Denver International Airport
Airport bars should be exciting. You want to be sitting next to some chap in a pith helmet off to safari in deepest Africa; instead you’re seated next to some middle management types on their way to a motivational retreat. Ugh.
For once the flight was so quick I barely had time to down my cocktail before the “fasten seatbelts” sign started flashing. My ride, Carolyn, arrived promptly and, after stowing my bags, we headed into town.
Rick’s Cabaret 300 S. 3rd St.
2 Basil Haydens
My host, David, labors as the kitchen manager of this upscale gentleman’s club in downtown Minneapolis. Now, I’m not the type who’s used to tipping someone when I take a pee, but hey, when in Rome give a guy some cash for handing you a towel.
Unfortunately, David had to work, leaving me stuck at Rick’s for the remainder of the night. Oh no! Stuck in a strip club full of beautiful women, paying employee prices for drinks! Please don’t throw me in the Briar patch! I whiled away the rest of the evening talking to the bartender, Nick, gathering important facts about the city and absorbing the excellent new dances naked women are doing these days.
Nick noted the passing of two new local laws that boded well and ill for my stay. A few months prior, flying in the face of the increasingly anti-alcohol trends of the rest of the country, Minnesota extended last call from 1am to 2am. Which was good to hear: any last call earlier than 2am has a negative effect on my brain. It screws up my entire sense of time and place.
Then came the bad news—Minneapolis had voted in a smoking ban for bars. I’d thought there had been a lot of people loitering around in front of the club. The biggest complainers about the smoking ban, Nick told me, were the city’s bar staff — those that smoking ban proponents claim they are trying to help. Business had dropped off sharply after the ban, since many smokers now choose to visit nearby St. Paul, whose bars are unburdened by such silly laws. Just wait until winter. There will be frozen smokers lined up in front of the bars like Popsicles.
Under David’s Desk
9 Bud Lights
The brand new, freshly extended last call finally came around, so David stuck me in his office to avoid the bouncer dragnet. My finely honed instincts immediately led me to a case of beer nestled under his desk. Sensing it must have been placed there just for me, I laid into it with both hands. It was warm, but there was plenty of air conditioning, so it wasn’t, you know, too warm. Curling up under his desk, I settled in for an extended stay. I woke up sometime later, muscles cramped, contacts stuck to my eyes like tiny glue-filled Frisbees, not sure where I was. The lizard brain, however, knew it was time to go. Stumbling blindly through kitchen corridors, I located David, crawled into his car, and we retreated to his apartment.
I sprang out of bed at the crack of noon, feeling very nearly human. I took a healthful stroll down to a local coffee shop to plan out my attack on Minneapolis. The idea was to pour over the local papers, scope out the drinking scene, have a leisurely cup of coffee, grab a nice breakfast, then do a little exploring before embarking on the power drinking. It was a perfectly rational plan, so I should have known it wouldn’t live beyond my first cup of coffee. The phone call from David went something like this:
“Nicky, where are you at?”
“Some coffee shop.”
“Well, get over to Liquor Lyle’s, happy hour is about to start. Your native guide is a six-foot Korean guy named Chris, you can’t miss him.”
“Have they food?”
“Sure, why not?”
Fate had spoken. I abandoned my coffee and walked the two blocks to Liquor Lyle’s.
Liquor Lyle’s 2021 Hennepin
2 Johnny Walker Reds
In every city I go to, I tend to find a bar that’s like home, a base of operations for the extended assault. A place with friendly staff where I can hold my hungover head and beg quietly for a morning drink while I gear myself up for another day of endless bar hopping. The moment I walked into Liquor Lyle’s I knew I had found just that: five blocks from where I was crashing, amiable staff, large, dark and three 2-for-1 happy hours a day. Perfect. Fate can be cruel, surely, but also kind.
And David was right, I couldn’t miss the large Korean gentleman hunkered at the bar swilling whiskey. He wasn’t just tall, he was big, well over 200 pounds.
I nodded and he slid one of his two Johnny Walkers over to me. I thanked him and sat down. I ordered a drink and the bartender brought over two — right, happy hour. Chris and I talked and drank for a while, then a mood change seemed to come over him.
“You know, us Asians can’t hold our liquor very well,” he revealed rather ominously. “A lot of us are missing a key enzyme that breaks down booze, or something.” He punctuated his declaration by ordering another pair of whiskeys.
What an odd thing to say just before ordering a drink, I thought. I wondered if it was similar to certain animal danger signs, the rattlesnake’s rattle, the wolverine’s growl, the wino’s glower. I decided to be on alert and ready for mayhem, just in case.
