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drink minimums
defeat alcoholism and fascism in two easy steps
by jeffrey d. walker
pop culture

Big cities are always full of excitement. The culture, the variety, things to do at all hours.

Of course, sometimes you get mugged.

Other times the rip-off is cloaked in legitimacy. Take for example my favorite new thing to be annoyed by, the drink minimum.

Any of you who know anything about me know that I have no trouble putting away my share of drinks. And most of you who I know do a pretty good job at putting away your own share of drinks. You know who you are. So you may be asking yourself: “Why would Jeff have a problem with drink minimums?”

I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you. It's the rationalization that would allow a bar to impose a minimum drink amount in the first place. But before I really start complaining, let me back up and take you to the beginning.

It’s summertime. I have a lot of free time. So I decided to take a couple of trips to have a little fun. Luckily, fellow law school brethren provide me with free places to stay in many of the most wonderful cities in the nation. So I went. First stop, New York City.

Now, I don’t know what you like to do on trips, but I like the nightlife (I like the boogie). I don’t mind if the nightlife starts (or ends) mid-morning. So, naturally, the closest bar was the first item on the agenda.

I knew full well the concept that the larger the city, the more overpriced the drinks. Although the first pint of Guinness, at seven dollars sans tip, was enough to make me raise an eyebrow, I don’t think it caught me fully off guard.

It was the mantra, “ten dollar minimum,” uttered by the woman at the door and prominently displayed on small cards around the bar and on every-single table, apparently so that no one with the gift of sight could miss them. This made me pause for a moment, especially considering that the first club we hit had not only the imposed minimum, but also a twenty-dollar cover charge.

Thirty bucks and I'm still dry.

It would be wrong of me as well as borderline libelous to print the name of this club here. Still, I am mentally denouncing it as we speak.

Take that.

The rules were the same for the majority of bars I hanuted in the city. The time of day had no bearing; ten-dollar drink minimums apply equally at 3:00 p.m. on a Monday and midnight on Saturday.

I’m not sure how you guys approach situations like this, but I do NOT give money away freely.

- sound of clearing of throat -

“So let me understand this. I know it’s only three in the afternoon, on a workday, but the option here is either TWO top shelf liquor mixed drinks, or one drink and an automatic four-dollar tip for you? Tell you what: you bring me two drinks, and if I don’t feel like drinking the second one, I’ll just pour it all over the rug.”

I tried to figure out what the deal was with the minimum gimmick. The most obvious place to find out was to go right to the source.

Jeff: Hey, what's the deal with these drink minimums?
Waitress: (long pause) (evil glare) (sigh of distaste) Are you going to order?

No luck there. So I’m left to my own imagination. My first theories didn’t compute. It’s not the overhead costs, because the eleven-dollar martinis take care of that. It isn’t the atmosphere, because I’ve been to many a bar all over the world and I can tell you that, with few exceptions, “ya seen one, ya seen ‘em all.” It has nothing to do with quality either. There is nothing that makes the drinks New York bartenders prepare any different from anyone else's.

“You know, Tom, I was having trouble communicating with my wife. But after drinking this magic New York City daiquiri, I think I have it all figured out.”

Anyway, I think I have the answer. You’ve seen X-files and Conspiracy Theory, but THIS is the real deal.

New York City bars are in collusion with Alcoholics Anonymous.

Think about it: people go out bar hopping. By mandate, they must drink ten dollars worth of drinks at every stop. After a heavy night of binge drinking, they wake up hungover and wondering what they are doing with their life. They go to AA. They stay a few weeks. They decide that they are doing fine until one night after work when they figure they can go out for “just one drink.” But they can’t.

There’s a ten dollar minimum.

See the cycle?

I have no empirical evidence. But I'm working on it. There is too much circumstantial evidence to ignore. Plus, like I said, it's summertime and I have a lot of free time.

I have devised my own system to defeat theirs (and mine is free). If you find yourself in a bar for “just one drink” and are confronted with a drink minimum, rather than end up in a twelve-step program, follow Jeff’s easy (and free, did I mention free?) two step method:

1. Drink one: mouth.
2. Drink two: rug.

Good luck!


