Maybe you made a new year’s resolution to cut back on alcohol, are trying to shed some weight before bathing suit season rears its ugly head, or are looking for ways to connect with others sans beer-goggles.
But as much as it pains you to say it: You’re over traditional happy hour.
There’s a natural progression in our relationship with the beloved after-work activity. In your early twenties, there’s nothing better—you get there at six on the dot, suck as much as you can out of the two hour half-priced well drinks, and never remember how you got home. All in all, the night was a success. As you creep past 25, you still love to unwind with friends over drinks, but begin to find the atmosphere aggravating: shooting daggers at the people bodychecking you to get to the bar and doing extensive Yelp searches to find places where you can actually sit down and have a conversation with people at a normal decibel. By the time you see 30 on the horizon your Google history includes: “cool bars off the beaten path,” “trivia night,” and “bars with board games,” possibly followed by a “Who am I?” search and a mini meltdown.
It’s not that you don’t appreciate a stiff drink at a good price (that’s something that’ll never get old) or the occasional rowdy happy hour where your buttoned up co-worker finally spills the beans on their office hookup, but on a normal basis, the atmosphere leaves something to be desired. You prefer to have more to show for the three hours than a beer-fueled muffin top and a morning hangover to look forward to.
Plus, happy hour seems to run perpendicular to your new goals—learn a skill, read more, squeeze in a gym session—forcing you to choose between leisure time and productivity.
It’s time to pencil some activities into those precious after-work hours that are more physically and emotionally stimulating. And they aren’t necessarily “dry” events. The key is simply taking the focus off of alcohol and placing it on an engaging activity. Whether you’re headed out with co-workers, meeting up with old friends, or looking to meet new people altogether, here are some alternative happy hour activities to try.
Attend an exercise class.
The fitness sphere has seen a dramatic shift over the past couple of years. Working out is no longer a solitary activity: the days of finding a treadmill and zoning out to Seinfeld for an hour have given way to an increasingly social experience. Fitness trends like Zumba and Soul Cycle are built around fueling off the energy of fellow classmates, and membership programs like ClassPass encourage members to try dozens of different classes each month, infusing enjoyment and novelty into the experience. Even running, traditionally a sport done solo has become social-driven with gyms and brands like JackRabbit, Lululemon and Nike organizing free group runs (sometimes even ending in a few cold ones at a local bar). The trend is an obvious substitute for Wednesday night happy hour: an entertaining way to spend time with a few friends, meet new people, and put a workout on the books.
Set up a tea or coffee tasting.
Go for a different type of buzz by replacing the beer and wine for a mug of coffee or tea. And do it at a local craft shop, who often hold tastings and have informed employees behind the counter ready to drop some knowledge on you. Learn about the different beans and tea blends and the roasting and brewing processes, and enjoy a beverage with friends or co-workers.
Join a social sports league.
If you’re athletic by nature, and enjoyed team sports when you were younger, an adult sports league is the perfect way to spend time with friends, build new relationships, and squeeze in a workout—plus many are followed by a happy hour at a local bar (and after an hour of soccer, you’ve earned that beer). Cities across the nation have a variety of leagues available (kickball and soccer, to corn hole and bowling) where you can join as a team or an individual. The key word here is “social”. These leagues are non-competitive, and often have different levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), so you don’t need to feel intimated if the last time you ever touched a volleyball was junior year of high school.
Rave—sans the booze.
Dance parties without the inebriation have have seen a surge in popularity. And they are re-defining exactly which hours in your day you designate as “happy”. No longer is 5 to 6 p.m. the sweet spot: international events like Daybreaker rev you up (sans booze) before work (with a 6 a.m. call time and coffee and juice for libations). And lunch breaks featuring a DJ, an hour of dancing, and a healthy bagged lunch are popping up across the country.
Head to a mediation studio.
Guided meditations are another trend gaining traction in the social sphere. Instead of sitting down in your living room for ten minutes of mindfulness, you can now attend classes led by a live expert in a studio setting. “We dedicated half the space to feel like a living room, with couches and free tea,” Lodro Rinzler, co-owner of MNDFL—a brand new meditation studio in New York City—told the New York Times. The studio also hosts partly-silent, organic catered dinners (paired with water). And yoga and meditation studios around the country are even offering “Happy Hour” classes as an alternative to heading to the bar (some even end with drinks and socializing).
Take a class.
Is there a skill you’re interested in developing? Maybe you want to improve your writing or public speaking, finally nail down the basics of Excel, learn how to paint portraits or add InDesign to your resume. Skill building doesn’t have to be relegated to work hours and ambitious Sunday afternoons. Round up a group of friends or co-workers and sign up for an improv class to build your public speaking skills, a workshop at General Assembly to expand your professional skill set, or a casual instructor-led paint event at a local art studio.
Host a book club.
This doesn’t have to mimic your grandmother’s bible study. There can be wine, and tasty appetizers, and an hour of talking Netflix or sports before you dive into the book of the hour. Most of us have a goal to read more, but work and social obligations (and falling asleep on the train during your commute) keeps the long list of must-read’s untouched. Knowing a group of friends will be there to publicly shame you if you don’t read it will keep you on the ball. And if you meet once a month, that’s 12 books you can add check off your list each year.