DuJour Navigation

Going on a Juice Crawl

A veteran party animal takes on the latest craze in healthful hedonism

I’m on my fourth lap around a block on lower Fifth Avenue when I finally stop to ask myself: What am I doing here? It’s barely past noon on a sunny Sunday, and I’m about to join a three-hour trek from a Northern Indian–inspired dance class to a selection of Manhattan’s most popular juice bars. This is something that’s way outside of my comfort zone; customarily I’d still be under the covers or maybe on the couch, but definitely not walking the streets with athleisure-clad strangers. Normally I won’t even go to brunch.

Ever since I moved to New York City in the late 1970s, I’ve thought of it as a place synonymous with excess and indulgence. But lately, that New York has been less recognizable. Maybe it’s because my favorite haunts and nightclubs are long gone and, like the Hank Williams Jr. song goes, all my rowdy friends have settled down. They’re married with kids, sober, grown up or they just can’t bounce back like they used to. At 47, I’m definitely in the latter camp—all the more reason it makes sense for me to be downing shots of Clean Green Protein instead of any more familiar libations.

But here I am at the Juice Crawl. Billed as “a healthy-living social event” and denounced by the Manhattan tabloids as the death knell of local nightlife, the monthly happening is turning the time-honored tradition of a boozy bar crawl on its head for New York’s new breed of health-conscious hedonists, intent on exercising and guzzling macerated kale the way previous generations swilled beer.

The mastermind behind the operation is Anna Garcia, who moved here from St. Louis in 2010 to study the trumpet. When health issues, including pre-diabetes, came up, she decided to change her lifestyle. In the summer of 2012, Garcia asked friends to do something fun and different—read: no boozing—to celebrate her 26th birthday, and the Juice Crawl was born. Since then, it’s taken off. So far there have been nearly 20 events, with timely themes (e.g. Earth Day and even St. Patrick’s Day) and up to 50 participants at once, and it’s not just finding crowds in New York. “I want to see how far I can take it,” Garcia says. “I’ve been speaking to people in D.C., L.A. and Boston—so it’s already started.”

Still, the whole experience sounds much easier than it is. Inside a women’s active-apparel store, check-in is underway. Downstairs in an exercise studio, a few dozen ladies—and three men—are preparing for the “Masala Bhangra” dance class; one peppy participant suggests I join in, but instead I sit on a yoga mat, watch them stretch and nervously drink a spinach-watercress-cucumber-lime concoction. A tiny middle-aged woman crouches nearby and makes conversation. After a minute of sweet talk, she makes her move: asking if I’ll take her phone and film her dancing. Feeling drained already, I agree.

The music is especially loud when you’re sitting right next to the speakers. The women wave their arms in the air, up and down, then clap, slap their thighs, holler “Whoo!” in unison; they stomp, do-si-do, spin, twirl, do a kick and jump. It’s like watching a marching band break into Riverdance.

By 2:25 p.m., everyone is cooling down and it’s time for “pre-game” juice shots before the crawl begins. Garcia sets up plastic cups on a table and starts pouring them out. “Pace yourselves, we have more places to go,” she says. “We’re going to be pounding ’em?” I ask. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “It’s gonna get wild.”

The first stop is one of Manhattan’s 22 Juice Press outlets. Jane, a 30-year-old nanny from Westchester, agrees to walk and talk. “My impression of this is: absolutely amazing,” she says. “For me it’s about finding like-minded individuals because I’m a non-drinker. This is a focus on health and also having a good time in a different type of environment.”

At The Juice Shop, less than a block away, I meet 27-year-old personal trainer Diana, who is wearing a mink coat over her spandex. “I am a juice snob and I’m very proud of it,” she says. “I can tell by looking at a menu if a place is legit or not.” She then holds forth on red, green, and yellow juices, tonics, hydrators and Juice Press, which she thinks is a bit granola but still legit. Her favorite place is Jugofresh in Miami.

“If you’re not a party person, not a drinker, then this is how you have your fun,” Diana tells me at the crawl’s last juice joint, Terri.

“I get just as much a rise from that as most people checking out the new bar or nightclub.” (When I asked an old drinking buddy if he’d be interested in a Juice Crawl, he confessed that it inspired violent thoughts. “I would want to kill people,” he said.)

Six weeks later, I accidentally went on a classic bar crawl in Manhattan. It began at 7 p.m. and the plan was to get home by midnight. The first stop was The Wayland on Avenue C, where a friend teased me for ordering white wine. Across the street at Royale, I consumed more vino and endured more wisecracks before we moved on to Mona’s, where I guzzled whiskey and beer, fed bills into the jukebox and operated in full jackass mode; my disgusted pal left without saying good-bye. There was a stop at a lounge on St. Mark’s Place, where I drank alone, and then a tipple at a buddy’s nearby apartment. I caught a cover band and stopped at a dive and a hotspot before being denied entry to a velvet-rope joint in Tribeca. I woke up on a couch not far from Freddy’s Bar in Park Slope and made it home at 1:42 p.m.

I badly needed some hair of the dog: a double Bloody Mary, to be precise. Then, remembering one of Juice Crawl’s catchphrases—“Hangovers Never Felt So Good!”—

I stumbled down the street to Brooklyn Crepe & Juice. After a large Super Green and a shot of wheatgrass, I felt better—sort of. And seemingly right on cue, I received an e-mail from Anna Garcia: “George, up for a binge? Boot-camp-style workout followed by drinking all the green juice you can imagine.”

And then I passed out.