I remember when I used to enjoy brunch like an adult: It was a way to recap Saturday night shenanigans with a close friend over early afternoon French toast and one Bloody Mary. Very civilized. But, something happened. And now, I've wasted so much of my free time and precious cash eating a portmanteau meal that was created strictly to tamp down raging weekend hangovers. What was started by English writer, Guy Berringer in 1895 with the most admirable of intentions (hey, who can't get behind a little hair of the dog when you need it?) and fully embraced by Americans by the 1930s, has just gone overboard.
In NYC, old school Upper East Side establishment Le Bilboquet was the pioneer of the Saturday afternoon lunch party. Once former Le Bilboquet manager Aymeric Clemente took that concept downtown, by opening Bagatelle in 2009, the city's brunch culture was transformed.
These days, the hybrid feast means a group of at least five, starting around 2 p.m., and finishing four hours later in utter debauchery thanks to the all-you-can-drink mimosas we simply couldn't turn down. What the hell happened? What should be a manageable stop at a restaurant has turned into a recurring mid-day New Year's Eve celebration; it's an excessively decadent day party with spiffed-up, overpriced breakfast and lunch fare, and it takes up all of the most productive hours of the day. When an ABC Law tried to save us from ourselves last year, effectively banning those bottomless bevs, New York's thirsty citizens all but revolted, resulting in the law being quietly put away, and everyone getting back to their day-drinking worsts. Why do I do this week after week?
It starts when an alpha-friend makes the suggestion over a no-friend-left-behind group text. I usually stand strong about not going — for real this time — but the back and forth gets progressively more competitive, with restaurant suggestions, bizarre requests, and quippy comebacks, until I finally cave. Then, someone wants to bring in an out-of-town visitor, or worse, friend-mix with a whole other group, and soon we're dealing with a movement that's way too big to get a decent table anywhere without reservations. And let's be clear, this is no fine-dining situation. Even the fanciest purveyors of brunch are dishing out well vodka and scrambled eggs.
We all finally arrive in the middle of the day (even though a billed passed in 2013 allowing restaurants to start serving brunch as early as 10 a.m.) and order our first round. I definitely avoid the bottomless offerings, knowing that whatever's coming out of those stagnant pitchers can probably be compared to a brain hemorrhage in a bottle. But, that's when the savory vs. sweet dilemma begins. Bloody Mary or mimosa? Belgian waffle or huevos rancheros? I always want to go sweet but I convince myself that savory is healthier. Then, major dealmaking ensues until a multi-faceted order has been decided upon in which everyone gets a bite of every single thing their heart desires. Yep, this is a complicated, groupthink, mob-mentality affair.
After the exhausting task of choosing dishes is handled, we switch to passing the mic around Kings of Comedy style, because suddenly we're all ON, and hilarious — and our previous night's escapades? The. Funniest. Thing. Ever. In between cracking up and commending each other's hilarity, we order a second round of drinks just because the server is standing there. When the food finally makes an appearance, everyone lunges at each other's bacon. We're just one big noshing, chair-dancing family. Conversation keeps flowing along, and it seems like we're on a fun cloud with our favorite people, and now there's a DJ! Some dude never called you back? Who cares. Your boss is trying to get you transferred to Fargo? Whatever, this place is great!
Whether it's Saturday, Sunday, or the Friday after Thanksgiving, it doesn't matter; the day is shot and I've gotten nothing accomplished. That's when the self-loathing sets in: There are no refunds on the time or money spent, so all I can do is try to be extremely productive with the remaining hours before I have to go back to work. And, that's all but impossible because I really just need a nap.