Descended as I am from a dynasty of problem drinkers, I’ve come to rely on an eclectic stable of hangover remedies. Aleve, starchy breakfast, marijuana, morning sex, a well-spiced michelada or Bloody Mary—all work wonders in tandem with my Anglo-Saxon stoicism.
But in late-empire America, there’s always a more expensive solution. In this case, literally. Enter Hangover Club, a vitamin-infusion business that caters to the ambitious alcoholic.
Though the boutique service has tentative plans to set up shop in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, it’s currently only available via in-home appointments and—at least through the Super Bowl—in a city-roaming “Hangover Bus.” By subscribing to their text updates, you’ll know, on any given Sunday, where the miraculous vehicle is parked. So that’s what I did.
This past weekend, the Hangover Bus was posted up in the suitably douchey Meatpacking District, just underneath the Standard Hotel. When I arrived in a state of puffy-eyed misery around 4pm following an evening of cheap Polish vodka and Fireball Whisky (I’m nothing if not committed to my stunt journalism), it seemed as if most of the neighborhood was still in the depths of a weekend-long bender. I approached a man standing near the bus; he turned out to be none other than Asa Kitfield, founder of the Hangover Club.
After verifying that I was hungover and had never had vitamins injected into my arm, Kitfield explained that this offered enhanced absorption and efficacy over oral intake—claims disputed by doctors who have called the intravenous vitamin industry “a sideshow to science-based healthcare”—and went over my “nutri-drip” options: Classic, Super, and Mega, ranging from $129 to $169. All three promise instant hydration, but the high-end bag boasted:
1000ml+ of Lactated Ringer IV Solution
Choice of Nausea or Pain Rx Medication
Super B’s Vitamin Booster
Glutathione Detox Push
High Dose Vitamin C
I was about to let strangers perform delicate medical techniques on my person in the back of what may have been a converted Metallica tour bus.
Figuring the cheaper menu selections wouldn’t make a dent in my deathlike trance (I was also getting over a nasty cold), I said, much to Kitfield’s delight: “Let’s go all the way.” Climbing aboard the bus, I was ushered into a rear section with a big-screen TV and leather couches.
A registered but casually dressed nurse named Linda sat down and asked about my symptoms, ticking answers on an iPad. Headache and nausea? Check, check. Vomiting? No, my boot-and-rally college days were behind me. Any medical allergies? Eh, probably not.
Then Linda started to scare me. “With intravenous injections, we use a needle, which means there’s a chance of infection,” she said, making me for the first time quite aware that I was about to let strangers perform delicate medical techniques on my person in the back of what may well have been a converted Metallica tour bus. “There’s also a risk of phlebitis, which is the inflammation of the vein.” After what felt like a lot of warnings, she had me sign a waiver that indicated I had understood all of what I was too zonked to really listen to.
Warning: This is a photo of my arm with an IV in it.
I received a bottle of Poland Spring and a Kind bar, and with a curtain pulled so that a Spanish-language morning TV show could shoot in the front of the bus, it was time to get drippin’. The needle in, Linda initially administered saline—“You may taste saltiness in the back of your mouth”—and then the suite of B vitamins, which have a yellow tint. “That’s why we call them banana bags,” she said. She also added Toradol, an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, and gave me a soluble Zofran tablet to swallow for my nausea. I recalled taking the latter when a late-night taxi crash had landed me and my wife in the ER a couple of years ago.
For the roughly 20-minute duration of my hangover therapy, I remained alone, which was disappointing.
For the roughly 20-minute duration of my hangover therapy, I remained alone, which was disappointing. I’d hoped to at least shoot the breeze with some up-and-coming Wall Street sociopaths or see some sports fans recovering from their last chug-a-thon in time to kill another couple racks of light beer with their bros. Kitfield checked on me now and then, mentioning that during the NFL playoffs, a bunch of dudes had relaxed in here with the games playing. I considered asking him to see if anything was on TV now, but thought better of it.
Wanting to gauge the Hangover Club’s success with a perhaps less biased party, I asked Linda how busy she’d been today. She hesitated before replying that there had been “an ebb and flow” of customers, then took note of my swift progress in slurping down the vitamin mix: “Your veins are thirsty!” she said. She had also remarked, before injecting me, that I had “great veins,” though I assumed this was typical couchside manner. Both she and Kitfield alluded to a pleasing coolness that I should have noticed coursing through my body, but as with the promised salty taste, no impression materialized. Was it a deficiency in my nervous system? Was I actually dying? I turned fiercely skeptical of all this, then tried to relax.
The process complete, I was horrified to find that this was a tipping situation. What’s the typical gratuity on an IV vitamin pouch for one? Twenty-five percent was too much, but zero seemed unfair, given Linda’s expertise. Reasoning that the whole experience was a bit overpriced, I went for 10.
The feeling that I had improved my well-being while making no true effort had a pleasant warmth to it.
As I prepared to head back out into the world, Kitfield reminded me that the Hangover Club is but one aspect of the company Level 28, which also sells drips that supposedly gird immunity, increase joint mobility, fight aging, and boost one’s metabolism.
“IV Nutri-Drips have been an industry secret for celebrities, professional athletes and rocks star for many years,” Level 28’s website informs, targeting a wealthy class of wannabe A-listers. “They provide a short-cut to recovery and help maintain balance amongst a crazy, fast paced lifestyle.” There may have been more pep in my step as I walked to the subway, I thought, though not $185 worth—yet the feeling that I had improved my well-being while making no true effort had a pleasant warmth to it. Level 28’s disclaimer points out that none of their marketing claims have been evaluated by the FDA, but is it possible to quantify an ephemeral, even spiritual effect? I can tell you this much: I started drinking as soon as I got home.
Correction 12:00pm ET, Jan. 28: An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the drugs administered—it was Toradol, an anti-inflammatory agent, not tramadol, a narcotic-like pain reliever.