“Oh, the rapturous, wild, and ineffable pleasure of drinking at somebody else’s expense.” —Henry Sambrooke Leigh
Does anything taste as sweet as a free drink?
What pricks up the ears more than mentions of “open bar” and “free beer?”
Oh, sure, there’s certainly something fine and noble about drinking booze bought by the sweat of one’s own brow, though you may detect a slight salty aftertaste when the tab arrives to plunder your wallet.
The free drink, on the other hand, goes down with no aftertaste whatsoever. It gives all and takes nothing, and is particularly toothsome when your brow hasn’t perspired for a while and your wallet has forgotten what money tastes like.
Of course, anything so universally beloved and in demand will naturally be difficult to come by. At any given time there are only a certain number of free drinks loose in the ether, and they don’t necessarily find their way into the clutches of those who need them the most. Ironic as it may seem, it’s when you’re least able to buy your own that the free drink is the most elusive — it’s hard to earn a buyback when you’re not buying.
There are ways, however, to overcome that cruel circumstance and get the gratis booze flowing in your direction.
First, the obvious tricks:
These are the low-hanging fruit that can be had with a minimal amount of effort and risk.
Art Gallery Openings
On any given Friday, every city and town in the nation will play host to these free wine extravaganzas. Peruse your local free weekly and you’ll find a gaggle of them lined up like fat geese sitting on a fence, just begging for you to mow them down.
Be sure to take note of the opening times, as you’ll want to arrive early — the stocks tend go fast. Arrive late and you’re likely to find yourself performing mouth-to-mouth on a long deceased box of white zinfandel.
You needn’t feel guilty about guzzling all that free wine (and if you’re lucky, beer and liquor) just because there isn’t a highballs’s chance in hell you’d actually purchase one of the wall monstrosities that seem to have been specifically designed to violate your psyche. They don’t really expect you to. As much as he’d like to make a sale, the average artist’s ego is such that he’d rather have 50 broke drunks milling about than a lonely collector actually looking for something to hang above his mantelpiece. They’re happy just to have warm bodies taking up space, and haven’t you always been rather good at that?
As a matter of decorum, you should feign interest in what’s being displayed. No matter how bad it is, and it may well be very bad, resist yelping: “Holy shit! They’re letting retards paint now? Hell, I could paint this. And if I can do it, it can’t be art.”
It’s best to just grit your teeth and murmur, “Well, that’s certainly interesting,” especially since the retard in question is most likely the guy pouring the wine.
Pro: Free cheese and crackers to clear your palate between boxes.
Con: The stocks tend to run out early. All the box wine in the world may not heal the psychic wounds.
Guilt Factor: None. You’re essentially a paid extra.
This might involve a drive, so make sure you ask around before you make the trip. Check if there’s a tour charge (rare in the U.S.) and how many samples you can expect to receive during and/or after the tour. Some companies are quite generous with their product, others will give you a single glass and something to fume about on the way home.
Pro: If you pay attention, you might learn something.
Con: Some tours are as exciting as a field trip to a cardboard box factory.
Guilt Factor: None. They’ve got plenty to spare.
Belly up to a computer and sign up for the newsletters of every major liquor, beer and wine company you can find. Many of them conduct national taste tours and you’re likely to receive an email invitation when they roll into town. Note: the more prestigious companies are far more likely to tour — Mogen David and Popov don’t get out on the road much.
You’ll have to endure a bit of propaganda and perhaps a slide show, but if you’re aggressive they’ll give you as much as you can put down (within reason).
Pro: The hooch is usually top rate.
Con: You better like their product, because that’s all you’re going to get. Some also require semi-formal dress.
Guilt Factor: None. All they want in return is your word of mouth, and who doesn’t speak well of free booze?
Unlike the generally democratic nature of the previous events, these free-booze bashes require a certain amount stealth and guile.
