Sunday Brunch in New York City

You can find a lot in New York City that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. But if you’re in New York and all you want is a Bloody Mary with your Sunday morning brunch, I’m afraid you’re out of luck: New York State law forbids the sale of alcohol before noon on Sundays.

That’s right: if you go to brunch at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning at a New York City restaurant—no cocktails for you!

If I seem a little angry, that’s because I am. I spent Thanksgiving weekend in New York with my family, and on Sunday morning—before I boarded a train back to D.C.—my parents took us to a small Italian restaurant for brunch. The prix fixe menu included a choice of a Bloody Mary, Bellini, or Mimosa; but when I tried to order my drink, the waiter gave us the bad news: he couldn’t legally serve liquor for another hour.

Many parts of the U.S. still enforce Blue Laws despite First Amendment objections to Sunday-specific regulations. Several states still limit Sunday alcohol sales (both for on and off-premises consumption), and some states have bans on Sunday hunting and Sunday car sales.

The New York ban on serving alcohol before noon on Sundays is, in my opinion, an arbitrary (and frustrating!) infringement on people’s right to enjoy the long-standing American tradition of Sunday champagne brunch. But more importantly, the law is robbing restaurant owners of potential revenue. New Yorkers who eat before noon on Sundays are spending less on brunch than they might if cocktails were available; and those who eat after noon are competing for tables in the artificially-condensed time-frame when the bar is allowed to open. Last Sunday, when I was denied a Bloody Mary at 11 a.m., I suddenly realized why the restaurant was so empty. On Thanksgiving weekend, as tourists swarmed the streets of New York looking for ways to drop their hard-earned cash, waiters at brunch restaurants were looking at empty tables, counting down the minutes until the 12:00 rush.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that New Yorkers are putting up with this. Maybe it’s because they all sleep late on Sundays. Or maybe they’re growing used to life in the Nanny State: after all, this is the city that has recently declared war on salt, trans fats, smoking, soda, and alcoholic energy drinks.

If New York doesn’t come to its senses soon and shrug off the mantle of Big Apple Government, the city may have to rebrand itself. Old New York was Dustin Hoffman pounding on a cab yelling, “Hey, I’m walking here!” New New York is all about yielding. Frank Sinatra sang of New York, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere!” But as New Yorkers continue to be coddled by their Mommie Dearest elected officials, they may find it hard to “make it” anywhere with trans fats or—horror of horrors—smoking in public parks. The rest of America is drinking mimosas with their Sunday morning brunch while New Yorkers are drinking plain orange juice—and New Yorkers aren’t really complaining.

Maybe waking up in the city that never sleeps isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—at least, not if you wake up before noon on Sundays.

Photo Credit: Williac’s Flickr Photostream.