Drink Up: Bar Crawling on the Cheap

ONCE AGAIN, MAINSTREAM JOURNALISM HAS FAILED US, so it is up to me, the same writer who broke the stories of meth-addicted zoo animals in Omaha and a nation of elevator buttons that aren’t connected to anything, to shed light on a travesty of drug-addled llama proportions. The great unreported story of this young decade is the exponential increase in the price of booze at your local bar. Where once expensive spirits were reserved for clubs resembling a Kanye West video shoot, and places that only sell imported Lithuanian boutique pilsners, now even the local pub charges astronomical prices for pints and pours from all over the world.

Hipster culture has made even the dive bar ironically cool, so a Pabst tallboy at your local hole now costs $18.50. One option is to stay home and drink by yourself, but that’s a life best left to poets, investment bankers, and your Uncle Steve. Plus, hitting the bar is the only way to eventually find a partner with whom to share life’s expenses. Like the mess that is the Electoral College, there’s no turning back. We have to make do with the flawed system we have and find ways to exploit it. Here’s a quick guide to bar drinking on the cheap.

Make sure to surround yourself with a few friends whose income can afford a $16 Cosmo or $8 Bud Light Limes. These will be people who are university educated (Fine Arts graduates excluded), who go to work at least five days a week, and who own more than two pairs of shoes (neither of which are Chucks). They’ll know what a 401K is, what mortgage rates are at, and why Dane Cook is considered funny.

They’ll like having you around because your lack of ability to afford more than two drinks will make them feel better than you. Which they are. Which is why you need to drink. Which is why you need them. It’s called the circle of life.

Flasks are the new horn-rimmed glasses. They’re an accessory that says you’re cool, you don’t buy into society’s rules, and you can think for yourself. But in reality the flask serves a higher purpose: Cheap drinking. Fill the flask up with your favorite discount liquor, and then only order soft drinks at the bar. The soft drink will still cost $5, but if you play your cards right they’ll end up on someone else’s tab. And don’t be shy with the flask. Be bold, have it out in the open, share it with your friends. A half-ounce nip for them will translate into a full drink on them when your flask runs out.

Remember: Everything tastes better out of an unwashed metal container that you habitually share with many, many people.

Smoking cigarettes is a nasty habit. It tells people that you enjoy the prospects of a shortened life in which you smell like a wet dog and have a persistent cough that sounds like a chainsaw molesting a dumpster of broken glass and yogurt.  But something magical happens when people get three drinks deep into the evening: They all become smokers.

Because the smoking lobby is infinitely more powerful than the booze lobby, cigarettes will always be affordable. Load up with a few packs before the bar, so that you have them to offer. The free drinks are sure to follow. The ratio of smokes to free drinks is around 5:2, increasing exponentially as it gets later. I once hit the 29:3 mark with a carton of Greek menthols at an Irish pub in Dearborn, Michigan. Good times.

There’s no shame in telling a sob story to get a few pity drinks. In 2005 I constructed a false narrative about a vengeful, philandering ex-girlfriend, an off-shore bank account and a dead cat that had me rich in free drinks right up until the middle of 2006. Eventually the gig was up, and I’m not allowed in Colorado anymore, but it was a good ride and worth every damned lie. Best to stay away from tales of dead parents or fake diseases. Those are gateway lies that could lead to marriage or paying the bill. The lies should always concern money, adultery and heartbreak, and something dead.

Is it sad to stoop that low? Yes. But you only own one pair of shoes and can’t afford an imported pint so just go with it.

This should be a last resort, but every once in a while you’ll find yourself at a bar with six peeps in tattered Chucks nipping at their flasks full of Ed’s Discount Pseudo-Vodka you met in Liberal Arts college who just broke up with their girl or boyfriend and started smoking again. Not to worry. When it comes time to pay the tab, don’t be afraid to vomit on yourself a little. Be sure not to put a finger in your throat, or the jig’s up. Just think about Steven Tyler naked, or a Melissa McCarthy performance, and the booze will make its way back up.

Once a little spittle has appeared, either a cohort or the bar staff will escort you outside where the fresh air and paid tab will bring the color back to your face.

Mike Spry is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. His most recent work is Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011). He lives in Toronto.

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