Great Minds Drink Alike: Local booze crews give the term "social drinking" a whole new meaning

 

Maybe our early years were just inundated with a few too many fear tactics from after-school specials, but it seems like whenever we hear about the social effects of alcohol, it's always the ill consequences that get the most attention. Okay, so once or twice we've shown up to a morning meeting with five o'clock shadow (more like ten o'clock), a rumpled shirt, and a splitting hangover; it's not like it's our usual M.O.

And hey, we can't be the only ones who have drunk dialed exes to leave long, rambling voicemails detailing our exact state of inebriation, the exact location of our spare keys, and, in lurid anatomical detail, the precise ways in which we were prepared to rock their worlds, right?

Aside from the obvious caveat to avoid addiction and dangerous decision-making, it seems unfair to look at the glass the very way we hate it: half empty. A cocktail or two can certainly enhance interaction, from lubricating the wheels of conversation, to making business deals happen, to fostering bonds of friendship that last forever - or at least until last call (ah, those four familiar words: "I love you, man!").

So STUFF took a look at a handful of cool, creative, or just plain quirky drinking groups that bring people together - over their common interest, identity, passion, or belief. From political-news junkies to a subversive running club, from Bible study over beers to pop-up gay bars, there's a little something for everyone who wants an excuse to find new likeminded lushes.

 

HASH HOUSE HARRIERS

Straight up: Drinking and dashing  

Gets it shaken at: Multiple stops at dive bars around town - call the "Hash Hotline" (617.499.4835) or visit bostonhash.com to learn the next starting point, but finding the finish line is up to you.

Stirs things up: Every Sunday starting at 2:30 p.m. during fall and winter, and on Wednesday evenings during spring and summer

You'll fit in if: You fill your Nalgene bottle with PBR. 

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Are you kidding? I can't even walk a straight line."

If you're used to stumbling through pub crawls, lace up your sneakers - these sippers like to sprint. A self-described "drinking club with a running problem," the Harriers are the local assemblage of an international phenomenon with roots harking back to an old English schoolyard game, "Hounds and Hares." But the underage would be disqualified from this group's weekly races, which start and end at dive bars around the city. During the summer height, as many as 80 "hashers" attempt to follow an elusive 3- to 6-mile trail (usually made in chalk marks) left behind by a designated "hare" from start to undisclosed finish; along the way, they pause for refreshment at one or two designated "beer checks," in, say, a member's backyard. But once they cross the finishing threshold, it's simply party time, with plenty of pizza and "whatever beer is cheapest," says Bend Over Mommy, the Harriers' current head of "mismanagement." Like all Hashers, she goes by an alias determined via good-humored hazing (Mommy is a pre-natal yoga instructor). It's one of the group's many hilarious and irreverent eccentricities, but it's also a way of ensuring anonymity for members, most of whom are young professionals: "We don't care if you're a CEO in your other life," says the 34-year-old Mommy, who doesn't know the real names of some of her closest fellow-hashing friends. Besides, they sometimes sprint down the streets in costume (one theme, "Stocks and Bondage," took runners through the Hub in S&M gear). Unsurprisingly, one of their quirkiest outings coincides with the Boston Marathon: on Marathon Monday, Hashers gather at Heartbreak Hill to cheer on runners and dole out Dixie cups filled with - what else? - beer. Says Mommy, "They might need it for the last leg."


Graham Wright of Opus Affair. PHOTO BY IAN BARNARD

OPUS AFFAIR

Straight up: Culture-vulture cocktailing

Gets it shaken at: Nice but comfortable spots city-wide, like Sel de la Terre (774 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.266.8800) for its next gathering on February 15

Stirs things up: Monthly - head to opusaffair.com for future dates and locations.

You'll fit in if: Your last museum trip didn't involve a school bus and lunch at McDonald's. 

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Britney ... hot, or hot mess? Discuss!"

