On a cold January Sunday in Manhattan, a block-spanning black bus with yellow details squatted outside the Royal, a sports bar near Union Square on Fourth Avenue. It was 11 AM, that ugly late-morning period when the city's hungover would be skulking down the street to get an egg sandwich, a smoothie, another beer, or whatever could stop the pounding in their heads. And that's what the bus was offering—for prices starting at $129, you could walk in and get a licensed doctor to pump you full of vitamins and medication through an IV, presumably enabling you to pop into the bar for a pint in time for the impending NFL playoff game.
The inside of the bus resembled a cross between a Wall Street bro's man cave and a clinic waiting room: leather couches and a TV at the front, a treatment area discreetly tucked behind a curtain in the back. Three women with IVs in their arms sat in silence, absentmindedly clicking through Instagram the way people do when there's nothing else going on.
The bus belongs to a company called the Hangover Club, which was founded by Asa Kitfield, the son of a doctor who knows his way around a morning-after headache. Kitfield told me that when he was a kid he'd get IVs or B-12 shots from his father whenever he was sick. As an adult, he heard about getting saline drips for hangovers, and during a trip to Miami for his bachelor party, he received one himself.
"We had a friend who was a nurse who came to my party and hooked us up with some bags," he said. "Within an hour I was feeling amazing, and thought, Wow, there's definitely something here. The first time was just a bag of saline, and I thought this was really cool, but we could improve on this."
So last year he partnered with Dr. Joshua Beer (his actual name), to set up an on-demand IV service for treating hangovers and offering "health and wellness drips." People who are skeptical of the enterprise might scoff at the idea that IV treatments can mend you any faster than a diner breakfast and coffee, or they might balk at the absurd price tag. Or you might just see a service offering a hangover cure that's endorsed by a doctor, feel the echo of last night pulse through your entire body, and go, OK, I'll pay it, whatever it is, just make it stop.
While hangovers have presumably been around as long as alcohol, scientists have never officially determined what causes them. In a 2014 story for Wired called "Everything Science Knows About Hangovers—And How to Cure Them," writer Adam Rogers explained that it "wasn't until the past decade or so that researchers even agreed to define hangover with a common group of symptoms." Obviously, that hasn't stopped humans from inventing various folk remedies over the millennia—one, from tenth-century Baghdad, involves sipping water and eating a hearty stew. In other words, the ideas behind hangover cures haven't changed much.
But the 21st century demands that the old ways of doing things are "disrupted," or at least rendered sleek and expensive. In recent years "hangover therapy" has become a trend, with a variety of companies selling mobile treatment packages where a doctor or nurse comes to your home, hotel, or office with an intravenous pick-me-up. The New York Times recently published a feature on this kind of hangover solution, noting that it's become "increasingly common in spas, specialty clinics, doctors' offices, and now house-call services… all that's required is a vein, an hour, and a few hundred dollars."
New York's most popular hangover-cure business is probably the I.V. Doctor, which was started in 2014 by surgeon Adam Nadelson and his urologist father and has now expanded to the Hamptons, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The company's hangover solution includes at least 1,000 milliliters of lactated ringers—the stuff in IV bags that rehydrates you—along with vitamins B and C, though you can get packages with medications that fight heartburn, nausea, or pain.
As the Times story pointed out, the formula is almost identical to the Myers' Cocktail, the intravenous nutrient deficiency and dehydration cure created by Dr. John Myers in the 60s.
"It's not a new tool," Nadelson told me over the phone, "It's just a way of providing it." Or rather, imbuing the tool with enough glamour that work-hard-play-hard types are willing to spend hundreds of dollars (after probably spending hundreds more on booze the night before) on something that doesn't sound any more sophisticated than a coconut water.
The Hangover Club relies on similar branding—the company's Instagram account is filled with the types of drinking and hangover jokes you'd find on Bro Bible or Total Frat Move—though it has one thing the I.V. Doctor doesn't: the bus, which lets hungover people commiserate while their feeble, liquor-ridden bodies suck up vitamins.
When I asked what sets his business apart from the competition, however, Kitfield emphasized the science-y side of things: "It's probably our protocols—we're the only ones who offer the vitamins we offer, such as a Glutathione detox push, which is a very cool, master antioxidant to clean the free radicals out of your body that build up after a night of heavy drinking."
Not that the company encourages alcohol consumption, of course. "We don't really want to support more drinking," said Kitfield. "We look at this therapy like a whoops button. Maybe you didn't eat dinner last night, went out with friends, three vodka sodas turned into too many, and you have something to do today where you can't be hung over, then we're that whoops button that brings you back and lets you continue on with your day."
(It's worth noting that the Hangover Club isn't in the business of helping to cure the aches and pains resulting from coke or ecstasy use. "This is strictly for dehydration and those other symptoms," said Kitfield. "We don't service people under the influence of illegal drugs because there are too many risks associated with that.")
Kitfield's competitors have criticized his lack of medical experience and see his bus as a risky attention-grabbing gimmick. "Having a bus outside a bar is dangerous," said Nadelson. "If someone comes out from the bar drunk and just gets on the bus, you don't know their blood alcohol content levels. You don't know how they will react to the IV."
Entrepreneurs offering hangovers cures have plenty of incentive to resort to publicity stunts and badmouthing one another in the press—most of what they do comes down to marketing. None of the companies offering literal shots in the arm or IV drips for hangovers have patented any products, and there's no such thing as an FDA-endorsed hangover cure.
Dr. Damaris Rohsenow, an alcohol and drug abuse researcher at Brown University, who also co-founded the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, doubts that these businesses are really providing any useful service. "In all the years I have been conducting hangover research, I have seen no studies validating any commercial products," she told me over email. "There is no evidence to support the use of vitamins as a hangover remedy, and there is no evidence at all that electrolytes would have any role in reducing hangover by any mechanisms." She added that a there is "no need for a costly IV drip, since you are perfectly able to drink water" to counteract your dehydration.
In other words, lying around in bed and nursing yourself back to some semblance of health is about as effective as getting a medical professional to pump you full of fancy water.
I was allowed to try the Hangover Club's most expensive service, the Mega Package, which is $249 if they come to your house and $169 on the bus. It's chock full of prescription-grade nausea and headache pain medication, "Super B's Vitamin Booster," the Glutathion detox push, liquid magnesium, and a high dose of vitamin C. Plus, they offered me a beer—"two beers for the price of one," someone said in reference to Dr. Beer.
I filled out a medical history form, like at any doctor's office, and the staff nurse was professional and friendly as she brought me to the treatment area and stuck a tube into my arm. At first, I was overwhelmed by the smell of plastic coming off the hypodermic needle, then after a few minutes my face flushed with warmth as my veins began gulping down that sweet, sweet saline. The nurse commented on how I was absorbing the treatment particularly fast, then told me a story about a customer who got nauseous at the beginning of the drip and vomited all over the bus. She didn't say if she was able to remove the needle first.
The women getting the treatment said it worked for them, and I couldn't deny I felt better, but I wasn't all the way restored to health. I was a bit too alert, slightly jittery, blurry around the edges. Then again, maybe that's the perfect mood to walk into a bar with and start partying again.
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