lifestyle

Bottomless brunch: unlimited prosecco sounds like a good idea – until you’re on your fifth glass


I was eavesdropping, on a bus. What struck me was less the content than that the couple didn’t look like the kind of young people this kind of thing would happen to. They looked like they played touch rugby and drank alcohol-free gin. But anyway …

At a bottomless brunch, the girl’s friend had been ejected after 45 minutes. She wasn’t even that drunk – the bouncer had just decided she was. “What was she doing that made them think that?” is the question the guy should have asked, but clearly he wasn’t a trained journalist. While the bouncer was outside arguing with the friend, a third bruncher, a man, stood up – he, again, wasn’t that drunk, apparently – and just happened to fall clean over, like a tree that had been chainsawed. Then they all got kicked out, and wasn’t that quite unfair, given that they had each paid £30 to drink as much prosecco as they humanly could?

I nodded in silent, eavesdroppers’ agreement: it was unfair. But then, I think the whole fandango of the bottomless brunch is pretty rum.

Prosecco is not the only bottomless option – cocktails are another favourite – but it’s the clear frontrunner. My Mr is a fierce prosecco-phobe, so I have only done it once or twice. It’s so-so value, I suppose. You have to be drinking pretty fast to make it worthwhile, considering a regular bottle in a bar would be only £24 and it’s so early in the day. There’s also usually a time limit of 90 minutes, even for people who don’t fall over, which goes against both the principle of brunch (an American import, possibly their only contribution to laziness) and that of binge-drinking (homegrown, signifying that, once you have started, you don’t stop).

Recently, themes have started to spring up: a Mexican-themed taco bottomless brunch, a drag theme. I was snooty about these from a distance, believing them to be a calculated distraction from the main downside: that the other tables are fiendishly noisy. Something in that combination of drinking so fast, and the drink always being fizzy and usually stronger than beer – some mysterious alchemy – makes everyone shout their heads off. I hate being that person who glares at people who are laughing. Yet when I hear the joke, because it was delivered at 10,000 decibels, and it wasn’t that funny, but the blast of laughter afterwards could lift a toupee, I’m afraid I am that person.

Anyway, as I dove deeper into the themes, I came across the West End musical bottomless brunch, and even though this was more expensive and I hate pastries and muffins, and I couldn’t drink 65 quid’s worth of anything in an hour and a half, you could rinse me for any amount of money for showtunes.

The marketing for this kind of thing is usually heavily feminised “girls’ day out” kind of stuff, the language of the spa day without the wellness. This is in marked contrast to the original all-you-can-drink concept, which was (look away if you can’t abide international bickering) from either Tokyo or Moscow or New York or Ayia Napa. Someone I know who can remain anonymous (my brother) used to go to Tokyo specifically for the nomihoudai, which neatly translates as all-you-can-drink, a companion activity to the tabehoudai, all-you-can-eat, and had precisely no complaints except that there were never any women there. It’s possible he was just frequenting the wrong establishments. It’s possible, in fact, that he never made this complaint, I just guessed it after asking him for the 17th time whether or not he had a girlfriend. It’s possible that he is actually married, but doesn’t want to reward my curiosity by mentioning it.

Nomidoudai tend to be really good value – about a tenner – but this is where the 90- or 120-minute slots originated, and there is a ton of accrued etiquette. You’re not supposed to take a sip until everyone is present, so people hate you if you’re late. It’s very vulgar to order five drinks as your final round – I don’t know why I called this etiquette, this is just “try to be normal” – and you should never try to tack a second nomihoudai on to your first. That said, you can always go somewhere else and do it again. There are bizarro places where you have to order everything you will want to drink in the first 10 minutes, ripoff joints where the drinks are ersatz beer and watery cocktails, and places where you can negotiate your terms with a tout outside the bar, but frankly, you could put that kind of chutzpah and language skill to better use, maybe start a gambling ring or fight crime.

On balance, I feel that there are so many downsides, pitfalls, rip-offs and hazards to the bottomless brunch that you could save more money just drinking half a bottle of vodka before you go out. But the young people on the bus disagreed; they were pretty adamant that if they could just shed the rogue elements of their group, they would be back next week.



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