Traverse City News and Events

Is Thanksgiving Eve Really The Busiest Bar Night Of The Year?

By Craig Manning | Nov. 23, 2022

It’s Thanksgiving Eve, which means tonight is the busiest bar night of the year – at least, that’s what national trends and traditions tend to tell us. But is this day nearly as busy as it’s cracked up to be? The Ticker asked around at local bars to find out – and learned that, in Traverse City at least, the reputation of this particular night of revelry might be just a tad overstated.

First off, a primer question: What led to Thanksgiving Eve winning the “biggest bar night” crown in the first place?

Experts have typically pointed to a perfect storm of different factors when explaining why this night might outpace other big out-in-public celebration days – such as St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve – as the American bar-hopping holiday. According to a 2017 article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Thanksgiving Eve’s claim to fame (or claim to infamy?) dates back to around 2007, when some punny individual had the thought to dub the day “Drinksgiving.” (The day is also often nicknamed “Black Wednesday” or “Blackout Wednesday.”)

The tradition of night-before-Thanksgiving festivities subsequently took off, particularly among young adults. People in that younger demographic are often home from college for Thanksgiving, have recently come of age, and want to reconvene with their high school friends for some pre-holiday fun. Add other reasons for bigger-than-typical bar and restaurant traffic – people not wanting to cook or entertain the night before the biggest meal prep day of the year, or the simple promise of a day off from work the next day – and Black Wednesday understandably became a nationwide phenomenon.

But while bar managers and proprietors in Traverse City acknowledge that Thanksgiving Eve brings a robust night of business, they all seem to agree on an unlikely consensus: Tonight actually isn’t the busiest bar night of the year.

“Since we opened 10 years ago, we've always heard that Thanksgiving Eve is a huge night, but it hasn't been,” says Gary Jonas, co-owner of The Little Fleet. “We've prepared to be busy and have even promoted the night as our ‘Big Damn Party.’ We've gotten DJs, burlesque dancers, catered food, and more. But over the years the business has just been good to fair on this night. It certainly is not the biggest night of the year.”

There’s a caveat there, which is that The Little Fleet’s business model is at least partially seasonal, with a key draw being outdoor food trucks that aren’t there at Thanksgiving time. Unsurprisingly, Jonas says all of the establishment’s biggest nights tend to fall in the summertime, whether it’s a festival week or just another Saturday. Even in the winter, though, Jonas tells The Ticker that it's not all that unusual for The Little Fleet to see nights busier than Thanksgiving Eve.

Other downtown bars report variations of the same story. At 7 Monks, for instance, owner Matt Cozzens notes that Black Wednesday isn’t even the biggest night of the Thanksgiving week. “Friday and Saturday of this weekend are the extremely busy days and nights for us, more so than Thanksgiving Eve,” he says. In particular, Cozzens points to 7 Monks’ annual Black Friday celebration as a big customer draw. That event features a tap list of rare dark beers and all-day discounts on lifetime "Friar's Union" memberships, with proceeds going toward a charity – this year’s being Father Fred.

That’s not to say Thanksgiving Eve isn’t a fruitful night for downtown bars. Cozzens acknowledges that traffic at 7 Monks does tend to pick up later in the evening, eventually turning into “a big-time social hour or two” of familiar faces and reunited friends before the pub closes at midnight.

At Kilkenny’s Irish Public House, meanwhile, Bar Supervisor James Tulgetske works Thanksgiving Eve every year and says it’s usually a solid top-three night of the year in terms of traffic and revenue. “Being an Irish public house, St. Patty’s Day is obviously our busiest night,” he notes. “And then New Year’s Eve would probably be behind that, with Thanksgiving Eve falling in third. Basically, we treat it like an extra Saturday. We’ll typically start getting a line out the door around 9:30pm, and we will eventually hit capacity. So, while it’s not our busiest day, it’s up there.”

But because most of the action of Black Wednesday tends to kick off later in the evening, it means that more dinner-hour-focused spots won’t see as much traffic from the night as, say, the row of bars on Union Street. According to Hannah Thomas, a manager at Bubba’s, that trend has shifted noticeably over the years, as Traverse City has added more watering holes to its downtown area.

“It used to be the biggest bar night of the year, for sure,” Thomas says of Thanksgiving Eve at Bubba's. “I've been here for 16 years, and in years past, we would be really hopping that night. But now, I feel like there are so many other places that are more of that bar atmosphere than Bubba’s, which is a restaurant and bar. So, I bet other places are busier than we are. We’ll still be fully staffed, and we will have a busy night. There are a lot of people that don’t want to cook the day before Thanksgiving and a lot of people coming into town to go out to dinner with family. So, we do get a lot of traffic, I just don’t think it’s anything like it used to be.”

Photo courtesy of 7 Monks.

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