In 2022 we wanted martinis, and we wanted them in fussy glasses. We also, frankly, did not care what was in them. We drank espresso martinis, dirty martinis, masala chai-teanis, MSG martinis, even appletinis. There’s something about the suffix “tini” that sounds appropriately elegant, like a bell ringing for a gloved butler.
This year, everyone wanted to be a fancy little bitch.
Across the country, diners were drawn to classic cocktails, ritzy settings, and experiences that felt like money. The 2022 vibe was posh party time. The caviar bump, a messy nod to extravagance and party-drug use, trended hard this year. Caviar also made its way onto dishes, for diners who didn’t want to lick it off their own skin. “It’s one of these Russian treasures that has been embraced worldwide as the ultimate symbol of celebration in fine dining,” chef Anya El-Wattar told Eater SF back in June. “Nationally, there has been an uptick in caviar sales, with more people ordering caviar online and in retail settings.”
There was plenty of fancy meringue and rich, indulgent gelato served in crystal goblets. There was uni, bone marrow, crudo, and tartare. At Pebble Bar, a celebrity-packed bar in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center, you could snack on black truffle gougeres and shrimp cocktail. LA’s Horses (which came under fire for working with restaurateur Ken Friedman, who settled numerous sexual harassment claims), garnered buzz for its sceney dining room and menu of fancified bistro fare like sorbet topped with lambrusco and creme brulee showered in shaved truffles. Her Place, a supper club in Philadelphia, has featured items like french toast with lobster or morels, and fondue with, yes, more truffles. It’s easy to see this as a pendulum swing away from the comfort food of lockdown. Caviar bumps, truffles, uni? This is stuff most of us wouldn’t make for ourselves without a seriously special occasion at home. These ingredients are either extravagant, expensive, or more likely, both.
As pricey ingredients trended, 2022 also saw several openings best described as Big Restaurants for Big Spenders. In LA, Niku X is an opulent temple to wagyu. In New York, the Nines, which hosted Baz Luhrman’s birthday party, encourages guests to dress up for its menu of classic cocktails, oysters, and foie gras, and like many new additions to the city’s cocktail scene, absolutely requires a reservation. Restaurateurs opened showy, inherently costly genres like French bistro, celebrity steakhouse, and tasting menus.
Even social media’s performance of dining out has been decidedly fancy lately. Think of the “night luxe” aesthetic on TikTok, celebrating all things glitter, spike heel, and velvet rope — and stumbling into the limo at the end of the night. TikTok reviewers flocked to Carbone, the epitome of banquet chic, highlighting tableside Caesar salads and truffle corn. For those of us who spent the last two years buying increasingly skimpy outfits, promising that we’d hit the scene hard when the pandemic was “over,” upscale restaurants and the videos we film there are part of making up for that lost time. It’s no surprise, then, that this was the year that beer got the spritz treatment. A simple can of beer is simply not celebratory enough after everything we’ve been through.
This sloppy, obvious glam also comes with a hint of nihilism. After all, the rich have gotten richer, and are having no trouble flaunting it. “In 2021, the American economy grew at the fastest rate since the Reagan administration — a rising tide lifts all yachts, right?” wrote Rachel Dode for Vanity Fair earlier this year in a piece that calls our current moment “the Mildewed Age,” the glitter a beautiful distraction from the hollowing out of society. “But if you look closely, we are pessimistic about the future.” If no matter how hard young people work, most feel like they’ll never be able to retire, then fuck it, spend your money now on $20 Manhattans and the biggest steak you can find. If you can’t beat the people who are keeping you under their boots, maybe you can have some fun joining them in their conspicuous consumption for an evening.
Sipping a martini and cracking the top of a creme brulee with a golden spoon is fun. Drinking a spritz on the dance floor is fun. It feels like a treat, and who are we to deny ourselves that, especially now? Maybe this is as close to the democratization of joy as we could get in 2022. This year, fancy didn’t mean dull. It meant everything.
Marylu Herrera is a Chicago-based artist with a focus on print media and collage.