Sadly, every happy hour has to come to an end, and, even though Liquor Lyle’s had two more on the horizon, we were reluctant to navigate the full-price seas until the next. Time to hoist the sails.
On Some Sidewalk
We were smoothly sailing to the next bar, wincing at the blaring sun, when Chris decided it was time to sit down and relax a little. In the middle of the sidewalk. Then he decided it was time to lie down and take a nap.
Have you ever tried to rouse a large drunk who’s decided it is high time for a quick nap on the sidewalk? Let me tell you, it’s a losing proposition.
I sat down next to him on a nearby patch of grass, it was rather comfortable. Giving a cheery hello to passersby, I mentally reviewed my options:
1. Try to carry him. That was out, he was too big. Besides, once I picked him up, what would I do with him? I could see myself lurching into a bar with him over my shoulder. “Don’t mind him, he’s just a friendly narcoleptic. Just another victim of that dreadful disease. He’ll be cheery and chipper soon as we get some medicine in him, which we’re fresh out of, so we’ll have to settle for whiskey.”
2. Wake him up. Which I tried, shoving him roughly. He just grunted and waved me off.
3. Leave him. It was tempting, but thoroughly ungentlemanly. I couldn’t just leave a fellow drunkard, especially one who had bought me so many drinks, to the tender mercies of the local law enforcement. Napping in public is a sure fire one-way ticket to the drunk tank, in any city.
Out of options, I decided I needed some sage advice. And what better time to drunk dial than when relaxing on a stranger’s lawn the middle of the day with a passed-out cohort? I searched through my phone for the numbers of the Minnesota Drunkards I knew. Ah yes, Oggar. Who better to talk to than the reigning champion of the MDM Convention’s Clash of the Tightest? I can’t recall the specific conversation, but Oggar told me later that it went something like this:
“Yeah, he’s out cold on the street.”
“Have you tried waking him up?”
“Yeah, didn’t work though. I’ll try again.”
After two minutes of incoherent cursing, kicking and cajoling, I gave up.
I searched my phone list again. Ah yes, Frank Rich, editor of Modern Drunkard Magazine. Surely he would offer some sound advice.
“Never let a fallen comrade fall into the hands of the enemy,” he railed after I’d explained the situation. “Have you tried slapping him around?”
“Yes, and kicking.”
“Right then. You’re going to have to carry him to a medic station.”
“The nearest bar.”
“He’s too big to carry.”
“Drag him. It’s your duty.”
I pictured myself dragging the huge brute down the sidewalk, fending off stares of alarm with, “Don’t worry, I’m a sergeant in the Bacchus Battalion. Just dragging him to the medic station. They have medicine for him there.”
I decided to relax into a prostrate form of guard duty. After fifteen minutes my ward woke up and calmly asked me what bar we were going to next.
The Red Dragon 2116 S. Lyndale
2 Wondrous Punches
The Red Dragon is a tastefully done Chinese restaurant. Chris and I settled at the bar and ordered the house specialty, the Wondrous Punch. I asked what it was and everyone just smiled inscrutably.
The Wondrous Punch arrived in the guise of a Hawaiian Punch-colored drink, served in what appeared to be a small fishbowl. Perfect. It had the kind of smooth taste I associate with the most dangerous of drinks — those well-crafted Trojan Horses designed to hide the flavor of monstrous amounts of alcohol.
It immediately reminded me of a drink I’d enjoyed in Chicago’s China Town called a Dr. Fong. The menu listed no ingredients, just a cryptic note: “Dr. Fong cures what ails you.” A handful of Dr. Fong left me and a hard-drinking crony giggling like schoolgirls.
After a bit of wrangling, I managed to squeeze the Wondrous Punch’s active ingredients out of the bartender: four kinds of rum including 151.
I was absorbing this knowledge and my Punch when a commotion broke out near the door. I turned to find Chris embroiled in a bit of rough-housing with a customer and at least one staff member.
There are times when you have to decide whether to remain aboard a badly listing vessel or jump ship. I decided it was the latter. I helped the staff gently steer Chris out of the building, said goodbye, then returned to the bar to dive into another Wondrous Punch. I asked the bartender what was a good direction to set sail to and he pointed due west.
Mortimer’s 2001 S. Lyndale
Some other stuff I don’t remember
The block and a half trek to Mortimer’s was a bit unsteady, the second Punch had obviously damaged my rudder. Mortimer’s is a large dim room centered by the bar, with myriad video games and pool tables, in addition to a decent jukebox. I made my way to the bar with ferocious concentration and ordered a beer. I kept the conversation to a bare minimum, unsure I could trust myself to maintain a proper and coherent exchange. The beers washed away the cloying sweetness of the Punch and I felt myself lurch into a more or less even keel.
