Read Opinions Editor Henry Glitz’s point column here.
I was flipping through last year’s journal and found a pie chart I drew on one of the pages. I had divided it into two sections — the smaller third read “I like wine this much,” and the larger two-thirds, “and tea this much.”
Before deciding for yourself whether or not the bar scene is for you, I think it’s necessary — like eating oatmeal dry or finishing your brussel sprouts — to try it.
I found this out firsthand last weekend when I walked into my first Oakland bar — or four of them, I should say. There were glorious moments — a rogue gummy worm surfacing in my shot pitcher at Hemingway’s Cafe, or hearing “Freaky Friday” by Lil Dickey on the dance floor in Peter’s Pub after getting my horns, three months overdue. But there were also less-than-great moments, like walking around on the cold April night in my thin jean jacket or the loud cacophony in overcrowded bars, filled with I-kinda-know-you-but-not-enough-to-say-hello fellow students.
So I must confess — bars and I are not soul mates. Am I down to dance at almost any hour of the day? Yeah, usually. And do I enjoy — forgive me, mom — the occasional Flaming Doctor Pepper at Peter’s if I’m feeling it? Yeah, I do. But it’s just that — an occasional experience.
No one is stopping me from hitting the bars every weekend, but there’s just something about sitting around with friends in the comfort of someone’s living room with a bottle of wine that’s special to me.
I certainly spent my fair share of time exploring the French bar scene while studying abroad last year. We took advantage of free champagne night, and helped drain Aix-en-Provence bars of their beer supply on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
But some of my fondest late-night memories came from sitting around the kitchen table in my friends’ apartment, eating spaghetti and meatballs and drinking devastatingly cheap-yet-incredible French merlot while teaching Patricia, my vegetarian friend, how to squeeze sausage out of its casing to make meatballs.
In fact, some of my most delightfully murky memories surfaced from the kitchen — starting when the clock struck midnight on my 21st birthday.
Instead of bundling up just enough to face the frigid January night — but not too much to be sweating in a bar — I stood in the kitchen with my roommates as they watched me struggle to pop open the bottle of champagne that had been sitting in the back of our refrigerator all week, waiting expectantly.
Once I successfully sent the cork careening into the living room, we sat around drinking the champagne in empty Oui by Yoplait glass yogurt cups — our makeshift wine glasses. I didn’t get my horns that night, but I did get something much better — sitting in the comfort and warmth of my apartment, surrounded by friends and drinking the champagne and a bottle of wine from one of my best friends.
And unlike going out to drink, where students down glass after glass of whatever was ordered with no tangible way to remember it, I could keep the bottles from that night — I still have one sitting in my room as a flower vase.
Staying in to drink and have fun has its other benefits — for one, I’ve learned far more about alcohol from buying it in stores and learning to cook with it than I ever could have blindly ordering off a chalkboard in a bar.
I’ve experienced the blissful aroma of cooking a pot full of onions and bacon drowned in half a bottle of white wine — while drinking the other half in my friend’s kitchen, of course — and learned what is and isn’t an acceptable use of red wine in meaty dishes like beef pot roast.
In rare cases, I’ve even found better uses for alcohol than drinking it. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I truly believe the best possible use for stout is baking it into a pan of Guinness Brownies. They’ll undoubtedly steal the show from any night you could’ve spent trekking from bar to bar on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
These brownies have all the rich, blissful fudginess of any good brownie, but adding a bottle of boiled-down Guinness to the batter drags everyone involved down into the depths of true decadence. I’m sure we all remember learning about foil characters during a Shakespeare unit in ninth grade — the two characters in a play who, through their difference, highlight the qualities of the other. That’s a pretty accurate way to describe the relationship between stout and dark chocolate.
Making a pan, or five, of these brownies and packing your friends into your apartment will almost definitely be a better time than weaseling your way through the hordes of people packed wall to wall in the nearest bar, lost in a sea of students clad in oversized green T-shirts.
Of course, there is one thing missing from a night in, and it’s a big one — the dancing. Few experiences can beat dancing wildly in a crowded space filled with friends and strangers, but in my experience, bursting into spontaneous Zumba routines to Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” in a friend’s packed living room is pretty close. It helps if someone in the room is Zumba-certified, sure, but don’t let that stop you.
The bottom line here, really, is quite simple — who you’re drinking with matters more than where you’re drinking. And for me, at least for now, I’m happier gathering around the table, or in the kitchen, with friends than bellying up to the bar.