The difference between a proper evening of bar hopping and a night of being rooted in a single bar is the same difference between the free-ranging hobo and the street-corner wino.
The footloose hobo views a vast landscape from the open door of a speeding boxcar, he gets ripped on strange hooches under foreign skies, he samples ripple in LA and Manischewitz in New York. He knows how to make stew out of dirt and an old shoe. Your local wino, however, knows only how to hold up a pathetic plea of a cardboard sign and suck the life from a bottle of the same brand of fortified wine he’s been drinking since high school.
The road hobo has to be much more organized than the street wino and the same applies to bar hoppers. An army on the move inherently tends to disperse and without proper organization your gang (you must always bar hop in a gang) will collapse into a rabble by the third bar you hit.
And one more thing. Bar hopping and pub crawling are two very different things. A pub crawl is a highly predictable event where you know beforehand exactly which pubs you’re assaulting. The bar hop, in its purest form, is a free-wheeling spectacle that knows not where it goes. It just knows it’s going — and fast.
The Five Cardinal Rules of Bar Hopping
1.) Make your entrance en masse. If your gang is relying upon more than one mode of transportation, rally in front of the bar before making your grand entrance. If you straggle in piecemeal your gang will get cut to pieces, and the battle for the booze is over before it began.
2.) Everyone in the group must be present for a shot. Why? Unity. You’re not a gaggle of poorly trained irregulars stumbling from defeat to defeat—you’re a professional army rolling over an ever-fleeing enemy. The army will tend to scatter when you march into a full bar; the call for a shot will rally the troops.
3.) Never spend more than forty-five minutes in each bar. The longer you stay, the less likely you are to leave. Empires are made by marching, not hunkering behind barricades. The urge to leave should grip you the moment you walk in the joint.
4.) Accept your losses gracefully. You will take losses as the night goes on. Someone will hook up, or even desert to another tribe. Don’t hang around a bar all night trying to talk a traitor into rejoining the ranks. He is a ghost to you now. Bury the dead, bayonet the wounded and keep moving.
5.) Expand the tribe. Sensing your powerful quest, individuals and even members of other gangs will want to join you. Let them. Absorb their strengths, indoctrinate them with the rules of your army. It will only make your gang stronger.
The Cadre of Carousing
Because you are an army, you will need a hierarchy of leadership, a recognizable chain of command the troops can rely on to get them through the night in one piece.
The Leader of the Pack
Whether he bears the title consciously or unconsciously, every gang has one. Someone is going to have to lead the charge, cast the deciding vote, direct the tribe toward brave new bars. If a leader is not appointed at the onset, a strong man or woman will emerge by the third bar.
One of the few drawbacks of running with a drinking gang is the pressure it puts on bartenders. A treasurer will minimize this dilemma by organizing the orders. Before you start, everyone should give him an amount of money—it could be the same for everyone, it could be as much as each individual can afford. The Treasurer is not only responsible for buying the rounds; he’s also in charge of remembering what the hell everyone is drinking. So make sure he knows how to hold his own when the liquor starts to flow.
The troops have to stay motivated and that’s where the Clown comes in. Master of the pratfall, high lord of hijinks, the clown keeps the mood light and crazy.
Her job is to give meaning and credence to the crusade, however fleeting or false. One succinct, borrowed line from Plutarch or Mencken at the right moment and you are no longer just a gaggle of wild-ass drunks wallowing through whiskey—you’re boozy poets searching for purpose in a vast sea of chaos.
This charming cad or solicitous siren’s job is to enlist new recruits to the cause. Identify the best and brightest of the bar and bring them into the fold. Carry off the most beautiful women, the sharpest wits, the heaviest purses. Remember—an empire that isn’t expanding is collapsing.
The Sergeant Major
She’s the responsible one, even when she’s hammered out of her skull. Her job is keeping the lines of communication open, she is the glue that keeps the gang from disintegrating. She will parlay with the regulars, cool out the hot heads and keep track of where everyone is. When it’s time to hop to the next bar she will make sure everyone is accounted for and aware of the next target of conquest. Her creed: Never let a drunken comrade fall into the hands of the enemy.
As it is with any conquering army, your gang will be the target of envy, fear and loathing. Especially by the regulars. These entrenched defenders will harass your exposed flanks with verbal and sometimes physical counter-attacks and you have to be ready to deal with the eventuality. The enforcer is your barely veiled threat, when trouble starts he will step to the fore and bring the conflict to rest, one way or another. Make sure he doesn’t have any outstanding warrants.
A Nod to the Past
One of the greatest aspirations of forming a drinking gang is to attempt to capture something our generation never possessed or even came close to. Deep down in our private hearts we all dream of being a member of one of the grand drinking mobs, a Frank Sinatra, a Jackie Gleason, a Dorothy Parker, an Ernest Hemingway. And if in seeking the old truths we become alien to the new, well, so be it. We’re trading in a new Yugo for a used Cadillac.
Take a lesson from the masters and you too can drink like the best and the booziest.
Guzzling Like the Great Gangs
The Rat Pack
Drink: Whiskey and martinis.
