I Paid $400 to Eat Olive Garden in Times Square on New Year's
Yes, there were breadsticks.
All photos by the author
A couple of years ago, some of the chain restaurants in Times Square began hosting VIP New Year’s Eve parties. They quickly sold out, despite them costing a small fortune to attend.
Just before New Year’s Eve last year, my friend Zach told me about one of these parties, a soirée at the Olive Garden on 47th Street. While we laughed about how weird it sounded and joked about who might attend such a party, it planted in me a deep curiosity.
Though I’ve lived in the New York City area my entire life, I had never been to New Year’s in Times Square—and while it might sound tacky, it's something I’ve always wanted to do. I don't care about the TV stuff, or the musical performances. I’m talking about the moment when the clock strikes midnight and the confetti falls like rain. I've always had a bit of FOMO about not being there. It's the place to be on New Year’s Eve.
I arrived at the Olive Garden five hours before midnight, an hour before the restaurant was set to open for the night. When the doors opened and reality began to set in, I began to regret my decision to skip a friend’s party with my girlfriend in order to spend my evening alone in a chain restaurant. As the night got later, however, my enthusiasm grew.
I’m not sure what I was really expecting regarding the food. On the top floor of the three-story restaurant, way in the back, they had a buffet featuring breadsticks (never-ending, of course), the famous "Five Cheese Ziti," and some other OG classics. The dessert table had a modest assortment of cakes and brownies and an empty coffee dispenser. Again, not sure what I was expecting, but for $400 a head, you'd think they would have stepped it up. The buffet ended at 9:30 PM, which felt like a weird move, but that’s when the fun really began.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a DJ with a light show and a fog machine started pumping mist over patrons eating nearby. Censored versions of Lil Jon, Sean Paul, and other Bar Mitzvah party classics began to play. And then the 300 people in attendance rushed the dance floor. That's when things got freaky. With the open bar only a couple of steps from the dance area, the moves started getting much more explicit than the music.
This went on until 11:45 PM, when the DJ ushered us all outside. In a little section designated exclusively for Olive Garden customers, right next to people who'd been waiting outside all day, we watched the clock strike midnight. The confetti cannons went off, and everyone sang Frank Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York.” Some people kissed. Cops hugged each other. Near the entrance of the Olive Garden, a woman vomited up her unlimited breadsticks.
I went into Olive Garden that night with humorously low expectations and ended up having the best New Year's Eve of my life. Ignoring the absurd ticket price and the hot goo that they called pasta, the event was absurdly fun. It was great to be in Times Square, in a heated building with great views of all the events and a well-staffed open bar on each of the three floors keeping everyone properly sauced. There were more guests in their 20s and 30s than I expected, but people in their 50s and 60s were just as lively.
To my surprise, once all the confetti had fallen, people went back inside to the dance floor—and there we stayed until late in the night when Olive Garden staff kicked us all out.
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