turned 21. It would not be my first time drinking, of course. I had started drinking beers during card games at the cabin around 18, and when you’re out on a hike it’s almost mandatory that you drink a beer by the campfire, even if you aren’t of drinking age. Campfire rules supersede all other laws. That was part of the reason backpacking trips were so exciting when I was in my late teens. However, turning 21 did mean that I was finally able to drink in bars. My birthday was in November, but the family would all be back at the cabin for Christmas that year, so we decided to celebrate my right of passage at Christmastime by doing a good old-fashioned bar crawl. In Buffalo there are about six bars, and we were going to hit them all.
Dad enjoyed drinking, but I wouldn’t say he drank often in his later life. His college days were a different story. I only ever really saw him drink when we were at the cabin or during a holiday or special occasion. And out hiking, of course. Dad’s usual drink of choice was a red beer which, as I mentioned earlier, consists of spicy hot tomato juice and the worst bottom of the barrel beer you can buy. Typically Old Milwaukee. He also enjoyed a good gin and tonic if we had the mixings available. Dad, being Dad, would come up with his own names for cocktails because he was always trying to make a good pun if he could. For example, one morning he and uncle Ronnie (Gram’s brother) were trying to make Bloody Mary’s and they didn’t have any Worcestershire sauce, so they subbed it out with soy sauce. Dad dubbed that drink the “Bloody Wang.” You get the idea.
The group for the bar crawl consisted of me, Dad, Nicole, Jesse, and Teresa. Teresa was to be our designated driver. A bar crawl in Buffalo doesn’t mean that you can actually walk from bar to bar. The six bars are all scattered around town. So we all crammed into Dad’s Subaru Outback, which was forever coated in dog hair. We all met at Gram and Pop’s house and suited up for what was sure to be a long night. Being a college kid, I almost expected us to play some sort of pre-bar drinking game before going out. Going out to the bars without pre-gaming first is almost unheard of when you’re in college, but Gram and Pop didn’t happen to have any beer pong materials at their house, so we’d have to just go straight to the bars.
Although, beer pong wouldn’t have been completely unheard of at Gram and Pop’s house. It was actually a family tradition to hold a beer pong tournament in their basement on Christmas Eve. There was even a coveted trophy of a huge eagle that the winning team got to sign their names onto each year. It was one of the premier family events of the year. Teams were chosen at random, and everybody participated. Even Gram and Pop. Pop is especially good at beer pong. He played baseball back in the day and that exceptional hand-eye coordination had apparently never left him. Watching your 80-year-old grandpa sink cup after cup in a game of beer pong is one of the most pleasing things you can witness as a college kid. Dad and my aunt Shannon, Larry’s wife, won the inaugural tournament, and were the first team to sign the eagle. We never had a repeat winner in all the years we played. The 2014 tournament had no winner because, during the championship game, uncle Lar flipped the table over and we were all so drunk that we jumped into the overturned table and pretended we were on a sailboat. Lar then ran into the woods at a full sprint and knocked himself out when he ran head first into a tree. Play was suspended after that. For that year, the eagle simply reads, “The Incident.''
Since there was no pre-game on the night of our bar crawl, we were in tip-top shape as we prepared to head out for the night. We bundled up at Gram and Pop’s and set out for our first stop of the evening, The Outback Lounge. The Outback Lounge was a bar set up in the back of a liquor store called Wahoo Liquors, which had a drive-thru window for the alcoholic on the go. I always thought that was a great idea. There were a handful of regulars at the small bar when we walked in. They looked at us as if they assumed we were lost. There was a particularly drunk guy wearing a hat that said “Eatin ain’t cheatin,’” telling his life story to the bartender. He eyed us as we sat at the bar, made some kind of internal assessment, and gave us a nod before continuing his story to the bartender while she cleaned some glasses. We were in.
