There is a special level of nirvana that you can only access under certain and very specific conditions: you have to be at your second bottomless brunch of the day, getting pulled by the arm into a conga line so rampant that it leaves the venue and veers out onto the street before bowling back inside. This conga has to be led by a man shaking a tambourine and dressed for all the world like Jim Carrey in The Mask. I know because I have seen it, the fourth dimension ripped open in front of my eyes by someone in a flamenco shirt handing me a drink whose flavour seems simply to be 'blue'.
Anyone versed in the art form will know that such highly strung ridiculousness is par for the course at bottomless brunch. Bottomless, as it is known mononymously, like Cher, lies at the centre of a Venn diagram whose two sides are labelled 'nice meal out' and 'extreme sport'. In recent years it has become a cornerstone of drinking culture, having found a particularly ardent demographic among young women.
Its popularity seems to have grown so much due to a convergence of a perennial love of boozing and the rise of the experience economy (the idea that people are keen to spend money on events that they can capture and share on social media rather than on boring old material goods). But there are important gendered elements to bottomless brunch that also help to explain why it’s taken off to such a degree.
To get to the bottom of the matter, however, I needed a refresher course and luckily the fates conspired to get me prosecco-hammered. A couple of Saturdays ago I went through the eye of the needle and, via a series of very happy coincidences, ended up on a cocktails-and-mini-arancini odyssey, attending three bottomless brunches in one day to see firsthand what brunch hath wrought and why it offers such an attractive option for women looking to have the world’s biggest laugh with their mates.
When I arrived at the day’s first venue, Sican in inner London's Fitzrovia, I knew I was in the right place because the women queuing outside were in full glam despite the grey weather and the 2pm start. I’d been invited along by Shiraz (also mononymous), an events and marketing director who, when I met him, was in full hosting regalia: silk shirt, Britney mic and all.
Shiraz brought me and the friend I had cajoled along inside and as we were shown to our table, "Don't Think I'm Not" by Kandi Burruss was booming from a speaker and the room was bathed in blue light. We were immediately handed glasses of prosecco. About a minute later, a drink that I believe to have been a lychee margarita was also placed on the table in front of me. At one point I had barely set down my empty glass when a full one appeared in its place, along with a bowl of edamame, some cassava fries and a sushi platter. That’s just brunch, baby: a two-hour, all-inclusive holiday.
You couldn’t call the experience relaxing in any real sense. The entertainment included a fire-eater, a dancer wielding a bottle with one of those massive sparklers hanging ominously out of the end, and a vaguely burlesque number performed by a woman wearing several balloons, which she popped, one by one, in time to "It’s Oh So Quiet". I think this feeling of Instagrammable fun and luxury speaks to why brunch is so beloved by women specifically. There’s a sense of occasion about it: a reason to get dressed up with your friends, drink girly drinks and yell along to "WAP".
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you build it, they will come, and women go to bottomless brunch in their droves because it’s a drinking experience that is largely designed for them. Women like the novelty of being in a nightlife-style space that is predominantly occupied by other women, simply because they feel safer. And for those with childcare responsibilities, the generally early start means that they’re able to go out, socialise and gossip, while having an easier time of finding a babysitter than they might if they were out late at night.
Shiraz confirms my thoughts. The demographic at the venues where he operates brunch, he says, is 70% women, although it used to be closer to 90%. "It used to be all girls, I was the only guy in there!" he tells me. Lately, things have changed a little. "Now it’s a bit more of a mixed demographic," he says. He thinks this is owing to the fact that as drinks prices increase everywhere, people of all genders are realising that brunch is a great-value option for anyone who wants to go out drinking.
I think that’s beautiful. The feminised nature of bottomless brunch – prosecco, rather than lager, is the drink of choice here – has meant that the concept has been a little maligned for some time. It belongs under the same umbrella as pornstar martinis and "live laugh love", considered basic, homogenous and, essentially, annoying. But when pints and pubs (themselves hardly markers of individuality) don’t cater to everyone, you can see how an alternative like brunch would be so in demand, especially as hun culture, the corner of the internet which celebrates a messy, hungover type of femininity, goes from strength to strength.
As everyone becomes even more conscious of the money they’re spending, options like brunches have become more of a draw: you know what you’re paying so it’s easier to set your money aside for the day, and food and drinks are included. Plus there’s the fact that all of this is probably happening in the afternoon, which adds a seductive layer of uncanny that to be honest you don’t get with a swift Tooheys of an evening. All this and the conga? Surely that’s irresistible for anyone.