Who’s the greatest boozer of all time?
After six months of ferocious drinking, we now stand at the very foot of our Mount Olympus of Boozing. Great heroes of hooch have fallen, formerly unbeaten champions of chugging have been laid low, titans of tippling with names like Churchill, Bogart and Fitzgerald have succumbed to greater foes, and we are now left with the final and finest four boozers of all time.
Humphrey Bogart 20-1
Charles Bukowski 8-1
Richard Burton 40-1
Lord Byron 30-1
Winston Churchill 6-1
William Faulkner 10-1
W.C. Fields 3-1
F. Scott Fitzgerald 60-1
Jackie Gleason 3-1
Ernest Hemingway 8-1
Dorothy Parker 60-1
Edgar Allen Poe 80-1
Dean Martin 12-1
Babe Ruth 25-1
Dylan Thomas 10-1
Orson Welles 15-1
In this month’s epic semifinal showdown, the seemingly unstoppable Ernest “Who’s Your Papa” Hemingway engages in an epic clash with the juggernaut that is Jackie “The Jolly Juicer” Gleason; and the wiley super-wino Charles “The Battlin’ Barfly” Bukowski challenges the cast-iron liver of refined rummy William “The Souse From the South” Faulkner.
Table Side Announcers: Howard Cosell and Sir Laurence Olivier
Ref: Bill “The Fox” Foster
“Who’s Your Papa”
“The Jolly Juicer”
(Odds: Dead Even)
Tale of the Tab
Hemingway has hardly broken a beer sweat so far, dispatching Edgar Allen Poe and Dorothy Parker with relative ease. The phrase ‘unstoppable steamroller’ pops up a lot when his name is mentioned, and unless Gleason can mount a truly heroic effort, Hemingway will steamroll right into the finals.
As unpredictable as he is formidable, Gleason is akin to a beer truck driven by a hyperactive child. While he possesses an immense amount of drinking power, his steering can be extremely erratic and he tends to take a lot of chances. If he can stay on course, however, he is very nearly unbeatable.
The Build Up
Laurence Olivier: Finally Hemingway has an opponent worthy of his mettle.
Howard Cosell: Hold on now. Parker and Poe may seem pushovers now, but I think that’s a testament of Hemingway’s drinking skills.
LO: Perhaps. Gleason, on the other hand, brawled his way past Lord Byron and W.C. Fields. The question is: Did those desperate battles weaken his liver or strengthen his will?
(Hemingway wins the coin toss.)
Hemingway orders absinthes
LO: Ernest gets it started with his old creativity enhancer.
HC: He’s going to have to get real creative to get around Gleason.
LO: Hem lays a perforated spoon over his glass and begins dripping water over a sugar cube, following the age-old ritual.
HC: Gleason laughs, remarking, “Boozing ain’t that complicated, pally.” He picks up his glass and tips back the 160 proof liquor and—
LO: Spits it right back in the glass! Ten seconds into the first round and Gleason very nearly loses the match!
HC: He’s obviously never tested the charms of the Green Faerie before. Taken straight, absinthe is one of the bitterest drinks in drunkardom.
LO: “What’s the routine?” Gleason asks Hemingway, fumbling with the spoon and sugar cube, attempting to repeat Hem’s ritual. Unfortunately for him, Hemingway has already finished half his expertly-prepared cocktail. Hemingway tips his glass again and it’s empty!
HC: Jackie’s in trouble, again.
LO: “What the hell!” Gleason yells, popping the sugar cube in his mouth, downing the shot, then immediately washing it down with a long pull from the pitcher of water. He barely beats the count!
HC: “Mmmmmboy, that’s bad booze!” the fat man shouts, pounding his chest. It’s the first round and Jackie’s been on the ropes twice. It does not bode well for the Jolly Juicer.
Gleason orders Guinness Stouts
HC: An obvious attempt to blunt the bitterness of the absinthe.
LO: He starts telling a joke, perhaps hoping to lighten the mood—
HC: Or stall. If Hemingway is laughing, he isn’t drinking. Ernest, however, doesn’t so much as smile, steadily working his way through the stout. Gleason and most of the audience can guess what’s coming next.
