Who is the greatest boozer of all time?
If you’re like me, and I suspect you are, you’ve stayed up long nights, haunted by the question.
Fortunately, we will soon be able to put our troubled minds to rest—the vast staff of researchers at the Modern Drunkard Lab have taken the riddle to task. After doing a lot of drinking, then feeding volumes of research into a powerful computer, then doing some more drinking, the results started cranking out. In the coming months we’ll match up Western Civilization’s greatest hooch hounds in a tournament-style, single-elimination, winner-walks-out-on-the-bar-tab bottle royale until the one true and undisputed King of the Boozeheads is crowned. So pound a beer and place your bets—the fabulous Modern Drunkard Fantasy Drinking Tournament begins.
1.) A coin toss determines who orders the first round.
2.) The opponents will then take turns ordering rounds of whatever alcoholic beverage they wish.
3.) A drinker must finish his drink within ten seconds of his opponent finishing his or face disqualification.
4.) The contest will continue until a contender loses by Passing Out (a PO), by being unable or refusing to continue with the contest (a Technical Pass Out, or TPO) or vomiting into the referee’s bucket (a VO).
5.) Opponents can speak to each other, but cannot make physical contact. Contact will result in disqualification.
The Exhaustive Selection Process Explained
First off, living drinkers were thrown out because their story is not fully told, for all we know they’ll join A.A. and starting shilling carrot juice on late-night infomericals. Lesser-known hard pounders were also excused because everyone has an uncle that should be on the list and we only have room for sixteen contenders—and we’d have to take you and your aunt’s word for it and I personally don’t trust either of you. Backsliders such as Jack London, who turned against the booze in his latter years, were also disqualified because winners never quit and quitters never win. That said, if your personal drinking hero didn’t make the list, well, maybe he or she isn’t as cool as you think.
And one more thing—this is a drinking contest, and like any contest, there are psychological elements involved. Having a superior capacity for alcohol will not always win the day. Here’s the field:
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
Table Side Announcers: Howard Cosell and Sir Laurence Olivier
Ref: Bill “The Fox” Foster
“Who’s Your Papa”
(Odds: 30 to 1 in favor of Hemingway)
Tale of the Tab
Ernest has to be considered one of the smart money bets to win the tournament, weighing in at 220 pounds with a beer belly that’s the envy of the circuit. He’s been training hard in Cuba, subsisting entirely on a strict regimen of rum, shark flesh and fistfights.
The Baltimore boozehound has a reputation for a glass liver, something his handlers are quick to blame on bad press and worse liquor. “Smart alecks like to spike Edgar’s drinks with formaldehyde,” his manager swears. “My boy can drink whiskey all night, nap for fifteen seconds, then hit the bars for breakfast. He’s in top form. The sun may also rise, but Ernie will be fast setting when Edgar’s done with him.”
The Build Up
Howard Cosell: Poe may not have the capacity of Ernest, but he’s crafty and I’m certain he brought his whole bag of tricks with him. And he’s going to need every one of them.
Laurence Olivier: His only chance is to play his brutish opponent as a skilled matador plays a fearsome bull.
HC: The bull doesn’t always lose, Larry, especially if he’s juiced up on rum. So is it going to be: “For whom the puke bucket tolls?” or “Under the table, quoth the raven?”
(Hemingway wins the coin toss.)
HC: Hemingway winning the toss spells bad news for Poe.
LO: Ernest has a reputation of coming out fast and I don’t think the crowd will be disappointed.
Hemingway orders Papa Dobles
LO: Hemingway rolls out his tried and true tropical attack, betting the double rums will shake his slimmer opponent.
HC: And down the drinks go, Hemingway setting the pace. Poe pauses, then belts his down and wipes his lips with a rather dainty handkerchief.
LO: He who fights beasts must take care not to become a beast. Good show, Poe!
Poe orders 1978 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon
HC: Edgar’s pacing himself, trying to buy time to recover from the rum roundhouse.
LO: But the brutish Hemingway will give him no quarter, downing the excellent vintage in a single gulp. Poe scrambles to catch up.
HC: The matador thought he was going to sip out this round, but the bull isn’t having any. Poe takes his time, finishing on a seven count with three seconds to spare.
Hemingway orders Papa Dobles
HC: He’s back with the Bacardi bat attack, bulling his way in, downing it quickly, his eyes never leaving Poe’s.
LO: Edgar calmly tilts his down on a comfortable six count—Heavens! Did I see Poe’s jowls tremble at the end?
HC: Indeed you did! Could he be in trouble already?
LO: His corner is looking at him with concern, but Poe waves them off, claiming he accidentally swallowed a shard of ice.