Graham Wright came to Cambridge in 2000 to earn his PhD in organic chemistry at MIT. Five years later, the longtime "serious amateur" had decided to drop the doctorate route to pursue a career in music full-time, trading science for singing: today he performs with Back Bay Chorale, Boston Lyric Opera, and Opera Boston Underground, a cutting-edge company that often performs in innovative spots, including bars and lounges. But since May of 2008, when he launched his first Opus Affair event at Kenmore Square's Eastern Standard during the middle of a Red Sox game (talk about counter-programming!), he's been trying to fill a watering hole for "neglected 20- and 30-somethings" who love the fine arts but have a hard time finding likeminded friends who belong to, say, the BYPA instead of the AARP. "I would get so frustrated, as an audience member, looking around and feeling like I wasn't surrounded by my peers," says the 31-year-old Wright. Often, he adds, this is the very demo creating the art, but since their pockets rarely run deep enough to be courted as big donors, they don't receive as much outreach from arts organizations. His events, which draw between 50 and 75 out of an 800-member list each month, include plenty of behind-the-scenes shakers and artists themselves, and Wright hopes that when interested folks put a face to a falsetto, they'll be more likely to fill seats, form friendships, and plan artsy outings: "Even if you know nothing about the music, you're more likely to go to the symphony if you know someone who plays in it." Plus, he sees plenty of overlap between the cocktail crowd and lovers of the arts. "A lot of it hinges around historical recreation and research," he says, comparing the craft of mixology with the performing arts. "But it's not supposed to be some aloof, scholarly thing ... you have to find a way to build your own artist standards while welcoming new people." In other words, Opus Affair newbies shouldn't fear an upturned nose. Says Wright, "If you're going to the symphony just to impress your girlfriend, that's fine!"


FINNEGANS WAKE READING GROUP

Straight up: Bookworms with beer    

Gets it shaken at: Corrib Pub (396 Market Street, Brighton, 617.787.0882)

Stirs things up: Tuesdays at 7 p.m.

You'll fit in if: You can score 100 on an English test while blowing .1 on a breathalyzer.  

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Can we just watch the movie instead?"


We've taken our sweet time getting through a challenging novel or two (don't mind our dog-eared copy of Crime and Punishment that's been collecting dust since Freshmen Lit), but 13 years to finish a single book? Unless it was published in hieroglyphics, that seems unreasonably slow-poke. But perhaps here's one forgivable exception: James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, widely considered one of the finest, but toughest, reads of all time. "I didn't get very far when I tried it myself," admits 38-year-old Erik Jespersen. So over a decade ago, the determined Somerville man assembled a book club - arguably doubling as a literary support group - to gather in a local bar, pour a pint of Guinness to grease the proverbial wheels (Joyce, an Irishman and famous drinker, would probably be proud), and read through the lengthy Finnegans Wake at the painstaking pace of about one page per week. But it's turned into a good-times social group as much as a book club, growing from an original five-member core to a current roster of more than a dozen regulars, and forging friendships among readers as young as 20 and as old as in their 80s. Jespersen says anyone interested in tackling the tome while tipping one back should feel welcome to join at any time: though undeniably dense and convoluted, Finnegans Wake has an unconventional structure that invites readers to start on any page. But now is a particularly perfect time to jump in: conveniently enough, earlier this month the group finally finished the book - a long 13 years after they first cracked the cover. "It's exhilarating," says Jespersen, who calls the completion "orgasmic." Their celebratory plans? To immediately turn back to page one and start all over again. If it took us that long to climax, we'd need one hell of a cigarette first. But in this case, a round of brews and a toast will do just fine.


Merry Rutrick of Drinking Liberally. PHOTO BY IAN BARNARD


DRINKING LIBERALLY

Straight up: Lefties getting liquored up

Gets it shaken at: Lir (903 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.778.0089) for the downtown chapter; Matt Murphy's Pub (14 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617.232.0188) for the Brookline group

Stirs things up: Downtown meets every Wednesday; Brookline meets every second and fourth Tuesday. Both groups meet at 7 p.m.

You'll fit in if: Jon Stewart is your fantasy drinking buddy.