Business Conference Mixers
Pick up a copy of your city’s financial magazine or newspaper and you’re likely to find a directory of upcoming business and industry conferences. They usually take place in large downtown hotels. When the conferences get out, the attendees are usually invited to open-bar mixers that are relatively easy to infiltrate. You’ll want to wear a business suit and scout ahead, as some will want to have a look at your name tag or pass. If that’s the case, you can attempt to bluff it out (I left it in my hotel room! Please don’t make me go back up!) or lurk in the hotel lobby until the mixer gets rolling along — when enough people start coming and going the security will grow lax. Walk in with a group and act like you belong there. You’ll find the booze tastes all the sweeter when you know a fat cat corporation is picking up the tab.
Pro: Top shelf booze may well be for the taking.
Con: You might wake up with a new job.
Guilt Factor: None. It’s your duty to stick it to the Man.
The bigger the wedding, the better your chance of slipping in unnoticed. The social section of your local newspaper give you all the information you need. If the location of the reception isn’t mentioned, show up at the wedding and follow the crowd. Make sure you memorize the board announcing the names of the recently betrothed and stay well away from them. They’re the only ones who will know you don’t belong there. You won’t want to do a lot of mingling, as difficult questions might be posed. The big expensive wedding are more likely to have a wide open bar, but even the most understated affair will usually offer free beer and wine. A caveat: ethnically polarized weddings are difficult to penetrate if you’re the wrong hue.
Pro: You’ll have a good chance of hooking up.
Con: You may have to surrender your dignity to the Chicken Dance.
Guilt Factor: Minimal. How much impact can one extra mouth have?
Though it requires special skills and perseverance, done properly this scam can turn on a ever-flowing spigot of free hooch.
Pose as an Online Booze Reviewer
Build a slick alcohol review web site, even if that means making up or stealing a passel of reviews. Then use email, snail mail and your telephone to request samples for review. If they ask, lie through your teeth about how much traffic you receive. You’d be surprised how many companies, especially the younger brands trying to make a splash, will send you a full bottle of their product. Keep it up long enough and you might even become legit.
Pro: The booze comes to you.
Con: Web skills and some actual work are required to pull it off.
Guilt Factor: Not much. The follow-up calls and email inquiring about the status of their upcoming review might haunt you a tad.
This is a perfectly acceptable and traditional method of securing free booze, so long as you convince yourself that you’ll eventually “get them back in spades.”
The Pop In
We all have at least one friend who likes to stay stocked, and isn’t it time you stopped by for an impromptu inventory inspection? The pop in is vastly superior to the call ahead because, one, he might say no, and two, he might hide his inventory. Oh, he knows you, all right
Give your friend a chance to offer you a drink, to which you should reply, “Maybe just one.” This will relax his suspicions and save him the trouble of stealthily relocating his 12 pack to the vegetable crisper.
If he doesn’t make the offer, a casual “You got anything to drink?” should earn you a starter. After that you’ll have to rely on your sparkling personality to keep him from announcing that he has to go take care of some errands he’d forgotten about, and no, you can’t hang around until he gets back.
Pro: Mooching off your friends doesn’t feel like stealing.
Con: Do it too often and you won’t have any friends.
Guilt Factor: Minimal. Remember that time you graciously let him crash on your lawn? He owes you, man.
The Last Call Con
Drop into your usual haunt near last call and touch base with a single friend or even a casual acquaintance who you know has hooch at home. Search the room for two attractive females, preferably strangers, then tell your friend, “Hey, I know those two babes. They love to party. Want me to see if they’ll join us for some cocktails at your place?”
If he’s drunk and single enough, he’ll grin and nod like an idiot. Tell him you’re going to set it all up. Approach the girls and, if you’re actually that bold, ask them to join you for drinks. If you’re not that bold, or they say no, engage them in idle chit-chat for a moment.
Regardless of their response, rush back to your buddy with the fantastic news: “It’s all set, dude! I gave them your address and they’re definitely coming over after they pick up some smokes. The cute one really digs you, man!”