HC: A likely story, Larry. He’s in trouble!
LO: I disagree, Howard, he hasn’t even opened his bag of tricks yet.
HC: He’s going to need a bag to vomit into if he doesn’t buck up!
Poe orders Bass Ales
HC: Our beleaguered Baltimorian is retreating even deeper into familiar territory, perhaps hoping a pint of thick beer will slow the charge of—
LO: No such luck, Howard! Hemingway crudely guzzles the ale—
HC:Like a shark swimming through so much sea water.
LO: A wickedly grinning shark, Howard, for there is the first show of Hemingway’s trademark smirk—
HC: Smiling as he watches Edgar struggle to finish his own call, might Poe drown in his own quicksand?
LO: Seven! Eight! Nine! And he gets the last bit of froth down with a second to spare!
HC: Have to give it to Edgar, he’s been on the ropes since the third round but he’s hanging in.
LO: It’s a thin branch he’s hanging onto and Heaven only knows what the shark will order now that he’s tasted blood.
Hemingway orders brandies
LO: I don’t understand it. Ernest has him on the ropes and he’s settling down to sip brandy. He’s even striking up a casual conversation with Poe.
HC: He’s toying with him, Larry. Examine that smile, the way he casually, almost cruelly swirls the snifter in his hand—
LO: —while Poe’s hand twitches like a poisoned rat. He’s expecting Hemingway to suddenly shoot the powerful liquor, forcing him to follow.
HC: Yet Hem continues to sip like he’s idling in a Parisian cafe. He doesn’t take a sip until Poe catches up. What’s his game?
Poe orders Coors tall boys
LO: What the devil?
HC: Here’s your devil! Edgar is making a pumping action. He’s signalling to the ref that they are to shotgun the beers!
LO: A desperate measure! Obviously trying to play on Hemingway’s dark past with shotguns!
HC: Poe’s encouraging the crowd to chant “Shotgun!” He’s opened his bag and pulled out a very nasty rabbit indeed.
LO: Questionable behavior if you ask me.
HC: But legal! The ref pierces a hole in the bottom of each can and Ernest’s face is ashen. Poe’s maneuver, the horrible chanting, is appearing to have a powerful psychological effect. And down the beers go.
LO: Poe appeared to have put more beer down his jacket than his throat, but Hemingway waves the referee off. A noble gesture.
HC: Not noble, vengeful! He’s angry, Larry. The bull let the matador rest and was thanked with a sharp dagger to his psyche.
LO: Poe might have been angling for a disqualification with that spill, but—
HC: Hem isn’t letting him off that easy. He barely crushed the tall boy with his massive paw before calling for the next round.
Hemingway orders triple absinthes
LO: Oh, what cruelty, what a plague of terrors he is calling down! Ernest is waving off the sugar cubes and ice water, demanding Poe drink the 160 proof liquor straight. Edgar is aghast!
HC: He knew what he was getting into when he opened up that can of beer. Now he will surely pay a terrible price!
LO: Hemingway slowly drains his glass, eyes blazing!
HC: Poe is weaving like a willow in the wind! His face is flushed with blood. He has a swallow and his stomach bucks against the awful liquor. How much more can he take?
LO: This is monstrous!
HC: Four! Five! Hemingway is shouting at Poe, demanding he do the shot. Seven! The shark is gone and the devil is out!
LO: Poe has another go, gets half of it down! Nine! And Poe goes down! Leveled by absinthe, the cruel green faerie!
HC: He hit the floor like a sack of bricks. He’ll be feeling that tomorrow.
Hemingway wins by P.O.
Post Fight Interview:
Hemingway: “The shotgun trick didn’t bother me a bit. Sometimes, when a man is broken, he becomes stronger in the broken parts.”
Poe: “The rum . . . the faerie . . . nevermore!”
“The Algonquin Assassin”
(Odds: 8 to 1 in favor of Welles)
Tale of the Tab
The martini-slinger from Manhattan may not possess the sheer physical capacity of her male counterparts, but she more than makes up for it with a cutting wit that has thrown much larger opponents off balance and under the table. She claims she doesn’t know what the underside of the Algonquin Round Table looks like, and that’s saying something considering she’s sparred there with the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner. She has no problem holding her liquor, if not her tongue.
With Gleason’s girth and Winston’s wit, Welles is the complete package and a formidable opponent. He does have a reputation of being a bit of a snob, however, sometimes balking at less refined hooches.
The Build Up
Welles may prefer finer wines, but he can knock down high-octane sherrys and ports like no one else. Expect the scrappy Parker to attack her larger opponent’s rarified tastes with rough-and-tumble Prohibition-era concoctions and vile vintages, then go for the kill with a flurry of martinis. That is, if she can last that long.
