ATLANTIC CITY — Bob Pereira expects more than 1,000 people to spend the early hours of Thanksgiving at his nightclub, Providence, preceding their feast on turkey and cranberry sauce with vodka-tonics and beers.
“Without even blinking, we know that will happen,” said Pereira, owner of three New York City clubs as well as the 11,000-square-foot venue at The Quarter in Tropicana Casino and Resort. “It’s a marquee night in the history of nightlife.”
The combination of college students coming home for the holiday and locals going out to celebrate their day off has made Thanksgiving Eve an alcohol-driven night of revelry nationwide. The night has earned the name “Black Wednesday” in some circles, in this case referring to the “blacked-out” state of many who drink beyond their limit.
“Historically, we were thinking of Thanksgiving as a time of families gathering,” said Lt. Steve Jones, spokesman for the State Police, “but over the last several years it’s become more of a drinking holiday.”
From 2000 to 2009, 5,521 people died in car accidents nationwide over the Thanksgiving holiday period — more than any other holiday. About 36 percent of those deaths were attributed to drunken driving, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show.
Jones said that five people were killed in accidents last year in New Jersey over the Thanksgiving weekend, from the Wednesday night before to the Monday morning after.
He said four of those five deaths were attributed to alcohol, including one driver on the Garden State Parkway in Toms River who ran off the road and hit a tree.
For the State Police, dealing with these issues means that Thanksgiving Eve is “all hands on deck,” Jones said. Extra DWI patrols are deployed throughout the state, which he said are more effective than checkpoints.
Local police departments do the same, many favoring roving patrol cars since they are not stuck in one location and can respond to other calls during that time if needed.
“We’ve always run a DWI patrol,” said Hammonton Police Chief Robert Jones, an officer in the local department for 25 years. “We’re busier that night because we get the kids home from college, and the other people home for Thanksgiving.”
In the past, groups such as The HERO Campaign have handed out T-shirts to sober drivers at checkpoints to promote designated drivers. Mothers Against Drunk Driving makes an annual push for awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking over the holidays, pointing at Thanksgiving as the beginning.
The number of alcohol-related fatalities has decreased over the decades. In 1982, there were 601 fatalities of which 51 percent were due to a DWI. In 2009, there were 411 fatalities of which 34 percent were attributed to drunken driving, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show.
But on nights like Thanksgiving Eve where there is the potential that other drivers could be drunk, staying off the roads is the best way to avoid an accident.
“It’s not even so much the operation of your vehicle, but it’s the other drivers,” said Vince Jones, emergency management coordinator for Atlantic County. “You have to drive defensively.”
At Atlantic City’s casinos, room rates are relatively low on the night before Thanksgiving, even at those hotels that expect to attract crowds of partygoers.
On Tuesday night, the lowest rate for a room at Tropicana on Wednesday night was $69.99, despite the several clubs that planned to be packed in its entertainment corridor The Quarter.
Providence is typically only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but Pereira said he has opened it every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
“We expect it to be as strong as a big Saturday and our biggest holiday nights,” he said. “We staff our venue as we would for our busiest night.”
On Tuesday afternoon, he drove from New York City to watch his staff install new LED lighting and perform and check the sound systems. The spacious club was aglow in shades of pink and blue, with spinning lights shining off the empty dance floor.
By 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, the inside is expected to be packed shoulder to shoulder, with a line of people waiting to get in. The club’s capacity is almost 800, but he said they would admit more people than that over the course of the night as people come and go.
“I’ve been in this business for 20 years,” Pereira said, “and Thanksgiving Eve has always been circled on the calendar.”
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