The Garden of Blight
“Hey,” I thought, “David doesn’t have trees in his living room. Does he?”
Rolling off the wood chips digging into my back, I took a look around. I found myself lolling in what appeared to be a gigantic planter. I wrestled my cellphone out of my jacket and called David.
“Nick! Where you at?”
“I’m in a planter,” I responded cheerfully.
“Okay. How about a street address?”
I stood up and looked around. A block or so away the lights from the Red Dragon sign winked at me menacingly. I advised my host of my general location, and he guided me in by phone. I felt a sudden empathy for Chris, and a sudden respect for the inexorable power of Mother Earth’s gravity, especially when working in cahoots with Father Booze. Happy to be back at home base with a mattress instead of wood chips, I fell soundly asleep.
I woke up feeling mildly queasy yet optimistic — the sort of hangover easily beaten down by a few well-chosen cocktails. While aware I was beginning to smell a bit ripe, such details seemed niggling in the shadow of a four-day bender. I inquired of my host as to where a gentleman might repair for an eye-opener. We immediately set off for a bar called Figlio’s.
Figlio’s 3001 Hennepin
2 Irish Coffees
3 Glasses of Cabernet
Figlio’s is an upscale restaurant and bar, its dim lighting unable to hide the plush décor. I initially felt somewhat out of place in my t-shirt, shorts and Converse sneakers, but was made to feel welcome by their fantastic pair of happy hours featuring $2 wine, $2 appetizers and $2 drafts. To be quite frank, I’d feel comfortable strolling Buckingham Palace stark naked so long as they were dishing out those kinds of deals.
I was slowly learning that Minneapolis is a veritable Holy Land of Happy Hours — the discounts are solid, the hours are long, and often the bars boast more than the traditional one.
David and I linked up with two friends of his, and we whiled away the afternoon doing what drunkards do best — juicing and jawing. Eventually, however, I was made to recall my mission. I wasn’t in Minneapolis to chat away pleasant afternoons, after all — I was here to explore the drinking culture of the Midwest, to wallow in booze and wake up amid the wood chips. Ironically, this reminder came in the form of Charlie, an ex-alcohol counselor turned dedicated drunkard. The word must be spread, he assured me, the gospel of guzzling must be preached. We marched.
2 Johnny Walker Blacks
Over a couple of good cigars on the patio, David mapped out my attack plan. On a bar napkin he sketched a rough map, and on the back he wrote the names of several bars. Excellent, I thought. Now we’re back on track. Planning, that’s the key. This would be my bar pilgrimage, my drunken Crusade through the Holy Land, preaching the word. Eyes glazed with religious fervor and Johnny Walker, smelling like a hermit fresh from the desert, I lurched off on my mission.
I promptly got lost and called a cab.
C.C. Club 2600 S. Lyndale
2 Bud bottles
1 Jameson rocks
This seemed to be the right place, if the cab driver was to be believed. A proper rock-and-roll dive, it was right up my alley, and I don’t mean the alley I sometimes find myself lounging in. The place was jumping with energy and I took it in perched at the bar, swaying slightly. I felt drunker than I should have been, and figured that the booze from the night before hadn’t fully worked its way out of my system. After mumbling a jumble of incoherent platitudes at bartender and tape recorder, I re-orientated myself with the napkin map. Tacking against gravity, I headed up Lyndale Street.
Adrift on the Soused Sea
1 Miller Tall Boy
Holding the napkin (or mapkin as I now called it) it in front of my face and cursing like a myopic pirate struggling with a treasure map drawn by a dyslexic mongoloid, I lucked upon my next destination, the Leaning Tower of Pizza. It resembled the kind of place where the food would be good and you might be able to swill a beer while waiting for a slice. My stomach, however, threatened mutiny if a non-liquid was heaved upon it. After conferring with a cook taking a break in the alley behind the Leaning Tower, I veered across the street and ducked into a liquor store. I plundered two Miller tall boys and shared the booty with the slacking cook.
Things got hazy for the next couple of hours. My treacherous tape recorder offers no enlightenment at all — through some bizarre feat of hyper-physics, the machine seemed to have recorded everything backwards. After an excruciatingly complicated back-masking session, I later managed to piece together a rough transcript:
“…well, the Bonobo Monkey masturbates all the time. In fact—“ Screeeeeeech. “No, really, there was a bathtub instead of a urinal—” Hissssssssssssss —furious giggling — “Will you look at that guy dancing? Monkey! Monkey!”— incoherent screaming.
