Last Saturday, I met a few friends a neighborhood bar. I’d been drinking whiskey cocktails for a couple hours at my nearby apartment, while barreling through episodes of Game of Thrones, courtesy of my parents’ HBOGo password, and had a little bit of a glow by the time I met up a group of about a half dozen people. It was a pleasant enough evening of late-twenties-style drinking. Acquaintances were bumped into. Promises of future hang-outs made and forgotten. And then, around 11 pm or so, two or three drinks in, the crowd began to disperse, due to fatigue, plans the following day, and general lameness.
Me and three others, however, all who hadn’t really had dinner at any point that day, were in the mood for a little more hang out time and some kind of greasy snack. What one might call “drunk food.” So, when we left the bar, we decided to head down the block to a burger joint that stays open late. However, that night, the line was 15 people deep, and every table in the place was in use. Within thirty seconds of looking around, there was a collective sigh of “fuck it,” and we all decided to call it a night. However, the disappointing crowd wasn’t enough to extinguish the siren call of drunk food, so I wound up back at home, eating a giant bowl of instant noodles I’d purchased at nearby gas station, watching another episode of Game of Thrones. It was SUPER sad.
This whole, not-very-exceptional anecdote brings me to The first rule of drunk food: drunk food doesn’t have to be awesome, but it should never sad. If it’s sad, that means you’re doing it wrong. A drunk-food excursion at the end of a night of should either be:
a.) A riotous, laugh-filled shitshow, with waitresses offended, odd dishes ordered on dares (duck egg rice porridge, anyone?) and the first performance of inside jokes which will last a lifetime. These occasions should not be forced and should only be attempted when everyone you’re with are happy-drunk and looking to keep a night going. For people in their late twenties to early 30s, if you can muster 3-6 drunk-food outings like this in a year, you’re doing it right.
b.) A pleasant end to an easygoing night on the town. This is what we were looking for on Saturday, but what can’t be obliged very many places in the city. This version of drunk food is more adult, maybe a café that’s open all night, maybe with a few beers on tap, a couple different cheap/easy comfort foods on the menu and atmosphere that doesn’t feel like a college town drunk tank. If someone wants to open this kind of restaurant on my side of the city, I’d support it. Send me a link to the Kickstarter page, please.
The point is, drunk food for adults, in a perfect world, should be a continuation of a fun evening. It doesn’t have to be an all-night outing at a three-dollar-sign tapas restaurant, or a raucous crowd of friends who all cabbed to Chinatown for some late night spareribs. But it should never be you, solemnly staring into a Denny’s chicken-fried steak, while the two friends you came with play with their iPhones.
The other main regret adults have after having a 2000-calorie meal at the end of the night is they wound up eating something SUPER disgusting. Like, spaghetti-with-pulled-pork-and-barbeque-sauce-in-a-bread-bowl disgusting. The September issue of Esquire, a magazine, which I subscribe to for $7 a year, has a feature on the best late-night foods in America. There are a couple little anecdotes about different kinds of places to go for food at the end of the night, but mostly it’s just a list of different things you can get to eat around, that basically amounts to a highbrow version of the blog this is why you’re fat. The thing about their vision of drunk food is that it’s the time when your inner-junk-food-pig comes out, usually after a bachelor party or a sporting event. Reading their recommendations from around the country, with an emphasis on the cholesterol-belt cities of middle America, made me realize something I wish I’d realized while two-handing Sonoran-style bacon-wrapped hot-dogs in my early twenties; The second rule of drunk-food is just because you’re drunk doesn’t mean you have to eat like an asshole.
It is possible to not eat like a complete pig when going in on drunk food, simply by showing some modicum of moderation. Example: one of my all-time, favorite drunk foods, hell, one of my all-time favorite foods in general, is poutine. Poutine, if you don’t know, is a Quebecois dish consisting of French fries, gravy and cheese cheese curds, which melt into a mozzarella-like goo when heated up by the gravy. It’s the best. Anyways, if you’re getting poutine as your drunk food of choice (and I envy you, by the way, there’s nowhere on the West Coast to get it), the grown up thing to do is opt for the small size, not the large, and to avoid topping it with ground beef or Italian sausage or bacon. Just get the normal 1000-calorie version and be totally satisfied, instead of going big, because you’re drunk and you have no self-control. Now, for those outside of Canada, like myself, this rule should be applied to whatever drunk food you’re eating. If it’s a burger, don’t be tempted to add bacon or a fried egg or have chili fries on the side. If it’s pupusas, two is plenty. If it’s burrito, go for the baby burrito. Actually, go for tacos or a quesadilla. It’s the grown up thing to do.
The other grown up thing to do, which I wish I had done on Saturday, is the third rule of drunk food: just have some satisfying after-bar snacks in your house. One of the most telling signs of maturity in life is whether or not you actually buy groceries. If you’re the type of person who occasionally goes out drinking and then, after the bars are closed, wind up splurging on an overpriced tamale or slice of pizza, then show a bit of self awareness, and next time you’re in the grocery store, make sure you buy some supplies at home which will be cheaper, tastier and healthier. A late-night homemade quesadilla is a fine way to close out the night. Or a few slices of artisan charcuterie with some goat cheese (if you’re feeling bobo). Or just hit up the frozen food section of Trader Joes and make sure there are a couple bags of veggie gyoza or a gluten-free frozen pizza in the fridge that you’re never going to want to eat any other time. It’s really not that hard.
So, looking back at the points I’ve made, if you’re an adult (hey, that’s the name of the blog!), and you’re going to eat after you’ve been drinking, the thesis I’ve been working towards is you should just act like an adult. Don’t eat wait in a long, loud line filled with sloppily-drunk post-clubbers for a terrible slice of pizza or gross hot dog. You’re better than that. But in life, there are exceptions to every rule, which is why the fourth rule of drunk-food is that if it IS going to be sad, it should at least be a lifesaver. Let’s say you went out to happy hour with your coworkers, because you’re boss insisted, and then, when they all went home, you had to go meet a friend for their birthday cocktails, out of obligation, and all of a sudden, it’s 12:30am on a weeknight, you’ve been drinking for seven hours on an empty stomach. In situations like this, you NEED to eat something. It doesn’t matter how gross, unhealthy or sad it is, go to that pizza place that has 2 stars on yelp, by yourself, and get 2 slices, with extra toppings, and stuff it into your face between hiccups, like Kobayashi on the 4th of July. In this situation, drunk food will dial back the Richter-scale reading of your hangover from a disastrous 5+ to a more manageable number, say a 3.2. Still an earthquake that feel, but not a humanitarian emergency.
To conclude, enjoy drunk food while you’re still young enough to enjoy it (read: before you either have kids or need to go into an alcohol-dependency program). Just don’t be an asshole about it.
Henry Goldman is the founder of yr an adult, and is currently crying into his burrito.
Photo credit: flickr user zoomzoom, used under cc license