There’s drunk shopping, and there’s Drunk! Shopping! The former is a truly pedestrian experience: tipsily shopping online from bed only to receive, a day or two later, a large mystery package that contains a single electric-toothbrush replacement head. But Drunk! Shopping! is something different. Something beautiful, really. It’s me in the shoe department at the new seven-floor, 320,000-square-foot Nordstrom flagship at 12:03 p.m. on a weekday, sipping my third “Greenwich Village,” a prosecco-based cocktail that guarantees I will have a hangover by three.
Since the store opened in midtown Manhattan in October, most of the reviews have mentioned a feature that sounds more like an urban legend. Following an afternoon spent testing the limits, I can assure you the mentions are true: This new Nordstrom has a liquor license. In addition to drinking in the five restaurants and two full-service bars, you can have drinks and snacks delivered to you while you fondle the clothing racks or try on shoes or avoid knocking over an intricately designed handbag display. Nordstrom allows us to drink, eat, and shop all at the same time, like we’re living out some sort of Etsy cross-stitch mantra.
Fun hasn’t been synonymous with department store for some time, and on the day I visit, I’m immediately reminded why. There’s the too-bigness, the migraine-inducing fluorescence and pop music, the Christmas decorations. The chaos of too many purchasable shoes and beauty products and jewelry and jeans and dresses makes me want to sit on the floor and cry like an overstimulated toddler.
Before I can yell, “This is why we stay home!” and bolt, I’m approached by an employee named John, who, maybe picking up on my crazed energy, gently takes my arm. “The store can be overwhelming,” he says soothingly, as he begins to show me all the ways I can destroy my liver and my credit score in tandem. “Here is ladies’ athleticwear. And over here,” he coos, “is the area where you can buy fine jewelry but also get your ears pierced Thursdays through Sundays.”
And then the two bars: first, a refined, pastel-heavy nook called the Broadway Bar, where shoppers can sit and unwind while looking onto, well, Broadway; it offers signature cocktails like the $17 Husband Daycare, which I imagine is insulting to some men. Second is the Shoe Bar, a large, vaguely Art Deco establishment in the center of the lower-level shoe department that I predict will turn into the store’s “party central.” Both provide places to sit while you consume, but you can also stop any sales associate to order whatever you want — from a glass of Champagne to a goblet of wine (yes, even red) — as you roam.
While we tour, I feel compelled to confirm that any spot I stand in can be turned into my own little bar. In designer shoes, I ask, “Oh, John, might I request a tequila on the rocks to sip while I try on these Gucci loafers?” (Aggressive, but yes.) While he shows me the dressing rooms with smart mirrors, I ask, “Wait, John, can I drink in there while I try on jeans?” (Yes. You can even call a salesperson to place a drink order via a screen — and control the lighting.) “But John,” I say, as we weave through racks of high-end designers, “what if I were to spill my glass of Cabernet on this Burberry?” (“We trust our customers!”) “Should you, though?” (Yes.) “Yoo-hoo, John! I wanna get drunk and try on lipsticks in beauty! Can we?” (No.) What? No. Booze can be served only on five of the seven levels — not on level one (beauty, fine jewelry, non-shoe accessories) or level four (women’s clothing).
“But we’re not the fun police,” says Garet, my new best friend, at the Shoe Bar, where he is giving me the full experience. He recently moved from Seattle to work at the New York store, and though I’m certain the job description didn’t include dealing with an inebriated me, Garet is all about making this a day. He explains that, while drinking is prohibited in some areas, nobody will “tackle” me should I saunter from level three (booze) through level four (no booze) to level five (booze!) while holding a drink. Nordstrom’s gambit, it turns out, is that it can beat the retail odds by acting like the perfect hostess.
I’ll be honest: At first, Garet seems slightly alarmed at having to procure a drink and six different pairs of Western boots for me to try on. But by the time he hands me my second Greenwich Village, we’re in a groove. Now he says, leaning forward conspiratorially while I sip, “Do you have a combat boot?” We try on several. As a lithe bartender with a short Afro brings me my third cocktail in 45 minutes, Garet recognizes a new willingness to experiment with footwear. “How about heels?” Garet certainly isn’t my fun warden; he is my fun enabler. I clap my hands and slip on some red patent-leather stilettos.
At this point, I am sort of slurring. I tell Garet “to make me pretty” before having a slight breakdown as I discover I’ve gone up half a shoe size. I need to get lunch. I leave Garet with two hugs and a promise to come back for the boots. (I will forget to do that.) As I shovel French fries and crispy chicken wings into my mouth at one of the on-site restaurants — clearly, they anticipated that shoppers would need drunk food — I realize the people around me are not on my level: shoppers buying Christmas presents and an older gentleman eating alone and reading the paper. I go in search of kindred souls. Back down at the Shoe Bar, I discover two women finishing martinis. They’re from Dallas so are not as impressed by the ability to shop and drink freely. (Dallas has one of the 13 other Nordstroms with liquor licenses.) They grab their big Louis Vuitton totes to make their personal-styling appointments, where they’ll be trying on gowns for their friend’s black-tie wedding. They’ll have a bottle of prosecco while they do it, they explain.
I decide to follow the rule of Legally Blonde: If you’re feeling lonely, find the nearest nail salon. In Beauty Hall (level one), one can, yes, order a drink but also get a blowout or a wax or, as in my case, hold a manicurist hostage while sipping prosecco.
It is now 3 p.m. — the official happy hour — and I am drunk enough for my final challenge: drinking among clothes that cost more than what’s in my bank account. I enter Space — the in-store boutique for hip, young designers — and move on to the Dries Van Noten boutique, where I bury my face in a pair of high-waisted gray wool pants that Shiv Roy would definitely own. They’re available only in a size that’s roughly two smaller than I usually wear, but when a salesperson asks if I want to try them on, “What the hell,” I say. “Why not!” And while we’re at it, I’ll grab dresses that look like they’re made for small Amish children, pants that are half my rent, and leather shirts, even though I sweat a lot. She takes me to a dressing room, then I order a drink called a Billionaire.
Fifteen minutes later, while I’m trying to wriggle myself into those Dries Van Noten pants we all knew weren’t going to fit, I’m startled by a knock. “It’s me, with your drink,” the salesperson says cautiously. I lunge for the door and hear a loud rrrrzzzzziiip from the pants. Remember how John trusts his customers to drink around clothes? Well, here I am disappointing John. I open the door, refusing to look down at the damage, and grab my bourbon cocktail. Door closed, I assess. The pants didn’t rip; I just forgot how zippers work. Next, I try on a dress. I use the iPad by the mirror to change the lighting to “clurrrrb” dark, and I stand there sipping bourbon in my slinky black velvet dress and decide, I’m buying.
At some point, I’ll be mad about the money I spent, but right now, I am a new woman with a new dress, who will return to this new Nordstrom, the best bar in New York. And a week later, in fact, I head right back. Sober. To return the dress I bought when I was drunk.
*This article appears in the December 23, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!