The Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving always begins the same way at Cowboy Jack’s. The staff stocks special beer tubs, then moves most of the tables out to allow for a standing-room-only crowd in the Plymouth bar. They’re getting ready for what will be the largest party of the year: Drinksgiving.
Spurred by a rush of college students and young adults returning home, Thanksgiving eve has prompted some bars and restaurants — as well as police departments — to boost staffing levels for the onslaught of preholiday drinkers. “It’s our biggest drinking day of the year by far,” said Angela Waaraniemi, a manager at Cowboy Jack’s, far surpassing New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.
“Everyone is at home with their families and no one has to work the next day, so they all come out and fill their bellies with as much alcohol as possible,” she said.
Also referred to as Blackout Wednesday or Black Wednesday, Drinksgiving has likely been around for decades, but it didn’t get much recognition until around 2007, when the catchy term was coined. Now it’s a national phenomenon — with its own movie, 2016’s “Drinksgiving.” According to Womply, a small business consulting firm, the day accounted for 167 percent of normal daily revenue in local restaurants and bars last year.
So what’s with all the bar hopping the night before a family holiday? Toben Nelson has an idea. Bars — not homes — have become the preferred hangout for many young people, said the University of Minnesota public health professor. The night before Thanksgiving is simply a time to get together.
“It’s a pervasive social expectation,” Nelson said. “These bars may be offering specials and they serve as a place to get together. Especially for folks returning from college who have recently come of age, it’s just a logical thing to do.”
Joseph Rollwagen, a 27-year-old Eden Prairie native who now lives in New York, said he looks forward to Drinksgiving because it marks a rare opportunity for his friends — who have scattered around the country since high school — to catch up.
“Thanksgiving is kind of a one-day deal, whereas Christmas often lasts for a week,” he said. “So the night before is kind of a second Thanksgiving for the family you’ve chosen. And I’d rather have a beer than a turkey any day.”
Local watering holes are seizing on the catchy name and eager audience. In Minneapolis, Famous Dave’s and Lee’s Liquor Lounge are marketing Drinksgiving events with live bands and, in Famous Dave’s case, a $10 cover. Herkimer Pub & Brewery is advertising targeted drink specials, including a Turkey Trot shot, which it likens to a “T-Day dinner in your mouth.”
There are Drinksgiving celebrations in Victoria and Vadnais Heights, as well as shindigs in Duluth and Plymouth.
Even bars that aren’t offering Drinksgiving specials are bracing for impact — and a big cash register boost. Tom Manley, a manager at Bunny’s in St. Louis Park, said he isn’t familiar with the term, but he knows that the night before Thanksgiving accounts for the bar’s highest sales of the year. This year, Bunny’s is increasing the staff from 10 servers and bartenders to 17.
“We just staff, staff, staff and hope we treat people well,” Manley said.
Some area police departments are staffing up, too.
Maple Grove’s will increase the number of patrol officers on duty, and will have an extra unit focusing particularly on identifying potential DWIs.
According to 2011-2015 data from the Department of Public Safety, 47 people are tagged for drunken driving on a typical Wednesday — but on Drinksgiving, that number jumps to 74. The festivities coincide with what is a very busy traffic period, with 45.5 million people driving over the holiday.
“I don’t know if we’re on high alert, but we recognize that the night can be very popular and busy for restaurants and bars,” said Capt. Adam Lindquist of the Maple Grove department. “It’s an exciting time of the year, the start of the holidays. We just want everyone to remember that if they’re going to drink, to do it responsibly and utilize sober ride resources.”
That’s what many imbibers do, according to Chapin Hansen, Lyft market manager for the Twin Cities.
“Not only do we communicate closely with drivers about the need for Lyft rides in our community, but we offer incentives to ensure that drivers who are out have an increased earning opportunity,” he said.
William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the U, offers this advice for Drinksgiving-goers — and their parents. “Parents would be smart not to object to their kids going out, even if they just came home,” he said. “There will be an immersion in family the next day. It’s a trade-off.”
And for their young adults?
“Don’t be so hung over that you can hardly talk to anyone, and don’t act like you’re a prisoner of war. … Bring your best self to the family — just as you bring your best self to your friends.”