Dad was pretty experienced in the bar scene from his younger years, so he was a good sherpa to have during the Buffalo bar crawl. One of my favorite bar stories of his takes place in Butte, MT on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day in Butte is probably the biggest event of the year for that town. Pretty much the entire population of 20,000 people crowds into the historic uptown area, where they have a huge parade and everyone gets drunk in the streets. People travel from all over Montana and the surrounding states to attend. One year, Dad and his friends dressed up as pickles (I guess because they are green) and walked in the parade, dancing around and being general maniacs. The Pickles had been a huge hit. The marching bagpipes asked the Pickles to accompany them as they walked the streets. All of the bars are completely packed during the festival, so it’s almost impossible to get a drink. But the Pickles got priority treatment. They would get shuffled right to the bar because, for some reason, everyone fucking loved those Pickles. Dad and his pickle crew walked in the parade year after year, and they were always one of the most beloved spectacles of the day.
Before he was a Pickle, Dad still had a method for getting a drink, even in a crowded Butte bar. He told me that when he was in college, he and his friends had invented a “Pepper Martin.” A Pepper Martin was when you came running at full speed toward the bar and then slid down on the ground like you were stealing third base. As you slid across the floor, your legs would hit the bottom of the bar and you would pop up onto your feet and take a shot of whisky. Then, of course, you’d have to yell “Pepper Martin!” He said he and his friends would do Pepper Martins even in the most crowded bars, to great effect. I have to admit, if I was at a bar and saw a bunch of guys doing that, I’d probably get out of the way. Simple, yet effective.
There was no need for Pepper Martins at the Outback Lounge, so we just ordered a round of beers and hung out for a bit. The Eatin Ain’t Cheatin guy made some drunken conversation with us, and then announced loudly to the bartender that he was going home. She asked if he had a ride because he was clearly too drunk to drive. He coyly said that he did, and he was going outside for a smoke while he waited to be picked up. Not five minutes later another guy came in and told the bartender “You know Dave is getting into his truck to drive home?”
“Fuck!” the bartender yelled furiously and stormed outside to stop him. We guessed this was probably business as usual for Dave. As the bartender stormed out the back door, Dave wandered in through the front door! That sneaky son of a bitch! He went straight behind the bar and started pouring himself a beer. He then started pouring beers for us as well. We felt a little awkward that we had been roped into Dave’s heist, but we felt it was best not to turn him down. The confused bartender came back in through the backdoor and saw Dave, realized what had happened, and immediately rushed to him and started punching him and cursing. She told him to get the fuck out of there, which, to Dave’s credit, he did without objection. We could tell that must have been Dave’s signature move, and that the bartender thought it was funny more than anything. Small town bars are a special place.
Next up was a bar called the Hoot N Howl. I’d been wanting to set foot in that bar for a long time, because ever since I was a kid I had thought that name was hilarious. Buffalo businesses were always a combo of two things with an N’ in the middle. Hoot N Howl, Loaf N Jug, Kum N Go (Dad’s favorite). It’s kind of ironic that every trendy business today follows the same model, but just replaces the N with an ampersand to make it sound more modern. Juniper & Ivy, Craft & Commerce, Oak & Earth. Why do businesses feel like they all have to combine two objects in order to be legitimate? We walked into the Hoot N Howl and found that it was completely empty. Not too surprising, I guess, but they did have some dance club music playing at full blast as if they were a packed house. The bartender said it was going to fill up in like two hours, but that didn’t seem likely. Besides, we had other bars to fry. We ordered a beer and drank it quickly, then hit the road to our next stop, which was a cowboy bar on the outskirts of town. I can’t remember the name of that bar, but it’s possible that it never had one. This is the bar where things started to go off the rails.
We pulled up and the place was packed. It was your standard cowboy bar. Line dancing on a big wooden dance floor, everyone wearing full cowboy attire. I honestly think there was a horse roped up to a fencepost out front. Once again, as we walked in, all the patrons looked at us as if they thought we were lost. We found an empty table near the bar and took a seat. We’d been sticking to beer so far but something about this place made us want to kick it up a notch. Nicole and I decided we would have Long Island Iced Teas. Dad and Jesse went with Jack and Coke. We walked up to the bar to place our order and the bartender’s eyes widened when we said we wanted Long Island Iced Teas. She informed us that it was her first night bartending, ever, and she’d never made one of those before but that she would give it her best shot. Nicole and I glanced at each other nervously. I guess, how bad could you mess up a Long Island Iced Tea really? The answer is bad, you can mess it up very bad. We watched the bartender frantically flip through a recipe booklet and start pulling any bottle of booze within arm’s reach and set it on the bar. She yelled over to us that she’d just bring them to our table once they were ready, I think because she didn’t want us to witness what was about to happen. So we moseyed back to our group.