(Welles wins the toss, but defers to the lady.)
Parker orders dry Beefeater Gin martinis
LO: Very gentlemanly of Welles to let Miss Parker order first.
HC: Gentlemanly or overconfident? Unsurpisingly, Parker gets right to the point with high-powered gin stems.
LO: Her choice of brands is unexpected—she has trained extensively with bathtub gins and I expected her to test his palate early. Orson doesn’t mind a dry martini and seems pleased with her choice.
HC: She might not be so genteel next time.
Welles orders 1937 Dom Perignon Champagne
HC: Looks like Orson isn’t eager to mix it up either. “Just because we’re on opposite sides of the table doesn’t mean we can’t be civilized,” he quips. “Civilized is a word men use when they forget to bring their sword,” Parker whipcracks back.
LO: They’re merely sparring, feeling each other out, which plays directly into Orson’s hands. Look for him to try to drag it out as long as possible, knowing his vastly superior weight will allow him to outlast his svelte challenger.
HC: I agree, Larry. She’s going to have to come out swinging with her bootleg arsenal and hope to land a lucky vomit torpedo if she intends to sink this battleship.
Parker orders Extra Heavy Malaga Manishevitz Wine
LO: The niceties dispensed with, Dorothy takes a jab at Orson’s soft palate with a questionable table wine.
HC: Parker grew up in a Jewish household, she can drink the stuff like water.
LO: Examine the confidence of Welles, smiling like a fat feline eying a sparrow. He downs his glass handily and quips, “Men seldom make passes, at girls who don’t finish their glasses,” much to his own amusement.
HC: Parker polishes her’s off and quips back, “Girls with class never date men whose mouth is larger than their ass.”
LO: In Orson’s case that’s a large mouth, indeed. How perfectly ribald.
HC: “I will drink no wine before it’s time,” Orson snipes back, smiling wickedly. “And that time is now.”
Orson orders Wild Irish Rose Fortified Wine
HC: Holy hobo! Welles comes out swinging with a wicked wino uppercut! Who would have guessed?
LO: A brilliant gambit. In essence he’s telling her: “Swing all you wish at my palate, my dear, I can take it and give it back in spades.” What was assumed to be his soft underbelly is in fact—
HC: Cast iron! His years of shilling and undoubtedly swilling Riunite appears to have paid off. The fat cat swallows his glass of Wild Eye without so much as a blink.
LO: Dorothy lets the count run to eight, then knocks it back handily.
HC: But you gotta ask yourself: where does this leave Dorothy? She was hoping to run him down rot-gut row and here he is, shoving her into an alley! She’s going to have to rethink her entire strategy.
Parker orders double shots of well tequila
LO: And she has! It’s a little known fact that Welles despises the taste of south of the border sauces. Parker must have gleaned her gossip column pals for that weapon. Orson is blinking now!
HC: He downs the shot and immediately signals the ref for the puke bucket! He’s going down!
LO: Not quite yet, Howard. He’s motioning it away. The question now is, was he feinting weakness, or is he really on the ropes?
Orson orders Riunites on ice
HC: Isn’t that nice!
LO: He’s reaching for a life preserver, Howard. He’s trying to buy the most precious commodity of all—time.
HC: He spent a decade swilling the stuff, but is the wine served in time? Can he clear his palate before the next Parker punch?
LO: He’s trying to enthrall and stall her with charming conversation and—
HC: Dorothy drops hers down the hatch. For once Parker appears uninterested in idle chatter.
LO: Orson reluctantly follows suit.
HC: Notice how he mouthed some ice cubes? He’s trying to cool demon tequila’s flames. The great director has lost control of this production.
Parker orders triple shots of mescal
HC: The Algonquin Assassin is going in for the kill! She bloodied his palate with the felony juice and now she’s shoving worm hooch down his throat!
LO: Examine Orson’s posture! He’s sagging like a rhino taking a fatal bullet! Dorothy downs her shot then leans back to examine her nails, utterly nonchalant!
HC: The worm has turned for Welles. He brings the shot to his lips and . . . can he? . . . will he? . . . the ref’s count is at six . . . seven . . . and he can’t do it! He’s signalling for the bucket! This is no feint!
LO: Good heavens! Look at the amount of pultritude! Looks like he had bed of oysters for lunch.
HC: What a stunning upset! Citizen Kane can’t!
Dorothy Parker wins by V.O.
Post Fight Interview
Welles: “The greatest of men have a weakness. Mine happens to be good taste.”
Parker: “It was fun. I had never hunted whale before.”
Bout 3: Jackie Gleason Vs. Lord Byron