Great Minds Drink Alike: Local booze crews give the term "social drinking" a whole new meaning
by Scott Kearnan
| January 25, 2010
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
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
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
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
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,
FINNEGANS WAKE READING GROUP
Straight up: Bookworms with beer
Gets it shaken at: Corrib Pub (396 Market Street,
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
You'll fit in if: Your flapper outfit isn't a
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
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,
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."