Hemingway orders absinthes
HC: And they would guess correctly. Like the accomplished boxer he is, Hemingway has identified his opponent’s weak spot and he’s laying into it.
LO: This time Gleason mirrors Hemingway’s every move, adding the sugar and water.
HC: They both have a drink, and Gleason says, “That’s more like it. I could drink the stuff all night. So long as someone was holding a gun to my head.”
LO: He cracks wise but can’t hide the grimace each sip brings. A stonily silent Hemingway stares at him coldly, perhaps trying to gauge just how much Jackie hates the stuff.
Gleason orders double well scotches on the rocks
LO: Well, at least he’s not running for cover anymore.
HC: He’s trying to fight his way off the ropes. Hemingway doesn’t mind a little scotch.
LO: “Hey, Hemingstein,” Gleason says, “I heard you set your pal Bogart up real good last month.”
HC: Hemingway doesn’t take the bait. It’s strange. Hem was willing to use guile and charm to get past weaker opponents like Parker and Poe, but he’s obviously trying to stonewall his way past Gleason.
LO: There was a lot of pre-fight speculation that Hem might be looking past Gleason to the final with his hated rival Faulkner. He did sacrifice his friend Bogart, after all, to insure Faulkner stayed in the tournament.
HC: “With friends like you,” Gleason tells Hemingway, alluding to the betrayal, “who needs enemas?”
LO: Is Hemingway gritting his teeth?
Rounds Five through Fourteen
Hemingway orders five rounds of absinthe, Gleason orders five rounds of Stoli screwdrivers
HC: After seven glasses of absinthe, Gleason still doesn’t seem to like the green faerie.
LO: He isn’t even bothering to pretend. “What do you call this stuff, anyway?” he asks. “A cure for alcoholism?”
HC: : “It’s mother’s milk,” Hemingway says with a tiny grin, finally breaking his silence.
LO: “Who’s the mother?” Gleason wonders. “Ma Barker?” Hemingway smiles a little wider. He seems to be loosening up.
HC: “I’m glad you’re finally talking,” Gleason says. “I was beginning to think this green acid had dissolved your tongue.”
LO: Hemingway leans back in his chair and smiles. The absinthe certainly has brought a gleam to his eyes.
HC: Gleason, on the other hand, seems out of sorts. He tricked his way past Fields, and if he wants to get past Hemingway, he better start looking in his bag.
Hemingway orders absinthes, neat
LO: Here he goes. Hem’s got him softened up and now, like the matadors he loved to write about, he’s going in for the kill.
HC: “Where’s the candy and water?” Gleason jokes, bugging his eyes at the lonely glasses. Staring Gleason in the eye, Hemingway picks up his glass and knocks it back.
LO: Holding his nose, Gleason tries to catch up. He gets half the glass down on the five count, blows a Bronx cheer at Hem and, still holding his nose, tries again.
HC: And just gets it down on the ten count. Barely. He can’t last!
Gleason orders Papa Dobles
LO: What the devil? Gleason just ordered Hemingway’s namesake. Ernest invented the bloody thing.
HC: Hemingway looks perplexed and so does Gleason, who’s complaining to the referee.
LO: “I ordered the drink named after my opponent,” Jackie tells the ref. “And this is not a Pink Lady.”
HC: Gleason earns a laugh from the crowd and Hemingway’s grin collapses like a dynamited bridge.
LO: Gleason, smiling over his glass, pinkie extended, downs his Papa Doble. Hemingway, glaring, follows suit.
Hemingway orders absinthes, neat
LO: Another absinthe broadside. You can’t blame Hemingway, it’s such an easy target.
HC: And again Hemingway immediately aims his absinthe straight down his throat.
LO: “This is like deja vu all over again,” Jackie says, pinching his nose and tipping the absinthe down in one go. He holds it in his mouth for a moment, his eyes comically bulging.
HC: And begins to gargle! The ref’s still counting though!