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker


the race card: 2010
even if you aren't thinking you're playing it, you might be playing it
by jeffrey d. walker
topic: pop culture
published: 1.20.10

i'm officially out of fashion
because the next big thing is phat with a “f”
by jeffrey d. walker
topic: pop culture
published: 8.21.09


adam kraemer
8.11.00 @ 10:40a

Okay, I'm not sure which bars or clubs you, Jeff, were going to, but I've lived in New York for almost two years and I think I've seen a drink minimum, like, three times. I'm not arguing that you didn't see it all over the place, but my advice, my friend, is that you were in very much the wrong bars. Next time check out McSorley's.

jeffrey walker
8.11.00 @ 12:24p

In all honesty, I can't remember all of the places I went. The place with the cover and a minimum was a jazz club called "Birdland." The other places were in Manhattan... I don't recall thier names. However, it would be just my luck to end up in all the wrong places. Last time I was in DC, I ended up in the dumbest nightclub I've ever seen - full of underage kids grinding on the dance floor all night - called "Coco Loco." I can't even keep from frothing at the mouth long enough to write a column complaining about that place.

lila snow
8.13.00 @ 5:41a

I don't really have too much to say on this topic, but I don't like to let that stop me from contributing. Last time I was in New York, I went to Jekyll & Hyde and drank in the laboratory (that's luh-BOR-uh-TOR-ee, guys.) Anyway, there was no minimum and it was way cool, but I think two drinks still ran me almost 20 bucks. And the last time I was in DC, I didn't have time for clubs because I was meeting with Bill and Hill (really) and there was no liquor involved at all, although they did offer us Powerade.

adam kraemer
8.14.00 @ 9:50a

Good to know that the leader of the free world is getting his electrolytes.

lee anne ramsey
8.15.00 @ 3:16p

I don't live in New York, but I've been there a few times on business. Went to a bar called Pravda (Um. I think. It was late.) which had a martini menu bigger than my day planner, big cosy leather chairs to sink into, and good people watching. No minimum. I agree with you that it's not like I can't drink 2, it's that I would be annoyed to HAVE to drink 2. Although I can't remember EVER seeing drink minimums in SF, we too have a good share of the "evil glare" waitresses.

jael mchenry
8.15.00 @ 6:06p

DC isn't too bad in terms of E-vil along these lines. The only drink minimum I've encountered was at a comedy club (I was seeing Richard Lewis, and I can highly recommend to y'all to NEVER go see Richard Lewis) and elsewhere they just let you on in, no cover, no nothing. Then again, I don't cotton to none o them fancy places, and mainly stick to dives. Forget "evil glare" waitresses - we don't even have waitresses. We have skater punk bartenders hovering behind dark bars lit only with white candles in plastic drink cups, I kid you not.

jael mchenry
8.15.00 @ 6:07p

And I think that one day, in Jeff's honor, I will write a poem called "This Magic New York City Daiquiri."

adam kraemer
8.16.00 @ 9:22a

Awww...now you ruined the surprise.

I'd also like to propose a moment of silence for the Bow and Arrow bar, the loss of which has irreparably damaged the Harvard Square experience. Or at least forced people to go to the Crimson.

jeffrey walker
8.16.00 @ 2:56p

Jael, be sure I get a copy of said future poem. It would be awesome for my rantings to have inspired art.

jael mchenry
8.16.00 @ 3:41p

Oh, I don't think rantings and art are mutually exclusive, Jeff -- and maybe I'll post the poem to the gallery. Give me a few days (must take day job into account, y'know.)

lee anne ramsey
8.16.00 @ 7:32p

When did the Bow and Arrow close? Didn't they film Good Will Hunting there?

adam kraemer
8.17.00 @ 10:32a

They filmed it outside there (and outside the Baskin Robbins), but the indoor shots were(reportedly) at a bar in Central Square. The Bow and Arrow closed its doors for the last time about six months ago, I think.

We always used to wonder how they could afford to stay in business with their prices, and I guess the answer is that they couldn't.

michelle von euw
8.31.00 @ 4:25p

Speaking of Harvard Square, the Express and Structure closed over the weekend. But Grendels is back open.

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