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Has anyone ever told you, you look just like Ann Coulter?"

Most of us have been advised not to talk politics over drinks - and far too many dry-cleaning bills and apologetic morning-after phone calls have taught us the wisdom of listening ("No, no, when I called you an ignorant, warmongering elitist, I meant it in an endearing way!"). But assuming you're the type who keeps The Daily Show on your DVR and FOX News on your V-Chip, Drinking Liberally provides a place where younger political junkies can converse and kvetch with the likeminded. Well, mostly likeminded. "There's definitely some back and forth volleying," says 25-year-old Merry Rutrick, who co-organizes Boston's chapter of Liberally, which has divisions in all 50 states. "Even if two people call themselves progressives, they still have differences," she says. "We have some good, rigorous conversation.... The bartender always gets a smirk!" agrees 31-year-old Tommy Vitolo, who started a Brookline chapter to get people his age more involved, especially with local politics. Whether haggling over national or neighborhood headlines, each group turns out around a dozen members at each meeting (the downtown group's email list is around 1,000 strong), and local young politicos like Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, City Councilor Mike Ross, and former mayoral hopeful Sam Yoon have come by to get up close and personal with their core constituents. Turnouts are biggest, emotions run highest, and bar tabs are longest during special events for election results and televised debates, and though informed counterpoints are always welcome to keep conversation interesting, those might be the times when errant conservatives avoid going rogue: "It was hilarious and insane. Everyone was in such a good mood making fun of Sarah Palin!" says Rutrick of one of the most rowdy meet-ups, held during the last vice-presidential debate. But generally, says Vitolo, "Just come prepared to share your ideas ... and buy a round of beers." The downtown group soon returns to its old stomping ground at Globe Café, and a third Brighton-based chapter is in the process of re-launching, so to stay up to date on meeting locations, visit drinkingliberally.com.


Guerrilla Queer Bar. PHOTO BY IAN BARNARD


GUERRILLA QUEER BAR

Straight up: Ask. Tell. Drink.     

Gets it shaken at: Shh! It's a covert operation. Enlist at bostonguerrilla.googlepages.com or find it on Facebook to get your next marching orders.

Stirs things up: Monthly - main meet-ups happen on first Fridays, and splinter cells meet every third Friday.

You'll fit in if: You know that "GLBT" isn't an order at the deli counter.  

Ill-advised icebreaker: "I'd love to, but my mom said this is just a phase."

When 25-year-old Cambridge guy Daniel Heller started Guerrilla Queer Bar in October of '07, he wasn't looking to serve as five-star general to an army of gay barflies. But what began as small gesture to unite Boston's GLBT community has ballooned into a huge event series: on the first Friday of the month, nearly 1,000 attendees swarm a chosen bar or nightclub, revealed via email on the eve of the flash mob, to turn a predominantly hetero venue into a gay bar for the night (and allow some unsuspecting straights in on the fun). Heller's creation has grown so much that he's since added a third-Friday option, alternating between "GQB Local" (simultaneous smaller parties in various 'hoods) and "GQB Charity," which takes advantage of the group's 7,000-strong email list to raise money for LGBT-related causes. It's hard not to love the spirit and humor of the series (its website features a beret-clad silhouette of "Cher Guevara"), but the overwhelming popularity has resulted in one casualty: the element of surprise. Heller concedes that many of the city's bars have infiltrated their list-serve to get an early heads up, reinforce the bar staff, and stock their booze cache. But if you think these gay party crashers have been met with resistance by bars in Boston (birthplace, lest we forget, of stateside same-sex marriage), think again: the rainbow brigade's not-so-hostile takeovers are pretty uniformly welcomed with wide-open arms. Sure, bars seem to love the surefire guarantee of tabs rivaling the Department of Defense budget, but Heller sees evidence of other positive dividends, too: one waitress at group favorite Tequila Rain told him that the bar convened its staff for an impromptu "diversity training" before a GQB crash. Aww ... we thought Lansdowne Street was largely for Sox fans and meatheads; guess it's our turn to be caught off guard.


