Downturn makes Downtowners cry in their less expensive beer

By Ishita Singh

Maynard Sikowski doesn’t look like he belongs at Ryan Maguire’s Ale House. With his nice suit and gold cufflinks, the 45-year-old business consultant is clearly in a different tax bracket than the mainly jeans and T-shirt clientele of this Wall St. area bar. And he really prefers 1980s vintage $400-a-bottle Opus One wine.

But the recession has turned Ryan Maguire into his new favorite dive.

“I’m at an economic class where nothing at this bar would be a splurge,” Sikowski said, as he sipped a $5 pint of Blue Moon.

These days, beer is king for the Wall St. crowd. People are shelving the haughty wines, and grabbing a beer or hard liquor instead.

The mood is different, too.

“After-work drinks used to be more celebratory,” said Gary Pai, a regular at Ryan Maguire’s on Cliff St. “But now the tone is more sulking.”

The 31-year-old software product manager was nursing a $5 pint of Guinness. Guinness is a top seller, according to bartender Gavin Doherty, because it’s not as expensive as some other beers.

“We’ve been selling a lot of beer,” Doherty added. “Miller Genuine Draft is the most popular, because it’s the cheapest. A pint for $3, a pitcher for $10. It’s popular with the young working crowd.”

Lots of Lower Manhattan pubs and dive bars are reporting the same trend. Traditional American beers like Miller, Coors and Budweiser have always been popular. But bartenders say they’re really becoming go-to drinks now.

“Very few people are ordering a $9 beer,” said Gina Carey, a bartender at Jeremy’s Ale House in the Seaport. “They’re drinking our $6 quarts of Coors Light, or doing a couple of $4 shots.”

And it seems what’s happening in Lower Manhattan is a national trend. Around the country, the sense is that more budget-conscious wine and cocktail drinkers are turning to beer, according to Rick Sellers, beer director for DRAFT magazine.

“The economy is definitely affecting what people drink,” agreed Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, an association that promotes small, independent breweries. “People are trading down in wine and spirits, but beer seems to be more resilient.”

The shift to beer has dealt a blow to Wall St.’s tony wine bars.

“Instead of coming in four days a week, our customers are coming in two days a week or less,” said Mauricio Ortegón, manager of the chic wine bar Bin No. 220 in the Seaport.

Nearby liquor stores are feeling the pinch, too. Though there are still plenty of shoppers, their choices have changed.

“People always buy alcohol, no matter what,” said Peter Muscat, owner of Maiden Lane Wine and Liquor Store. “But they’re buying less expensive stuff because they have less money. Less expensive wines especially.”

Recently, Muscat’s top seller was a 2007 Domaine Barry Côtes du Rhône, on sale for $9.99. On nearby South St., Pasanella and Son Vintners has also started offering promotions to drum up business. The cavernous store’s weekly jam sessions and movie nights, often paired with free wine tastings, have become a big hit.

“We wanted to have events where people didn’t have to spend money to have fun,” owner Marco Pasanella said. “Who doesn’t like to have a free tasting and a movie?”

Many people interviewed Downtown also said they’ve cut back on drinks when dining out.

“I’m still going out to eat once a week, but I’m not ordering as much wine,” said Mary Broydrick, a 27-year-old teacher.

Health care manager David Smithson, 40, is cutting back even more. No drinks with dinners out, period.

“That’s what kills the bills,” he said.