After over a month of Christmas tunes, it’s time to bust out all of those classic New Year’s tunes like …
… um, I can think of one New Year’s song — “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” as performed by Ella Fitzgerald. I’m sure there are more New Year’s songs, but that’s the one that leaps to mind.
”What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is an apt question. While most people want to be home for Christmas, New Year’s Eve destinations can vary wildly — especially depending on one’s willingness to stay up until midnight.
This year, I may wind up on the couch (or at karaoke at Paxton Pub in South Salt Lake), but I probably won’t go to the Last Hurrah! at The Gateway shopping center in downtown Salt Lake.
I generally had an enjoyable time during my one visit in 2018, but the event skipped a key New Year’s tradition at midnight that disappointed me and will likely dissuade me from returning this year. No, it wasn’t sharing a kiss with a date.
For those that don’t know, The Gateway was originally a bougie and chic outdoor shopping center based around the former Union Pacific Depot train station on the western edge of downtown. It’s been struggling in recent years, especially after a bougie-er and chic-er mostly outdoor shopping center called City Creek opened atop the rubble of the former Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls a few blocks east (presumably they cleared the rubble).
In recent years, The Gateway operators have tried various ways to encourage crowds to visit, particularly by hosting community events like New Year’s Eve.
Since I didn’t have any plans in 2018, I decided to give the Last Hurrah a shot. I planned a little carefully — starting with bundling up for the cold. I also parked near the Delta Center (then Vivint Smart Home Arena) on city streets a couple blocks away, so I didn’t have to deal too much with traffic after the event.
It was a starkly cold night with no snow, but spirits seemed high among the crowd that started small and grew right up until midnight. There were food and drink vendors set up along the main road through the heart of the shopping center, but I didn’t linger as I was on a fairly tight budget and it was chilly.
Shelter was provided in the form of vacant storefronts that had been repurposed as pop-up bars and karaoke lounges. The spaces had been stripped down to the walls, but were gussied up with decorations like balloons and colorful lights.
It was clever to reuse the storefronts, but it was also slightly depressing how many retail spaces were available. There were signs of the struggling mall all around, including a Sur La Table holding a going out of business sale. One of the largest tenants appeared to be WeWork. It’s not there anymore (although the struggling company apparently still has space nearby).
There were also a lot of temporary barriers promising upgrades, but I’ve never really checked to see if the upgrades were finished.
While repurposing closed stores did much to create a lively atmosphere for the event, the fenced-off areas were a bit of a bummer.
The barriers also got me thinking about what used to be in certain locations. I remember there being a small, slightly depressing food court in 2016 — where did that go? There is a more prominent restaurant row that still offers a decent number of casual eateries, but the disappeared food court featured more fast food options.
Throughout the evening, I tended to gravitate toward the indoor spaces to stay relatively warm. I would normally be a fiend for karaoke, but the lines looked long at many of the spaces and I don’t think I bothered signing up.
The biggest pop-up bar was pretty bustling and I think there was a band. Otherwise, it was an OK communal spot. I also tried an underwhelming beer from Salt Flats Brewing Co. for the first time. I was so unimpressed by the beverage, I haven’t sought it out since.
As midnight neared, I made my way toward Olympic Plaza to find a good viewing position for the live music and the fireworks. Crowds also flocked to some fire pits scattered around the plaza that provided a little relief from the frigid cold.
The music was OK for these types of public events. The band played a mix of classic rock and country tunes, but I don’t recall much of their performance five years later.
The band kept rocking up until midnight when there was the traditional countdown with added fireworks. My heart soared a bit as the crowd counted down in unison and then celebrated the start of 2019.
My heart sank back to earth when I realized that they weren’t going to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I started singing what I knew of the song at a normal volume, but I gradually lowered my voice to sotto voce when it became obvious that no one else was singing.
I really missed the group singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I guess it’s one of those traditions that you see every year on TV and want to re-create wherever you happen to be at midnight, even if you don’t remember all the words. It’s also a moment of collective celebration and catharsis that seems to be growing increasingly scarce over the years.
At the same time, traditions are often meaningful because we ascribe meaning to them. For the vast majority of people in the Last Hurrah! crowd, perhaps being in downtown Salt Lake City for New Year’s Eve is a tradition or will be in the years to come.
For me, I’d like to keep the tradition of singing “Auld Lang Syne” for the sake of old times. Also, taking a cup of kindness sounds a lot tastier than that Salt Flats beer.
So this year, I’ll probably be skipping Last Hurrah! rather than take the chance of being disappointed that there’s no “Auld Lang Syne.” Staying closer to home may be preferable, especially because I have to work relatively early on New Year’s Day (before going to celebrate the new year with relatives — a family and cultural tradition that reaches back decades).
On the other hand, there’s Laser Taylor Swift at the nearby Clark Planetarium. Maybe I’ve just got to “Shake it Off.”
In any event, I wish everyone a joyous New Year and a glorious 2024!