CLINKEDIN

Straight up: Elite advertising booze-schmooze

Gets it shaken at: Pimped-out conference rooms and swank spots city-wide, like Bond (250 Franklin Street, Boston, 617.956.8765)

Stirs things up: Monthly, by invite only

You'll fit in if: You thought Mad Men was a reality show.

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Sorry, I forgot my cards."

If you plan to be a player in the local advertising world, consider ClinkedIn your key to the corner office with a view of the bigwigs. An under-30 club established last April by trade organization The Ad Club, ClinkedIn brings together "rising stars" to network with one another and rub elbows with senior executives, says Anand Chopra-McGowan, the Club's 26-year-old director of development. In an industry where social networking (the IRL kind) is key to making "it" happen, this is where ambitious go-getters thicken their rolodexes over stiff martinis and flowing champagne. Yeah, the image of the cocktailing social scenester isn't exactly an unfounded stereotype in this industry: "The kind of person attracted to advertising is usually a social person anyway," laughs Chopra-McGowan. "When we say ‘ClinkedIn,' definitely nobody in the ad industry is confused. It's like, ‘Oh yeah, clinked [means] drinks!' " To maintain the group as an in-crowd assemblage of the young who's who, ClinkedIn requires new prospects be nominated by one of the 50 or so existing members. But Chopra-McGowan adds that, since the still-new organization hasn't yet reached critical mass, they're open to entertaining "up-and-coming talent" who check out the website (adclub.org/clinkedin) and drop a line touting their assets. You might not get an immediate invite to some of the more intimate gatherings, like this month's cheese and champagne social in a Hill Holliday board room, but as they say in any line of work, it's at least a foot in the door. "We want to keep it a little exclusive, but have a little fun with it," says Chopra-McGowan. Exclusive and fun: it's funny how the ad world always manages to sell itself.


TIPPLE TRIVIA

Straight up: Mensa meets mixology

Gets it shaken at: UpStairs on the Square (91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617.864.1933)

Stirs things up: (Almost) monthly - the next class is in session on February 21 from 6 to 9 p.m.

You'll fit in if: You study The Bartender's Black Book like crib notes.

Ill-advised icebreaker: "I'll have a glass of your finest merr-lott, please." 

There's nothing terribly groundbreaking about friends coming together for a night of bar trivia. And besides, do you really need to prove to a roomful of strangers that you can name second-string Star Wars characters, have an encyclopedic knowledge of Family Guy episodes, and - ahem - evidently spend an awful lot of Saturday nights dateless and at home? But when Citysearch Boston editor and local gal-about-town Christine Liu hosts her Tipple Trivia events, launched just last fall, she convenes competitive teams of cocktail connoisseurs ready to flaunt their knowledge about drinking while drinking: pals put their heads together for questions covering everything you know (or need to) about wine, beer, and spirits, plus plenty of details about the who, what, and where in Boston's bar scene. There's even a Final Jeopardy-style closing round, where blindfolded teams sample mystery cocktails and earn points for identifying the ingredients used (points are deducted for wrong guesses, so you can't just list the liquor cabinet). Some of the booze enthusiasts come to win prizes provided by liquor sponsors, while others just want to take home bragging rights, but Liu says not to worry about looking like a drunken dunce if you just want to assemble a team to come by for good fun. "There are some hardcore regulars," she says. "But most people are sauced on really good drinks anyway, so that cuts down the cutthroat-ness." And if you're still nervous, here's a question Liu says will show up at the February 21 meeting: what makes an upside-down martini upside-down? Give up? The ratio of gin and vermouth is reversed. So, does scholarly sipping make learning more fun? Yes, and that's our final answer.


LUPEC BOSTON

Straight up: Dames who drink old-school 

Gets it shaken at: Favorite spots like Drink (348 Congress Street, Boston, 617.695.1806), where founder Misty Kalkofen tends bar, or members' homes

Stirs things up: Monthly, with occasional big-bash fundraisers

You'll fit in if: Your flapper outfit isn't a Halloween costume.