Once you get to his place, dive into the booze immediately. Then pretend to wait, drinking as fast as you can. Say things like, “They were pretty loaded, I hope they didn’t get in an accident,” and later, “Those goddamn whores! Toying with our emotions like that!” After an hour he’ll start getting upset, but hey, now you’re too drunk to drive home. Ask if you can crash on his sofa and as soon as he hits the sack, it’s a wide open bar, baby.
Pro: You get to bond with your buddy because, “Hey, those bitches dissed both of us.”
Con: You might have to suffer through a long, harrowing monologue about how he just can’t find the right girl.
Guilt Factor: Major. Dude, that was totally cold.
These are the least honorable and most dangerous of the free drink gambits. They should be employed only as a last resort.
Ladies Night Transvestite
Your average city offers free drinks for the ladies nearly every night of the week, and it hardly seems fair, does it? Well, you may be interested to know that a few daring men have chosen to fight back against this blatant discrimination by bravely exploiting a little-known loophole in the system: they become ladies night transvestites. And so can you.
Those interested in maintaining a shred of dignity and self-respect should opt for a kilt rather than an actual dress. Many bartenders will be amused enough to let you take advantage of the system. This tactic is especially effective in states prohibiting gender preferences in bars, forcing them to rename their ladies nights as “skirt nights.” Note: I’m not talking about full drag. You’re not trying to convince the bartenders you’re actually a woman, you’re trying to exploit their sense of the absurd.
Pro: Women are more likely to hit on a man wearing a kilt or dress.
Con: Men are more likely to hit a man wearing a kilt or dress.
Guilt Factor: Not much guilt, but lots’a shame, man, lots’a shame.
Alchemy for Alcoholics
Stop by a busy bar and order an ice water with a lime (tell the bartender you’re a designated driver). Stake out a position as far from the bar as possible and wait until a stranger passes by, then “accidentally” bump into him and spill your drink. There’s a better than fair chance he’ll offer to buy you a replacement, and if he does, tell him you were drinking a vodka or gin and tonic.
Some caveats: Let him go to the bar by himself, if you tag along the bartender may get wise. Make sure your glass is full, people are less willing to replace a half-finished cocktail. Choose an affable looking male who’s had a few — women, tough guys and the sober are much less likely to come through. Spilling the drink on yourself will double your chances of success. Don’t act angry, no one wants to buy an asshole a drink. And finally, realize that scamming drinks off fellow drunks is considered the lowest and most shameful form of free-drink foraging.
Pro: The generosity of fellow drunks may reaffirm your faith in humanity.
Con: Can only be used once per bar per night, and if you get caught you’ll most likely earn a permanent 86.
Guilt Factor: Major. Profuse thanks might help, but not much.
I’m with the Band
Locate a bar or club that hosts a lot of out-of-town bands and doesn’t know your face. Check out their schedule, then arrive early in the afternoon the day a non-indigenous band is scheduled to play. Introduce yourself as the bass player and take a seat at the bar.
Inform the bartender that the rest of the boys are taking showers at the hotel and will be along shortly. If the bartender happens to know the band, tell him you’re filling in for the bass player because he broke his hand in a fistfight at the last gig.
If the bartender hasn’t already poured you a drink by then, politely inquire as to whether the band has a tab or gets drink tickets. They most likely will, in which case you should settle in and drink like a rock star. Just make sure you excuse yourself to “see what’s taking the guys so long” before the real band shows up.
Tips for success: Try to look the part. If you have a musical instrument or even an empty guitar case, bring it along. If you really want to play it safe, research the band on the Internet before you show up, as this will save you the embarrassment of explaining why you lack the accent and breasts the bass player of a Finnish all-girl band might be expected to possess.
Pro: If you drink fast enough you can guzzle all your “band mates” drink tickets.
Con: Unless you’re a master of disguise, you can’t go back in that bar for a very long time.
Guilt Factor: Depends on what you think of the band. If they suck, well, maybe they’ll play better sober.