Wear: Tuxedos (a black suit will do in a pinch), white shirts, dark ties, money clips.
Famous members: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall.
Your credo: “Cock your hat—angles are attitudes.”—Sinatra
Frank and Deaning it means doing everything with style and class. You’re the stars of the hippest show in town, and screw the squares if they can’t dig it. Rule extravagantly like Frank, wisecrack like Dean, clown around like Sammy, sneer like Bogart, suck the dramatic air right out of the bar and leave the bystanders gasping for breath.
The Lost Generation
Drink: Wine, brandy, champagne, grappa, absinthe if you can get it, Pernod if you can’t.
Wear: Retro suits, flapper outfits.
Famous members: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein.
Your credo: “The rhythm of the weekend, with its birth, its planned gaieties, and its announced end, followed the rhythm of life and was a substitute for it.”—Fitzgerald
The great drinking gangs that formed in Paris during the 1920s were an attempt by writers and artists (many of them American expatriates fleeing Prohibition) to recapture the camaraderie of the trenches of the First World War. And because of that dark origin, a barely hidden layer of nihilism was always present. To emulate a Lost Generation gang, you must party like madmen tonight because tomorrow you may all be going over the top to certain deaths for a cause you barely understand. So brood and speak of dark things, with sudden outbursts of escapist rapture in between. Occasionally drop existential quotes from Camus and Sartre (try to memorize them in the original French). Seek out bars with patios and pathos.
Drink: Cheap wine, cheap beer, whatever is cheapest.
Wear: Work clothes, jeans, white T-shirts, leather bomber jackets.
Famous members: Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs.
Your credo: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”—Kerouac
Whatever bar you’re at is never happening enough, the next bar is always certain to be better. Fly through the night like moths, forever seeking that ever brighter light, that perfect blinding circle that will hold you. The more you drink, the closer you will get, but you will never find it, it is always at the next one. Wild-ass behavior is encouraged, mad stream-of-consciousness jabbering is mandatory. Every word that drops from your lips has to possess some deeper poetic meaning, even if you’re not exactly sure what that meaning is. Shady jazz clubs and hobo dives are your primary targets for cheap kicks, but it doesn’t really matter where you go, baby, just so long as you go, go, go!
The Hemingway Code Heroes
Drink: Tropical rum drinks, especially the Papa Doble and the daiquiri.
Wear: Ill-fitting suits, safari garb.
Famous members: Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, Howard Hawkes, Bill Smith, Max Perkins, A.E. Hotchner.
Your credo: “Modern life is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.” —Hemingway
A macho offshoot of the Lost Generation gangs, the Hemingway Code Heroes never mistake motion for action. You must go to bars you don’t belong, especially those belonging to other cultures. Manliness must be maintained at all times and at all costs. Speak in short, staccato sentences, win the respect of your peers by downing a double shot of rum without blinking an eye or reaching for a chaser. Drink like men. Not today’s men, yesterday’s men. You have stared into the black abyss of heart-cracking relationships, you have been broken into pieces by wicked hangovers, and where you were broken you are now stronger. And quieter. Do not speak unnecessary and when you do speak, sprinkle your dialogue liberally with sport and military metaphors. Recognize you may have to fight sometime during the evening, but only if the cause is noble and true. And don’t be afraid to fight amongst yourselves over a lady, only to reclaim your friendship a short time later with a shot and a handshake. At least once during the night one of you should grab a coat or tablecloth and play matador to another drunk’s bull.
The Algonquin Round Table
Drink: Good scotch for the men, champagne cocktails for the ladies.
Wear: Business suits, party dresses.
Famous members: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Alexander Woollcott.
Your credo: “There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”—Parker
Critic Edmund Wilson called them an “all-star literary vaudeville act”; they called themselves the “vicious circle”. And for good reason. A drinking group composed of the sharpest wits of 1930s NYC, the circle was formed for the certain purposes of trading the cruelest of barbs and elevating the act of getting hammered to an art form.
Gather the smartest people you know and tear through the bars like an eloquently cruel threshing machine. You don’t have to like your company; conflict is the coin of your realm. Seize a table and let loose the slings and arrows of sublime slander. Never utter a mundane word, everything you say must be razor sharp with wit. Parry, thrust, counter thrust. If an intellectually-challenged stranger dares join your elite circle, cut him to the quick, gang up on him mercilessly until he slinks away to mumble sports scores to the mongoloids watching TV at the bar. Never take a slight personally, just sit back and wait until you can exact your cruel verbal revenge.
And there you have it: all the tools and templates needed to assemble your very own drinking gang. Take your time, even the great ones spent years assembling fully-functional prototypes worthy of being turned loose on unsuspecting bars.
Like an ancient empire, your drinking gang will rise, mix with other gangs, make war, and, alas, eventually collapse, with short periods of enlightenment in between. Conquer as many bars and as much booze as you can, then watch it all disintegrate into beautiful chaos. Reflect back like Seneca musing on the fall of Greece: At your height you were invincible, the shining light which other drunks feared and envied, and now you are a shattered empire, never to rise to glory again.
Well, at least not until next weekend.
—Frank Kelly Rich