The Red Dragon 2116 South Lyndale
2 Wondrous Punches
I surfaced at the Red Dragon, staring into the face of my old adversary, the Wondrous Punch. “You son of a bitch,” I mumbled at the drink, “so it’s come to this again.” I took a long drag from the gigantic snifter. It wouldn’t beat me this time, no fucking planters tonight. I’d take the Punch, shake it off with a “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” and then just wade into the bastard.
I caught the bartender giving me an appraising look and I had the feeling I’d stopped in the middle of a sentence with a bemused “How the hell did I get here?” look on my face. I checked my watch; I’d lost two hours somewhere. I could vaguely remember the shifting landscape of at least two other bars; an argument with some phantom drunk; and laughing as I fell face first onto someone’s lawn.
And now I was staring into the abyss — a brutal rum-filled fruity abyss — but an abyss nonetheless. I had to face my demons, so I laid into it. What did Nietzsche say? “If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. “
“So what do you see?” I asked.
“Wassat?” asked the bartender.
“Talking to my Punch is all.”
“Yeah,” he said with a weird smile, “that happens a lot.”
As I drained the abyss, my phone rang. It was David. His work was done and he insisted we meet at Mortimer’s.
I was in full hunker mode when David found me. I was laid out on the canvas. The Punch had decked me, but good. I was done in, and all the soothing beers in the world wouldn’t lift me back up. I told David as much.
“Well,” he said. “Maybe you can get a rematch tomorrow.”
“I’ll fix him then,” I slurred as we slumped out the door. “I’ll fix him real good.”
It’s nearly pointless to try to describe the colossal hangover I woke up with. We’ve all weathered that horrific storm, we’ve all had to suffer that fat circus barker standing on your head while his vicious gang of carnies take turns working out on your vital organs. So let’s not even bring it up, okay? Let’s just suffice to say I crawled into the shower and huddled under the water, praying for sweet death, or at least a screwdriver.
I felt marginally better after the shower and, as I was drying off, received a call from the aforementioned Oggar. It was time to get back in the ring.
4 Summit Porters
Oggar, his roommate Josh, and Josh’s girlfriend Tina met me at the bar. I wondered how this would turn out. I had seen Oggar in action at the MDM Convention in Las Vegas, and it was a frightful thing to behold. I had watched him down massive quantities and types of alcohol during the three-day drinking competition and walk—not stagger—away with the crown. Oggar did things on a big scale, he drank through life like a giant, and now, severely wounded, I found myself limping in his shadow.
Once the drinks started coming down the pike, however, my worries vanished. Oggar and crew weren’t there to see who could drink who into submission. It was a civil and relaxed afternoon of drinking and swapping stories, the kind of activity that Sunday afternoons are made for. We relaxed and put away some fantastic beer that appeared to have extraordinary healing qualities. We started beating the drums of drunkardy, and local members of the Modern Drunkard Chat Board answered the call. I called Charlie the former alcohol counselor and he suggested the tribe migrate to a bar fat with drink specials called, naturally, Drink.
It was decided we would march on Drink by way of the Green Mill.
Green Mill 2626 South Hennepin
Possessing a truly staggering amount of beer on tap, I boldly proposed we start at one end and drink our way to the other, then realized it would take about a month. After two rounds, the tribe grew restless with ambition, and we marched on to conquer strange new lands. A bar called Drink, eh? Well, we’ll just see about that.
Drink 26 N. 5th St.
2 shots of Beam
I haven’t the slightest recollection how we made the leap from the Green Mill to Drink — my notebook was splashed with beer at some point and the ink ran like the mascara of a jilted floozy; my tape recorder had long since given up the ghost; and I’d left my camera at Mortimer’s. I do know that by the time we arrived our tribe had swelled in size. The world was good, we were drunk, we were united under the wildly flapping banner of inebriation. We watched the sun sing its swan song from the patio, then roared into the night, absorbing waves of beer and shots, content in the knowledge that we were somehow winning. When Oggar and the gang dropped me off at David’s around last call, I dropped into bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
We made the airport with minutes to spare, so the usual last hurrah at the airport lounge was sadly out of the question. I felt groggy and disoriented, yet also somehow triumphant. I wended my way through security, was thrown to the floor by my treacherous suitcase only once, and soon found myself comfortably seated in business class with a screwdriver for company.
My second screwdriver garnered me the elevation to gaze back at the hazy adventure that was Minneapolis. I’d lost my camera* and perhaps, at times, my dignity, but I’d found many new friends and insights into how the Midwesterners pile up their bar tabs. I’d got in the ring with a soul-slayer of a drink that knocked me over the ropes and into the bushes, but also rose from the wood chips and joined with a great tribe that spurred me into taking a horrific revenge on that soul-slayer’s kin.
You lose, you gain, you fall and you rise to drink again.
* A big thanks to Sharon for mailing it back to me. -N