The Guys’ Guy’s Guide to Drinking on a Budget
This one’s for the guys. I’ve been well provided for most of my life, but there have been a few times when I’ve been down to my last couple of bucks.
During my freshman year at Villanova University, my dorm mates and I routinely found ourselves broke. This led to our plotting heists of the “hoagie man”. Every night he’d drag his cardboard box filled with sandwiches down the hallways by a long rope, calling out his wares to the stoned-out freshmen that were far from home and sick of eating tasteless cafeteria food. My roommate or I would wait until he’d step inside of a room to make a sale before one of us made a mad dash for his box of grinders, hoping to make off with at least two meatball subs. Man, those were desperate times. And when it came to drinking, we were often reduced to drinking fifty-cent short beers at Kelly’s Bar in Bryn Mawr or swilling red cups filled from kegs of Schmidt’s at our weekly frat parties.
As a result I’ve come to learn the value of a dollar and how to squeeze the most out of it. With our never-ending post-2008 shitty economy, most of us ninety-nine per centers must stretch our paychecks just to keep on keeping on. And in an expensive city like New York, that takes a special kind of financial acumen, especially when it comes to drinking.
In a city where a top shelf cocktail can run you twenty bucks, a Guy’s Guy has to find great drinks at a value price. I enjoy an excruciatingly dry, quadruple-distilled, shaken, not stirred vodka martini at the Peninsula Rooftop, Soho House or the Tribeca Grand Hotel Bar as much as the next guy, but there have been times when I did not have an expense account to cover my business-related tippling. That’s when I needed some creativity to catch a buzz in an alcohol-soaked city that never sleeps. And although I do not drink nearly as much today as I did in the past, over the years I learned a few tricks that kept me consistently in 100% blue agave tequila. I’d like to share them with you.
There are many fantastic wine and spirit retailers in the city. Personally, I love the wine store at Chelsea Market. The staff is knowledgeable and their selection is efficient. But, I’m not always in a position to purchase their top wines. So I tracked down a few retail venues to stock my home bar at a fraction of the cost. For wine, it’s hard to beat Trader Joe’s Wines on 14th Street. I just picked up a bottle of Wente Riva Ridge, a $25 Chardonnay, for $16.99. That’s a very good deal. I’m not a big proponent of the TJ $2.99 house brand, but the more upscale versions of Trader Joe Select, which typically run between $4.99 and $8.99, are good quality relative to their price point.
For a broad selection of discounted spirits, look no further than Warehouse Wines and Spirits on Broadway and Astor Place. To my trained eye, Warehouse buys mass quantities of top quality brands that are either undergoing a packaging change or on the brink of being discontinued. And that’s a very good thing. As a veteran of the spirits industry, I can tell you that many excellent brands fail simply because they just don’t have the right marketing mix to garner the consumer traction required to succeed in what is basically an image business. Last week I picked up a liter bottle of Forty-Two Below vodka from New Zealand for $12.99 and a liter of Chinaco Blanco tequila for $19.99. These are great products at unbeatable prices. And a 750ml bottle of Pyrat Rum from Anguilla can be had for around twenty bucks. That’s a steal.
There are innumerable gin mills in New York with 5-7pm happy hours and also hipster joints that serve awesome mixologist cocktails. These mixologist bars are everywhere now, and they are great for dates, but they charge top dollar. You can always find a local drinking hole when you want to slum it in your neighborhood, but that gets old. The Lower East Side was formerly a bastion of said establishments, but the times are a changin’ and the revered punk palaces have been replaced by taquerias and coffee bars. You can head to the boroughs and hit the up and coming neighborhoods like Bed Sty for drinks, but gentrification is setting in even in outposts like this, and drink prices are rising along with the cost of real estate. What to do?
If you work in Manhattan and you are planning an extended evening of drinking beers with your BFF’s on a budget, you’re best served settling in at one of the Manhattan old school drinking establishments. There are a handful of these bastions still in existence. There is the Ear, Dive Bar, BillyMarks West, Holland Bar on Ninth Avenue near Port Authority, McSorley’s, the Patriot, and a handful of other notorious joints. Take your pick. They will all help you get your buzz on for less than forty bucks, with a few buybacks to boot.
I recommend two old faves— Old Town Tavern on 18th Street near Union Square and Peter McManus on 19th Street and Seventh. Both are conveniently located near subway stops and are fun places to pound beers and catch up with your buds. The atmosphere is super casual, the crowds change constantly—running the gamut from locals to boomers to millennials— and both venues are laden with history.
Over the years I’ve watched a number of Yankee games at both establishments, starting the night with a steady flow of draft beers and evolving to calls for bourbon on ice, or vodka and tequila shots. Over the years, I’ve received more buybacks at McManus, but if you want to grab a bite, the Old Town has better food. So if you’re on a budget, and want to grab some cold brews, you can’t go wrong with either of these NYC institutions.
You might even see my boys and me at the end of the bar, catching the last few innings of a Yankee game.
This week’s GUY’S GUY of the week is Mickey Rourke, for his portrayal of Charles Bukowski in “Barfly”, the classic drinking-on-a-budget movie.