LO: Six! Seven! Eight!
HC: Gleason swallows! But will it stay? He looks green, and it’s not from envy.
LO: Gleason suddenly lunges for the bucket! He sticks his head in and makes a terrible wretching sound. Hemingway smiles and stands up! He’s won! He —
HC: Hold on! Gleason turns the bucket upside down and puts it on his head like a hat. Nothing’s coming out! Jackie was clowning.
LO: Hemingway looks to the ref, who signals No Foul. Hemingway sits back down, trembling with rage.
HC: The ref takes the bucket off a laughing Gleason’s head. “Don’t worry, Hemingstein,” he tells his opponent. “When it comes up, it ain’t going in the bucket. It’s going on you.”
Gleason orders champagne cocktails
LO: With the crowd behind him now, Jackie seems positively rejuvenated. “How’d this guy get in the tournament, anyway?” Jackie asks the audience. “What’d he do, outdrink a midget and a broad?”
HC: Hemingway steams. The veins are sticking out of his neck like steel cables. His blood pressure must be hitting the high notes.
LO: “Look at him stare,” Gleason continues. “I can’t tell if he wants to kiss me or kill me. Probably both, eh, Hem?”
HC: Hemingway picks up his cocktail like a sleepwalker, his eyes still fixed on Gleason. He seems to be in some kind of enraged trance.
LO: Look at the hand holding the drink. It’s trembling.
HC: Hem knocks back the cocktail, then drops the glass, shattering it on the floor.
LO: The ref signals that he’d finished the drink, so no foul.
HC: Jackie downs his cocktail on the seven count and says, “If the champagne is a little too rough for ya, we can go back to the Pink Ladies. Sorry–Papa Dobles.”
LO: If it’s possible, Hemingway seems even angrier.
Hemingway orders absinthes, neat
HC: He’s going to keep bull rushing Jackie until he gets a horn in.
LO: An excellent analogy, Howard. Earlier it was Hemingway holding the cape, but now he appears the enraged bull.
HC: While Jackie seems the taunting, if beleaguered, matador. Like a steam shovel, Hem mechanically picks up his glass, downs the absinthe, then slams the glass on the table. He hasn’t stopped glaring at Jackie for three straight rounds. I don’t think he’s even blinked.
LO: “Get the bucket ready,” Gleason says, I think only half-jokingly, then pinches his nose, not unfamiliarly, and sinks the absinthe.
HC: “Hooooooboy!” Jackie bellows, slapping the table. He reaches into his pocket and takes out — what is it?
LO: A kazoo. He jumps up and high-steps around the table, playing a marching tune.
HC: “Whew,” Gleason says, sitting down and wiping the sweat from his face. “I had to celebrate that one staying down.”
LO: Hemingway merely continues to stare. He’s really in his zone. It’s as if his mind has fled and just his body remains.
HC: And that body is a drinking machine. And seemingly impervious to Jackie’s antics. Which doesn’t, in my opinion, leave Gleason with much hope.
Gleason orders Rollercoaster Cocktails
LO: I’m not familiar with that libation.
HC: Neither was the bartender. Jackie had to write down the ingredients. It doesn’t look pleasant.
LO: Once again Hemingway mechanically picks up his glass, knocks it back in a single gulp, and slams it back down. I’m telling you, he’s unstoppable.
HC: This is interesting — instead of playing catch up, Gleason merely looks at his watch, counting under his breath.
LO: The ref, on the other hand, is counting out loud and he’s already at six. Seven! Eight! Nine!
HC: Hemingway suddenly lurches forward and let’s loose a blast of vomit onto the table! The ref signals that Hemingway is out! What happened to the machine?
LO: Jackie threw a monkey wrench into the works. That Rollercoaster concoction is obviously a poison pill, an emetic designed to make the drinker throw up!
HC: “That’s why I call it the Rollercoaster,” Jackie says, calmly using a handkerchief to wipe vomit off his jacket. “Because once it goes down, it has nowhere to go but up.”
LO: And up Jackie goes! To the finals!
Gleason wins by V.O.
Post Fight Interviews:
Gleason: “I’m glad he sank that drink. Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to.”
Hemingway: “I screwed up. I made the mistake of hunkering down behind the sandbags, when I should have stepped up and beat his brains out. And if I catch him outside, I still might.”
“The Battlin’ Barfly”
“The Souse From The South”
(Odds: 3 to 2 in favor of Faulkner)
Tale of the Tab
His is a Cinderella story — late in life he fought his way up from the the tough skid row bars of L.A. to seize international recognition as one of the finest hoochhounds of his generation. He couldn’t afford the best drinks to train with, but he did well with what he could beg, borrow and steal. There isn’t a thirstier fighter in the tournament. His only weakness is his glass stomach: while he can hold his own with the best, he has the proclivity to vomit at any particular moment.
Though slight in build, the southern scribe’s capacity for hooch is the stuff of legend. An accomplished master of the month-long bender, his genteel appearance belies his taste for corn liquor and high proof rotgut. The descendent of a very long and illustrious line of drunkards, he is born and bred to the art like a bird dog.
The Build Up
Howard Cosell: What a contrast: the Southern Dandy Vs. the Southern California Wino.
Laurence Olivier: If he sticks to form, we can expect Faulkner to try to rattle Bukowski early with a moonshine flurry.
HC: And Bukowski will undoubtedly counter-punch with a selection of fortified wines, in hopes of offending Faulkner’s palate.
(Faulkner wins the coin toss.)
Faulkner orders fruit jars of moonshine.
HC: True to form.
LO: Which makes him predictable. I wonder if Bukowski has worked up a strategy to take advantage of Faulkner’s patterns.
HC: They both have a civilized sip from their jars. I was watching Buk’s face for effect, but if the high-octane corn liquor fazed him, he hides it well.
LO: Just look at the two of them. If they were just two chaps sitting in a bar, you’d bet your last penny on Bukowski.
HC: Faulkner certainly doesn’t look the part of a hard pounder. And he has used that deceptive appearance to great advantage in his previous bouts.. When it comes to drinking contests, not taking your opponents seriously can be very dangerous.
LO: As Babe Ruth and Humphrey Bogart discovered.
Bukowski orders forties of Schlitz Malt Liquor
HC: Well, it ain’t Thunderbird, but it ain’t Dom Perignon either.
LO: Bukowski lifts the forty to his mouth and puts on a ghost of a smile as Faulkner searches for the glass that isn’t there.
HC: Faulkner has a taste. He doesn’t seem to think too much of it.
LO: “Reminds me of sitting on my porch in North Carolina,” Faulkner drawls. “Drinking with my dog. Smells like it too.”
HC: Bukowski laughs a little. “Ah swear to do betta, suh,” he says, mocking Faulkner’s southern drawl. “I’m going to hold you to that, sir,” Faulkner replies, ignoring or not taking notice of Buk’s mockery.
LO: “I do miss my hound,” Faulkner continues. “Man’s best friend.”
HC: “No,” Bukowski replies. “This is man’s best friend.” And with that he drains his forty.
LO: Faulkner plays catch up. He knocks down half on the five count, takes a breath, then puts down the rest on the nine. It’s amazing to watch him drink. It’s like watching a tiny sponge absorb a lake.
Faulkner orders fruit jars of moonshine
LO: “Nothing like a little corn liquor to clear the palate,” says Faulkner.
HC: “If it’s all you got,” Bukowski replies and has a good pull. I don’t think he minds the moonshine too much.
LO: Oh, he’s drank much worse, I assure you.
Bukowski orders forties of Colt 45 Malt Liquor
LO: Faulkner has a taste and says, “You swore to do better, sir!”
HC: “Aah forgot,” Bukowski replies, laughing. He’s having a good time with Faulkner.
LO: He’s always enjoyed needling rich people. Even after he became rich.
HC: “Hold the bottle by the neck,” Buk tells Faulkner. “That way it won’t get warm.”
LO: That was rather sporting of Buk.
HC: “I’ll let it get warm in my belly,” Faulkner dryly retorts, chugging the bottle.
LO: Without taking a breath, Bukowski tips his down.
Rounds Five through Twelve
Faulkner orders four rounds of moonshine, Bukowski orders three rounds of Country Club Malt Liquor forties
HC: “Does this stuff ever get better?” Bukowski asks, taking a bite out of his corn liquor.
LO: “I will continue ordering corn so long as you continue ordering crap,” Faulkner informs Bukowski.
HC: “But that’s Country Club Malt Liquor,” Buk says. “The forty of kings and presidents.”
LO: “I would never trust such a president,” Faulkner swears. “He could drink vodka from the Kremlin’s own liquor cabinet and I’d trust him more.”
LO: “The Russians are our friends now,” Buk informs.
HC: “I suspected you a communist, sir,” Faulkner exclaims. “Now I am certain.” And with that he finishes his moonshine.
LO: “Nazdarovye!” Bukowski says, saluting with his jar, then knocking it back.
Rounds Thirteen through Eighteen
Bukowski orders three rounds of Kremlin Vodka on the rocks; Faulkner orders three rounds of double Elijah Craig Kentucky Bourbon, neat
HC: This drinking contest, somehow, has become political.
LO: Which is ironic, because Bukowski is completely apolitical. If anything, I would say he leans toward existentialism. I believe Faulkner just likes to be offended.
HC: And Bukowski is happy to help. “I never liked your writing,” he flatly informs Faulkner, apropos of nothing.
LO: “I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your books, sir,” Faulkner quickly replies. “But I understand you have a great following among the illiterate.”
HC: “If my fans were illiterate,” Bukowski replies, a little defensively, “they wouldn’t be able to read my books, now would they?”
LO: “Some people have all the luck,” Faulkner replies, finishing his bourbon.
HC: Buk smiles, but it looks forced. He sinks his bourbon on the eight count and when the glass comes down the smile is gone.
Bukowski orders double shots of well tequila
LO: Ah! Bukowski has studied Faulkner’s previous matches. Humphrey Bogart used tequila to great effect against Faulkner.
HC: Buk would spend hours pouring over racing forms before he’d go to the track; it’s no surprise he’s studied Faulkner’s bouts with Bogart and Ruth.
LO: “You god awful whore,” Faulkner says to his shot. “You harlot from the deepest depths of Hades.”
HC: “Oh, you’ve met?” Bukowski laughs, downing his shot. With a face twisted up like a prune, Faulkner follows.
Faulkner orders very wet Gordon’s Gin martinis
LO: It would appear Faulkner didn’t neglect his homework either.
HC: Yes. It was Richard Burton who exposed Bukowski’s distaste for vermouth.
LO: And with that knowledge Burton very nearly knocked Buk out of the tournament.
HC: “I always wondered how vermouth makes gin, a liquid, more wet,” Faulkner wonders. “Have you ever wondered about that, Charles?”
LO: “We don’t muse over martinis where I come from,” Buk replies, squinching his nose as he has his first taste. “We wonder about how we’re going to pay rent.”
HC: “Once you master the martini,” Faulkner quips, “the rent takes care of itself.”
LO: “That sounds like something from one of your books,” Bukowski says. “It sounds like bullshit.” With that, he forces down the cocktail. He apparently believes in the old adage, “Drink the good slow and the bad fast.”
Bukowski orders double shots of Monte Alban Mezcal
LO: Faulkner sniffs his shot and exclaims, “Who would have guessed that loathsome harlot had an even uglier sister?”
HC: “Treat the lady with respect,” Bukowski say. “She’s an old friend of mine.”
LO: “If this liquor were a lady,” Faulkner drawls, “I’d slap her across the face and make her take a bath.”
HC: “If mezcal were a lady,” Bukowski replies, “she’d kick your ass all the way back to North Carolina.” Bukowski sinks his double and Faulkner finishes his on the second try.
Faulkner orders extremely wet Gordon’s Gin martinis
HC: Faulkner cranks up the vermouth attack. He takes a sip of his martini while Bukowski broods over his.