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Excuse me, but is this the meeting for the Daughters of Temperance?"

The last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in classic cocktails and the bygone eras that embraced them: with the recently opened Prohibited at Symphony 8, it's a trend that still isn't waning. At first, the phenomenon might evoke mental images of a speakeasy filled with wife-cheating louses or cigar-smoking fat tomcats (remember the stink Stoddard's started when it initially touted its downstairs "gentlemen-only club"?). But the Boston chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), the local contingent of a Pittsburgh-born club, unites women in their appreciation of a classic drink and the right to suffrage - or to suffer from a hangover, rather. "It's still kind of a boys' scene ... though the guys at the forefront of the classic cocktail movement [locally] are totally talented and wonderful," says 30-year-old Kirsten Amann (aka "Pink Lady," her vintage cocktail alias), a South End waitress, publicist, beverage guru, and original ('07) LUPEC member. "But historically, women weren't allowed in the saloons unless they were working. You didn't see women like us in a bar during Prohibition." Well, you'll certainly find them saddled up to today's bars sipping Prohibition-era favorites, mixing up (and learning up on) time-tested but oft-overlooked cocktails. They also meet at member homes to have a few rounds (screw your Tupperware parties!) and take part in casual classes about everything from classic cinema and cocktails (what were they sipping in Casablanca?) to a Mother's Day celebration honoring beloved "forebroads" (raise a toast to Jackie O!). Though the group keeps most of the monthly meetings within its circle of a dozen dames, they use their always-expanding knowledge of the craft for the greater good, too, contributing a column to the Weekly Dig, planning educational events at local hotspots, and hosting retro-themed fundraisers to benefit women's charities. Here's to the ladies who lush.


Theology on Tap. PHOTO BY IAN BARNARD

THEOLOGY ON TAP

Straight up: Bibles and booze

Gets it shaken at: M.J. O'Connor's Irish Pub (27 Columbus Avenue, Boston, 617.482.2255)

Stirs things up: Seasonally - the next four-part weekly series starts in February.

You'll fit in if: You can turn water into wine (or at least enjoy drinking the latter).

Ill-advised icebreaker: "Happy Festivus, everyone!"

We know it's not as though the apostles were sipping goblets of mineral water during the Last Supper, but we admit it: the idea of drinking during religious study gives us a case of the giggles. "People are like, ‘Alcohol and church, that sounds so crazy!' But it's not.... Even after a church service, people might go to pubs and hang out," says Rachael Ringenberg, one of the local organizers for Theology on Tap, a Catholic initiative that started in Chicago in the '80s and is a cornerstone program of "Friends at the Advent," the 20- and 30-something group out of Beacon Hill's The Church of the Advent. Think of it as catechism with cocktails: at each meeting, between 40 and 50 people gather to discuss church teachings as they apply to their personal faiths and the world around them, from controversial issues to pop culture. Ringenberg started attending five years ago, when she was working in retail and rarely got a Sunday off to go to church. She found the social element to be a big bonus. "You show up, you have a drink, you meet people, and there's this third-party attraction that provides the principle of conversation," she says. Those conversations, probably aided by a pint or two, can go in plenty of directions: "The Gospel According to Star Trek," "The Gospel According to South Park," and "The Gospel According to Martha Stewart" (ironically, a woman some are likely to consider the devil incarnate) are a few of the more unusual guest speaker-led topics that sound at first as though they were immaculately conceptualized after a little too much communal wine. But the lighthearted topics are a creative way to explore ideas, says Ringenberg, and there are more serious talks about disciplines like poetry and architecture. But Rachael says some of the most impassioned debates she recalls weren't about the Bible, but the Beatles - during a "Theology of Rock and Roll" discussion, but of course. Evidently, there's room for all sorts. "It's a social event," says Ringenberg. "Unfortunately, people aren't used to church leading the way, as far as saying that everyone is free to ask questions. The range of beliefs [at meetings] is huge."