About fifteen minutes later the bartender brought the drinks out to the table. She did not seem confident about the whole thing. She told us that she’d just put a little extra alcohol in them since she wasn’t too sure what they were supposed to taste like. Sounded good to us. We tried our drinks. She did not put a little extra alcohol in them. She put only alcohol in them. The Long Island Iced Tea was simply a pint glass filled with a mix of vodka, rum, gin and tequila. That was it. We took one drink and Nicole and I realized that we had just taken about three shots. We passed them over to Dad and Jesse to try. Not to see what they thought of the taste, but just so they could experience how much a drink can go wrong. We wisely decided that if we tried to drink the whole glass we’d be throwing up in the bathroom in thirty minutes, so for the sake of the bar crawl we brought the drinks back to the bar. We told the bartender that we appreciated the effort but we just couldn’t drink them and asked if we could have a couple of Jack and Cokes instead. The bartender looked defeated, but she understood. She mixed two Jack and Cokes for us and brought them to our table.
As she set them down, she said, “Sorry about those last drinks, I put a little extra Jack in these to make up for it.”
I think maybe we should have explained to her why we didn’t want the last drinks. We took a sip of our new drinks. They were pure alcohol. They tasted like Jack Daniels with a splash of Coke. She’d gotten us again.
We drank about a quarter of our pints of Jack Daniels and had had enough. The bartender was watching our table like a hawk to make sure that we were enjoying our new drinks. We were terrified that she would come over and ask to make us another cocktail. That would be the end for us. I took my drink into the bathroom with me and dumped it down the sink. When I came back out, Dad was holding Nicole’s drink and crept over to a plant in the corner, where he poured the drink into the pot. We left the empty glasses on the table and made a break for the door before the bartender could come back and offer up a refill. Next up, the Moose Club.
The Moose Club is an old timer bar on the opposite edge of town. Again, heads turned when we walked in. No, we weren’t lost. Nicole and I were feeling the effects of our poison from the cowboy bar. Dad ordered a round of drinks and we walked to the back of the bar where a bluegrass band was playing. I remember them being quite good, but I didn’t recognize any of the songs. Dad was digging the band; he always appreciated good music. I think it was because he was a very talented artist but not a musician himself, so he was still able to be mystified by it. The summer before he passed away he bought a ukulele to try and learn how to play. Nicole had one as well. One day that summer, Dad, Nicole and I hiked out to Willy Park with their new ukes. We spent the afternoon sitting in the meadow, noodling around on the instruments. We ended up getting down a pretty good version of Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. Dad liked that song a lot. He really liked Tom Petty, though. When I was thirteen, Dad scored two tickets to a Tom Petty concert in Bozeman, Montana. My sister was with us, so when Dad couldn’t get ahold of a third ticket he gave his ticket to me so that Nicole and I could go. He sacrificed seeing one of his favorite bands growing up so that I, a teenage kid who was still learning to appreciate music, could attend instead of him. I still can’t believe he did that for us.
It was time to leave the Moose Club and head to downtown Buffalo for our last two stops of the night. The last two bars were about opposite of each other. First, the Occidental Hotel and Bar, which is probably the classiest joint in Buffalo. It’s an historic hotel that attracted guests such as Herbert Hoover and Teddy Roosevelt back in the day. The bar at the Occidental is most often filled with the upper crust of the Buffalo population. In direct opposition and a few blocks down was the Century Club. Or as the locals like to call it, “The Stench.” The Century Club is the most popular bar in Buffalo, and it’s a rowdy place, to say the least. The Stench is open to all walks of life, as long as you have just a twinge of outcast to you, which we felt applied to us. We figured we’d first go to the Occidental, and then reveal our true colors and finish off the night at the Century Club, where we knew we belonged.
We only lasted ten minutes at the Occidental. Granted, it was the first bar where we didn’t see the patented “are ya lost?” look. But this bar was too far on the other end of the spectrum for us. It was a classy joint and we were rolling in four bars deep, wasted off Long Island Vodka cups. Our energy level had escalated. Nicole went to order a drink at the bar and was bumped into by a guy wearing a knitted scarf. A knitted scarf? We were out of there. We didn’t even wait for drinks, just made a beeline straight over to the Century Club. We barged in, not knowing what to expect, and we were pleasantly surprised. The bar was packed and there was a dance floor in the back with a DJ playing some classic dance tunes. Earth Wind and Fire, that kind of stuff. We belonged at the Stench.
