Bars also make the wait more tolerable for tag-alongs, (especially husbands.) "It's often a very convenient place to park your two-legged pet while shopping," said Underhill, who is also the author of "What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping." "Think of it as a male crèche."
The catch, of course, for shoppers is that getting buzzed makes them less disciplined, said April Benson, a New York-based psychologist who specializes in compulsive buying disorders. They can lose track of spending, and be more easily influenced by friends and salespeople to buy items they otherwise wouldn't.
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"For people on a budget, it's not so good to have your inhibitions minimized," said Benson, who is also the author of "To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop." Her suggestion is to keep shopping and drinking separate, or at least, wait to drink and dine until after you've shopped.
Perhaps for that reason, not all forays are successful. Urban Outfitters this fall applied for a liquor license for its proposed three-story center in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, only to be turned down by the local community board's liquor license committee. (Neither Urban Outfitters nor the community board responded to requests for comment.)
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant.