Foreign travel and booze were made for each other.
Why? Because alcohol is perhaps the single most effective means of bringing together people of different backgrounds, creeds and nationalities. You give me Pat Robertson, an abortionist illegal immigrant homosexual communist Jew, a case of good beer and a liter of Wild Turkey, and I’ll bring you back two guys with permission to date each other’s sisters. Alcohol bridges all social, linguistic and ethnic divides, and no matter where you go, you will find brothers of the bottle to lead you through the local jungles of juice.
Which is good, because, let’s face it, America is becoming less and less friendly to our gang. We are a nation plagued with four dollar beers; a drinking age rivaled in violation of individual liberties only by North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran; MADD; and bartenders with the hubris to think they know when you’ve had enough.
Which is why drunks must travel. Optimistic creatures that we are, every drunk carries with him the uneasy notion that cheaper booze, stronger drinks and more promiscuous women are available in larger quantities elsewhere. It’s no easy thing to settle in for an average night at a tried and true bar, when you can’t be completely sure that down the street they’re not pouring buck shots of top shelf tequila to a sorority undergoing a new-pledges-must-fuck-a-complete-stranger initiation ritual. The bourbon is always browner on the other side of the fence, and the fence I’m talking about is the Atlantic Ocean.
Everyone knows that such rot-gut refugees as Hemingway and Fitzgerald crossed the Atlantic in search of asylum, but following in their uneven footsteps can be a daunting task. Questions abound: Where should I go? How will I know how to order drinks? How will I maintain my dignity while paying with humiliatingly colorful currency? How will I avoid the French?
These are just the beginning of your problems. Many European countries don’t even possess particularly worthwhile drinking cultures. Some are so uptight, and so over-tax their liquor, they make even prudish America seem like free tequila night in a Tijuana whorehouse. What’s more, the concept of Happy Hour is totally lost on our European cousins. And now that the Euro has gone into effect, Western Europe is at least as expensive as your corner bar.
So what’s the point of even going over there? Why jet off to foreign lands when you can walk into a yuppie bar and drink your way around the world with their assortment of imported beers?
I’ll tell you why. First off, yuppies are not fun to drink with. Secondly, there is one area of the Old World that still provides the inexpensive booze and permissive atmosphere that we all imagine fills heaven. My fellow inebriates, I am of course talking about Eastern Europe.
A Drunkard’s Paradise
You heard me. Paradise. Know it or not, many of our nation’s finest hooch hounds have gone expatriate and delivered themselves and their livers to our former enemies. The jarring economic shift to capitalism, the spiralling depreciation of their anemic national currencies, and centuries of foreign domination that have driven its citizens en masse into habitual drunkenness, make the former Communist Bloc a drunkard’s dream destination. Couple this with a mind-boggling selection of insanely cheap liquors and attractive locals who think “I’m from Akron” sounds irresistibly exotic, and you have yourself the makings of an adventure you’ll never want to end.
Before you pack your flask, however, there are some important ground rules to remember, if you wish to separate yourself from the sightseeing herd and revitalize the fading international reputation of American drinking
Always remember your mission. You are not there to partake in distracting alcohol-free activities like engaging in memorable cross-cultural dialogues in cafes or getting locals to snap pictures of you wearing a beret in front of yet another thousand-year-old church. The primary goal of your trip is to forget most of it. Only then will you know you really enjoyed yourself. On average, you should retain five minutes of memories for every week spent abroad. You should instantly distrust anyone capable of embarking on a long, dreary three-hour conversation about what she did during her four-week jaunt overseas. That person is probably in the employ of the Anti-Saloon League. Conversely, if you run across someone who spent six months in Europe and all he can say for himself is, “Well, I’m still alive, so it must have been okay,” stay with him. Because that fucker knows how to party.
Book your flight with a European airline, preferably from a country you’ve never heard of. They tend to have the poorest safety records, and are thus much more likely and willing to pacify your fears with booze. Aim for the likes of Aeroflot or Malev. You will be astounded what it takes to get you cut off, especially when one of the engines starts acting as if would like to detach itself from the rest of the plane and go do its own thing.
You want to be loaded when you arrive at your destination. Alcohol is the universal translator, after all, and it makes going through customs much more amusing. If they see that your are drunk, they will be kinder to you, because in Eastern Europe most people at work are drunk. They will think, “Now this, this is an American who knows about drinking. This is an American who will infuse much needed dollars into our brewery and distillery industries.” And remember, if you vomit in your suitcase while they are searching it, tell them, “Oh, there’s that sandwich. I thought I’d left it behind.”
What To Drink
Only drink local alcohol. No matter how strange and dangerous they might seem, try every local beer, wine, liqueur and liquor you can get your hands on. Every country in the region has a very proud and elaborate drinking culture, and you should not insult your hosts by ordering Budweiser or Jack Daniels. Most European’s are under the woefully misguided impression that Americans drink like seven-year-old French girls, and it is your patriotic duty to set them straight. If one of your travel companions tries to defer when presented with a water bottle full of 100-proof Transylvanian brandy, take the moral high ground and say, “Don’t be so fucking culturally insensitive. You are America ‘s Ambassador of Alcoholism.”
You will find that the local brands are also much cheaper, which is good because you’ll need those savings to the bribe local cops into not taking you to jail after you urinate on a national monument. Which is an extremely easy thing to do, as they memorialize everything there. There may even be some memorial urinals, so be careful.
A Word About Irish Bars in Eastern Europe
Unless you are actually in Ireland , avoid Irish pubs in Europe. These cynical creatures are the Starbucks of European bars. Inside you will find nothing more than annoying British expatriates who will wish to engage you in conversations that always begin with: “You know what’s wrong with you Americans? You all think…” When in actuality, the only thing wrong with we Americans is we sometimes find ourselves stuck on a barstool next to a jackass who thinks there’s something wrong with us.
Also, the hookers are outrageously overpriced in these establishments.
A Word About Bargaining With Hookers in Eastern Europe
There are three hard and fast rules for negotiating with hookers in Eastern Europe. 1) If her price sounds reasonable, you are being overcharged. 2) If her price sounds ridiculously cheap, try to bargain her down. 3) When she says the equivalent of, “How dare you insult me, you cheap Yankee pig,” you have negotiated the going rate.
Chugging in the Czech Republic
This is the logical place to begin your journey. The capital, Prague, was once to elite expatriate drunks what Dallas was to soulless millionaires before the bust, and it still has much to offer the gutter-friendly. Because it is fast becoming one of Europe’s major tourist destinations, however, you’ll have great difficulty avoiding roving hordes of loathsomely sober tour groups and frat boys looking for Irish bars with Budweiser and ridiculously overpriced prostitutes. Try to avoid any bars within four blocks of any store selling T-shirts with “Kafka” or “Prague” on the front.
On the upside, cheap, quality beer is still to be had in Prague. The Czech Republic is the home of the incredible Pilsner Urquell, and — due to a century-old copyright agreement — if you order Budweiser there you’ll be pleasantly surprised to receive a glass of something with neither the color or consistency of urine. Half-liters of some of the best beer in the world (that’s about a pint to those of us who don’t wear turtlenecks) goes for well under a dollar. This allows you to buy rounds like Jackie Gleason, then wake up a weekend bender later to the joyful realization that you breezed through about fifty bucks. Which is an extraordinarily fine feeling, right up there with drunkenly posting naked pictures of your ex-girlfriend on the Internet.
A Word About the Green Faerie
The Czech Republic is also the most prolific producer of absinthe (pronounced liv-uhr damm-uhj). Getting loaded on absinthe is one of the most unique alcoholic experiences you’ll ever have. Since there is already a surplus of literature available about the Green Faerie, I’ll keep my advice brief and based strictly on personal experience.
First of all, if you do the thing where you light the spoonful of sugar on fire, make sure you don’t drop the spoon and napalm the exposed thighs of the women at your table. While it’s true many European women don’t like to shave their legs, and you might be thinking you’re doing them a favor, this sort of behavior is generally considered inappropriate.
If you split a bottle with a friend and must make a long trek home, do not give in to the urge to nap in an intersection, as the incessant honking makes it impossible to get any decent sleep. And finally, even though it isn’t a native word, policemen in Europe know exactly what the word “motherfucker” means.
Hooching in Hungary
You are always much better off in a country where savagely drunk locals outnumber the more obnoxious forms of tourists and when I say obnoxious I mean sober. Hungary fits this bill perfectly. This is a country so sensible that even gas stations have full bars behind their counters, yet so romantic that it is customary to greet the day with a couple shots of brandy.
You’ll want to head straight to the capital, Budapest, then continue straight to the scummiest bar you can find. I recall a place named Piaf, where you can chat amicably with whores and Russian mafiosi over glasses of enamel-stripping red wine and rocks of homemade speed. Be sure to try Unicum, a potent aperitif that tastes like Jagermeister with a powerful herbal aftertaste that makes you feel vigorous and healthy all the way to the alley where you may wish to vomit up the interesting Hungarian dinner you ate earlier.
The Valley of Beautiful Women and Cheap Wine
The real jewel of Hungary , however, is the wine country. The region that produces the best Hungarian wines is called, and I swear I’m not making this up, The Valley of the Beautiful Women. Now, you may think that saying “the best of Hungarian wines” is akin to saying “the best of French soldiers,” but this comparison is not fair. I say this because in the Valley of Beautiful Women you can buy a glass of wine for 20 cents and a five-liter gas can filled right from the barrels for $8. And I think any drunkard worth his outstanding bar tabs will agree a five-liter gas can full of wine for the price of a five-liter gas can is “the best”.
While Hungarian wines were once considered the finest in Central Europe, the wineries are still recovering from the horrific blow dealt by forty years of communism. The quality is improving steadily, however, and be sure to try a brand they call Bull’s Blood, a stiff red wine that goes down like a drunk American girl in Budapest.
A Word About Drunk American Girls in Europe
There is something so persuasively romantic about Europe that it almost magically transforms the most staid and uptight of American womanhood into quivering masses of promiscuity that would make a Bangkok prostitute turn away in disgust.
The only way you’ll be able to take advantage of this miraculous transformation, however, is to pretend to be European. An American male in Europe is to an American female just a crappy Ford Fiesta among so many Yugos and Fiats. I know this doesn’t make sense, but little makes sense about American girls in Europe.
If you meet American girls (they always hunt in pairs) they will assume you to be a European. You must not deprive them of this charming misconception. With delightfully broken English (“Isn’t he cute! He just said breast instead of best!“) and maniacal hand motions, communicate that you speak a language they’ll never be able to call you on, such as Finnish or Basque. In fact, I’m almost positive neither of those languages actually exist; they were merely made up by Americans trying to pick up other Americans in Europe.
Next, inform them it is traditional in your country to split a bottle of liquor when strangers meet. If they refuse, act gravely insulted and mutter about “Yankee invaderskis” until they relent. If you’re in Prague, be sure to order a bottle of Becherovka. Its smooth cinnamon flavor will lull the ladies into thinking its just another Purple Hooter, and its 80-proof kick will loosen them up and keep you interested.
Finally, introduce them to ancient and sacred Finno-Basque drinking rituals, such as sucking Becherovka out of their mouths. Play your cards right and you can look forward to getting nasty in the semi-privacy of a dirty hostel bed next to Uwe from Dusseldorf. Afterwards, to save you a drunken walk home, or worse, pillow talk, pretend to pass out. If you need pretend at all.
Pounding in Poland
Poland is the very epicenter of post-communist problem drinking, and the roving Yank problem-drinker will find no problem fitting right in. After enduring the Blitzkrieg, German occupation, and forty years of Soviet rule, it’s no wonder the Poles are still engaged in the nationwide party that started the day they snuck past the Iron Curtain. They take their drinking so seriously they are currently embroiled in a feud with Russia over who invented vodka. While that may seem a trivial matter to you, the feud has grown so bitter it is actually straining diplomatic relations between the countries.
During communism the locals were forced to make vodka from wood, but have since switched back to less-splintery potatoes and grains, which is as a good a testament to the benefits of capitalism you’re likely to find. The current version of vodka is deadly smooth and slides down like a greased pierogi.
It’s also dangerously cheap. Like the rest of Eastern Europe, Poland has yet to start using Euros, which makes extravagant, liver-torquing nights on the town extremely affordable. In keeping with the Eastern European emphasis on efficiency, the Polish bars serve beer in no smaller than half-liter portions and generally charge no more than a dollar. One caveat though: While beer and vodka is plentiful, there is a severe lack of ice. Which may be because many Poles have the idea that putting ice in your drink causes illness. You have to admire a people who, all the while blissfully knocking back glass after glass of vodka, blame their pains on water. You can imagine the conversations in the morning:
“Oh, sweet Jesus, my head hurts. I think I’m ill!”
“Listen, fuckski, I told you not to put that damnable ice in your vodka! Let this be a lesson for you, water-monger!”
Ever concerned about even a stranger’s health, if you ask a bartender for a scotch on the rocks, he may, though it may be 15 degrees outside, insist he is fresh out of the evil frozen stuff.
If you decide to hit the clubs, I wholeheartedly recommend the comically out of place theme nights Poland is famous for. There is nothing quite the same as stumbling into the Nowe Klub in Warsaw on a cold winter night to witness the hilarious yet slightly disturbing spectacle of twenty awkward Poles trying to learn the salsa dance during “Latin Night.”
Other Adventures with Alcohol
Rest assured that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are just the tip of the boozeburg. The seamy and ulcered underbelly of this wonderful region has much more to offer: Slovenia , Romania , Croatia , Serbia , Bulgaria , the Ukraine and the rest are all opportune places to forget your native language and the directions to your hostel. Having not yet borne the disaster of EU membership or the ravages of a stable civil society, they provide all manner of exciting and self-destructive adventure. Just remember: Stay away from Irish pubs, expensive prostitutes, and Polish ice.
–Ben Rohrbaugh and Heath Druzin