At this point it’s hard to remember everything since we were all completely shit-housed. As soon as we walked into the Century Club, I went straight to the bar. Nicole, Jesse, Dad and Teresa all went to the dance floor. Nicole and Jesse were still wearing their large down coats, and for some reason decided that while they were dancing they needed to zip them all the way up and tighten the drawstrings on the hood to really lock themselves in. They looked like Kenny from South Park. Then they decided that everyone else should do the same thing, so if they noticed someone wearing their coat in the bar they would run up, throw their hood up and tighten the drawstrings. Somehow they weren’t getting their asses kicked. People were actually into it. The Stench is a weird place, man. Dad was having a blast. He wasn’t much of a dancer, and by that I mean he was a terrible dancer. He was like a male version of Elaine from Seinfeld when he hit the dance floor. Add a couple pints of hard liquor from the cowboy bar on top of that and you’ve got a sight to behold. Of course, I don’t actually know how he looked that night because I never left the bar from the second we entered. I went to order a drink and got caught up talking to a Vietnam vet named Peanut for the rest of the night. I have no idea what we talked about, but he and I chatted for about an hour and a half while the rest of the group tore up the dance floor.
We ended up closing it down at the Stench. The lights came on at 1:45 a.m. and it was time to go home. The rest of the night is all from secondhand accounts because by then, Dad, Nicole, Jesse, and I were borderline blacked-out drunk. Apparently, here’s what happened next.
We got back to Gram and Pop’s house and Jesse and I immediately started wrestling out in the front yard. Wrestling in the snow is a great time because there's a lot of extra padding. Also being blacked-out drunk gives you a lot of extra padding. I guess we started to get too rowdy because Gram came out on the front porch and yelled at us to come inside. Dad and Teresa were already passed out in the guest bedroom. I immediately made a beeline for the bathroom because I thought I was going to throw up. I did, but I made it to the toilet so that was a plus. The negative was that I locked myself in there and then passed out on the floor. This must have worried everyone, because Gram made Pop get up and use a screwdriver to unlock the door and make sure I was still alive. This did not please Pop; it was 2:30 in the morning. He got the door open and saw I was sprawled out on the floor, head near the toilet. I was breathing, so he left me there to sleep for the night and went back to bed. I would have done the same thing. I woke up on the bathroom floor at about 8 a.m. It took me a second to figure out where I was, and I had no recollection of getting there. I walked downstairs and the sun was up, so I found a spot on the floor in the living room to fall back asleep. But here’s where it gets weird.
Nicole said she woke up in the middle of the night and saw a dark figure standing on the banister outside the bathroom. She assumed it was me and pointed up to me the way you point at someone and say “Ayyy!” as if you’re saying something like, “Nice one, bud, we really did it this time, huh?”
The dark figure pointed “Ayyy!” back, and she passed out again. But the thing is, that was not me. I was still passed out in the bathroom. Everyone else was asleep as well. We have a theory that it was the ghost of our Great-Grandpa Bompie. He was a bit of a prankster and enjoyed some family hijinks. So he was probably visiting the house that night to see how we were all doing. Can’t rule it out.
We all woke up violently hung over the next morning. What a night. I had drunk with Dad a few times before but I think that was the first time I’d seen him actually hung over. Gram was already up and had breakfast ready for us. Between Dad and Uncle Larry, she had been putting up with that kind of thing her whole life. She was annoyed, but I have a hunch that she secretly likes helping us all recover from our antics. Getting drunk in good spirits with your family is one of the best things life has to offer, in my opinion. That’s basically the whole point of weddings, if you think about it. After breakfast we retreated back to the cabin to nurse our wounds. Something about the air out there seems to ease the pain. That goes for any kind of pain, really, not just the kind you get from Long Island Iced Teas. We vowed to make the Buffalo Bar Crawl a recurring tradition. We’ve yet to embark on the journey a second time, though. Maybe we fear the consequences of another night like that. Or maybe we just liked the original enough that we don’t want to tarnish it with a sequel.