the shoes of a potential Olive Garden New Year’s Eve guest. Let’s say you’re a chiropractor from Des Moines who made a little extra money this year, and you want to spend New Year’s Eve doing something really special. You’ve been watching Dick Clark on TV since you were a kid, and going to New York City to see the ball drop in Times Square has always seemed, to you, like the apex of luxury. You love the bright lights of Times Square, the glitz and bustle of Manhattan, and the collectively ecstatic experience of counting down as a bejeweled ball drops from the sky onto a bunch of awe-struck revelers.
To understand why someone would shell out $400, he adds:
You just have to stifle your reflexive snobbery.
Sure, the Times Square Olive Garden isn’t a charming, hole-in-the-wall eatery. (And it currently has a C rating from the Health Department.) But it’s not necessarily terrible, either.
One Yelp reviewer, who complained of burnt pasta and appallingly un-cheesy Alfredo sauce, begrudgingly awarded the branch a few stars, anyway.
“Pity stars,” she clarified. “Because it's not the worst you can eat.”
I agree with Roose: Olive Garden on New Year’s Eve isn’t the worst you can do.