Last night, I went to a 7:30 p.m. boxing class and woke up this morning with a hangover. Yes, the two are related. I didn’t go to the class and happen to stop at a bar on my way home, or open up a bottle of wine once I was back at my apartment. Instead, as the doors of the boxing studio opened into the lobby when the class was finished, I was handed a shot of tequila by an employee — so was everyone else who wanted one. At New York City’s GRIT BXNG, booze is a built-in (but not mandatory) component of their workout.
Ever since I moved to New York a year ago, I’ve been seeing ads on Instagram for a boxing studio with a full liquor bar. The combination was intriguing. Sure, plenty of people enjoy a beer after a run and certain eccentrics on TikTok might combine protein powder with Hennessy, but by and large, fitness and alcohol rarely intertwine. One could even argue they’re in opposition — exercise helps you live longer, while alcohol is associated with increased mortality.
Nevertheless, GRIT Boxing promotes itself as a sort of “party workout,” where the studio looks more like a nightclub than a gym, and the sweat you lose from the exercise is replenished by liquor. And though I’m typically accustomed to keeping fitness and alcohol separate, I decided to give it a try.
I certainly wasn’t the first to do so. “Drunk yoga,” where yoga is often paired with wine, has been available in major cities for years now. In 2012, cardio followed by unlimited cocktails was offered by a place called Uplift Studios in NYC, though it doesn’t appear to exist anymore. Tough Mudder obstacle course events, which are available nationwide, come with a finisher drink. In other words, drinking after a workout isn’t totally new, but GRIT seems to be the first fitness studio to come with a full bar.
It was founded by siblings Ediva and Dylan Zanker and their father, Bill Zanker, a serial entrepreneur. Ediva was a boxer at Syracuse University, while Dylan and Bill just seemed to have an eye for a gap in the market. As Bill told the New York Post in 2019, the idea was first and foremost to create a “third space,” separate from home and work, where people could interact. Tony Robbins and Pitbull are among their investors.
GRIT offers classes throughout the day, as early as 7:15 a.m. While I don’t know for sure, I assume these classes end without much booze. Evening classes, however, are often designated on their calendar as more party-centric events — an upcoming Friday evening class is labeled as “Free Champagne,” and Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. classes say, “Thirsty Thursday! Free Liquor.” I chose a Tuesday class, “Tequila Tuesday and TikTok Songs.”
I should note that this was my very first fitness class since the pandemic. In early March 2020, I did a group workout that culminated in me walking out five minutes early to go gag outside. That said, I’ve been working out over the last two years, and have developed my yoga skills and some capacity for running, though I’m still really bad at it. In any case, I expected this to be tough. After all, I’d never boxed before.
Still, I showed up with an open mind, and was told I’d be one of a dozen newbies in the nearly full class of around 40 people. For first-timers, GRIT offers two classes for $39, which are regularly $39 apiece. Expensive, but normal for NYC.
The class involves three stations: a treadmill, a boxing area and a floor area where each person has a bench and hand weights. Over 50 minutes, you cycle through these stations twice as the trainer guides you. On the treadmill, you’re encouraged to run and sprint in spurts. In the boxing area, both the trainer and a big TV tell you what moves to do, with visual guidance. On the floor, it’s the same set-up, but you’re told to do exercises like burpees and weighted lunges.
I started off on the treadmill, and really pushed myself. I ran for five minutes straight, which is not something I’d ordinarily do. I’m more of a run-walker. The boxing portion was fun, even though I know I looked like a dumbass. Despite the instruction, I still didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and there wasn’t a ton of information given about stance or proper technique. Nevertheless, I was sweaty as fuck, and found it to be more exhausting than I anticipated. I have no idea if they were playing “TikTok songs” or not, because I was too focused on not dying.
By the time we rounded out the third portion, the floor area, I started feeling something familiar — nausea. I tried to push it down, to give myself a little break from the exercises, but the feeling did not pass. I carefully navigated myself through the dark room of people squatting and punching, and pivoted out to the nearest restroom where I proceeded to dry heave. Fortunately, nothing came up, so I pulled myself together and finished the class.
With that nausea in mind, I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to get it together to drink right after class was over. But once I was offered that shot at the end, I changed my mind. After heading to the locker room to rinse my face and get less sweaty, I headed back out to the bar area of the lobby where a bartender who was built like a fitness instructor was pouring margaritas from a tap. Plenty of people left once the class was finished, but at least 20 stuck around for margs. No cash was exchanged. When I first signed up for the class, I was given two free “drink tickets” to redeem at the bar, but none of those were exchanged either. When the bartender saw my empty glass, he poured me another. At one point, the bartender pulled out a board with five shot glasses fixed onto it, so five people could take a shot at once.
During my second drink, I sat off to the side by myself, checking my phone and preparing to leave when a girl came up to me. She noticed I was alone and didn’t want me to feel isolated, so she decided to introduce herself and have me meet two friends, one of whom she’d met previously at GRIT and another who was a newbie. The two with prior experience told me they go to classes at least twice a week, typically in the evenings or Saturday afternoons, and more often than not, classes end just like this, with liquor flowing. Having just made new friends, I decided to stay for another hour and a half, during which I had several more margaritas and even a little champagne.
All told, I probably overdid it a bit and counteracted many of the benefits of working out. As MEL’s fitness expert Ian Douglass has explained previously, your body uses alcohol as its first source of fuel, meaning you burn off fewer of the other calories you consume and therefore have a harder time losing weight (if that’s what you’re interested in). But in addition to enjoying an intense workout and getting my heart pumping, I did meet new people all on my own, even if it took someone else taking pity on me being alone for it to happen.
With that in mind, GRIT BXNG seems like one of the truly rare places where a solo person can actually make new friends. Like Bill Zanker told the New York Post, this is the whole concept of a “third space” for people to socialize beyond home and work. Now that the pandemic has reduced both of those spaces into one for many of us, a third space is all the more necessary, and yet, even harder to come by. Both bars and workout classes are often touted as places to meet people, but there are limits to both. At a bar, you’re less likely to encounter people on their own and have to deal with the social politics of approaching people who may or may not want to talk to you. At a fitness class or gym, most people probably just wanna finish their workout and get the hell out of there. But at GRIT, you get the camaraderie of just having completed something strenuous with others and the social lubricant of alcohol.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’ll definitely be back for another class. It’s probably best to make GRIT a part of your fitness routine, rather than your sole place of exercise — at least if you plan on drinking every time. But hey, it’s basically like a $39 open bar with a free workout attached to it. When you look at it that way, it’s basically a steal. Sure, a boxing class with a full liquor bar is a gimmick, but it’s a damn good one — hangover and all.