LO: It’s a terrible thing when your weaknesses are made public, especially when there’s a contest involved. I have to say, of the two, Buk seems to be flagging the most.
HC: Neither of them look very good. Faulkner is slurring like a town drunk and Bukowski looks as if a slight breeze would knock him over.
LO: “You’ll never master that drink unless you drink it,” Faulkner slurs.
HC: “Fuck you!” Buk shouts. “I’m going to drink this sonuvabitch, and if you order another one, I’ll crack your skull open!”
LO: Faulkner smiles. He knows if Buk lays a hand on him he’ll be disqualified. Faulkner finishes his martini then very nearly drops the glass. Bukowski takes a deep breath and takes a drink. He gets about halfway through it on the three count. Four. Five.
HC: He forces another swallow and shakes his head with violent disgust. The vermouth is killing him.
LO: Seven! This could be it!
HC: He jerks the glass to his lips one last time on the nine count and — just manages to get it all down. He smashes his glass against the floor. He could vomit at any second.
LO: Faulkner watches him blurrily, smiling. He believes he has it in the bag. And so do I.
Bukowski orders double shots of Monte Alban Mezcal
LO: This may be be Buk’s last chance.
HC: And they both seem to know it. Both men, their heads hanging over the tabletop, clutch their shot glasses like horribly wounded gunfighters waiting for the other to draw.
LO: How is Buk going to play this? I can tell he doesn’t want to shoot the mezcal. It wasn’t his favorite drink.
HC: But downing it quickly might be his only chance to win the day.
LO: “Well,” Faulkner mumbles. “Let’s cross this river of urine and get to that next martini, shall we?”
HC: And it’s Faulkner who draws first, taking down half his shot on his first attempt.
LO: Bukowski looks heartbroken. He picks up his glass and makes a heroic attempt to shoot the double, almost spits up, then gets it down. He slaps the glass on the table and snarls, “Remember what I told you, little man!”
HC: With half the mezcal already sunk, Faulkner takes his time, laying down the second half on the eight count.
Faulkner orders double shots of Martini and Rossi Sweet Vermouth
LO: Double vermouths. The killing stroke.
HC: Well, they’re technically not martinis, so will Buk follow through with his threat?
LO: He doesn’t look like he’s in any condition to crack an egg, never mind Faulkner’s skull. His head is practically on the table. He’s done. All Faulkner has to do is deliver the coup de grace.
HC: Grinning like an imbecile from one his books, Faulkner takes his glass in both hands and knocks it back. He sets the glass down very carefully and starts fumbling for his pipe and tobacco. It’s a good thing for him that Buk is fading, because Faulkner isn’t far behind.
LO: Bukowski lowers his forehead to the table. What is that noise? Is he crying? Bukowski is crying!
HC: Six! Seven! He raises his head up and no — he’s laughing. He scoops up the shot on the nine count and downs it like a kid drinking Kool Aid.
LO: Bukowski jumps to his feet, towering over a startled Faulkner.
HC: “You idiot!” Bukowski roars. “I’ve been drinking this shit by the bottle since my match with Burton! I love this shit! I can drink it by the gallon! I fooled you, little man!”
LO: Faulkner’s pipe drops out of his mouth. He is shattered! He thought he was teetering on the threshold of victory and now he’s looking at Brer Rabbit howling at him from the briar patch!
HC: “Now bring us double mezcals!” Bukowski roars. “No, make them triples! That lady is going to kick your ass yet!”
LO: It’s too much for Faulkner. He’s quaking like a broken machine! And down he goes! He is literally under the table, curled up in a tight ball! Bukowski wins! It’s Bukowski and Gleason in the finals!
Bukowski wins by PO.
Post Fight Interview
Bukowski: “I bluffed him. I hate vermouth. If he could have held on for another ten seconds I would have puked all over him, then kicked his ass.”
Faulkner: “As a gentleman, I give my solemn word that I shall never drink that rotten booze again. Except for corn liquor and sipping whiskey, I shall never again touch the stuff.”