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Drunker Down South? How the Holy City Got Housed...

Author: 
E. Louise
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Let's start here. My Uncle Pat was in town this weekend. He called me on Sunday morning to go to breakfast, and the conversation went like this:

 

Him: We’re thinking the diner, around 9am. Do you see any problems with that? Crowds? Parking?

 

Me: No, it’s too early for Charleston. The city’s hungover at this hour, so it’s mostly quiet.

 

Him: I gathered that. In my brief walk from Meeting to King this morning, I came upon—separately— a single sock, a pair of panties, and an empty bottle of wine. Red, mid-range, not too shabby.

 

Me: Which?

 

Him: The wine. It looked like a good bottle.

 

Sure enough, at 9:15, the diner was less than half full. The streets quiet. Maybe that’s normal for an urban center on the weekend, but come on: we don’t live in a bustling corporate district, where the suits retreat to the suburbs on the weekends, leaving behind a hollowed-out ghost town until the market opens again on Monday. It’s Charleston. We have our own market, one that likely bears partial—though not total—responsibility for our recent  #4 Drunkest Town in America ranking by The Daily Beast.

 

As Obama says roughly 1.2 million times per speech, let me be clear. We beat out Vegas. Reno. Baton Rouge. We’re outdrinking the downtrodden, bullet-dodging cities of Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago. Pounding past those frigid, drink-to-warm-your-soul locales of Fargo and Buffalo. We even showed up a few of our neighbors at the nation’s cool table: New Orleans, Austin.

 

This wasn’t a reader survey. You can’t blame a string of juiced-up bachelorette parties for stuffing the ballot box while sipping Bahama Mamas at Wet Willies. Rather, The Daily Beast says they hired a market researcher (Experian) to collect data on the average number of alcoholic drinks per month, per adult, in each metro area. They added in research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (awesome—glad we’re on their radar) and the percentage of residents who are binge drinkers and heavy drinkers (CofC kids, can you please stand up? No? Okay then just sit tight on your stools at Beerworks and hiccup if you understand).

 

So what now? Head to a citywide rehab? How about let’s collect that errant sock, pick the wine bottle out of the gutter, sheepishly shove last night’s skivvies into our purse, and take a breather on the curb. Hold our head in our hands and figure out how, in a post-Calhoun’s, post 2 a.m. alcohol sales ban city, we got here? (I should note that I’m writing this during a month when I’ve given up wine—a peculiar January detox—so I feel particularly high and mighty. What's wrong with you people?)  

 

By most measures, we should be a model of moderation. We’ve got thousands of thirsty college kids, but no SEC stadium for sudsing up Saturdays in the fall. For every microbrewery that pops up, a dozen new restaurants answer with primo food to stick to our ribs and soak it all up. There’s a church service for every Bloody Mary, a booze ban for every beach, and a good philanthropic cause for every sweet Southern cent we spend on spirits.

 

So what gives? Ha. That’s your answer—nothing. Nothing gives. Not here, not now. Every college kid here, along with every other red-blooded football fan in town, knows you don’t have to have a ticket in hand to tailgate. You don’t even have to have a team, just a tv. And our elite culinary universe? It would go belly up without a bar—how else could we stomach what they're charging for a plate of oysters? Long, lazy brunches often trail the Gospel, a booze ban means squat when surf bars are steps off the sand, and all those good causes? Try making money at a dry auction. Going once? Going twice? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

 

I heard a story the other night (or day… I can’t remember, that holiday stretch was a Bordeaux-soaked blur) that, upon noticing sales in Charleston consistently soared over other cities, the COO of Grand Marnier sent one of his operatives down to see what the hell’s going on here. Are they hoarding it? Perhaps dumping it into the Cooper, Boston-style (which, by the way, was numero uno on The Daily Beast’s list), to oppose all those cruise ships clogging our port? I can only imagine the debriefing that happened when the Marnier guy reported back to his boss.

 

“They’re shooting it, sir.”

 

“Beg pardon?”

 

“Shooting it. One shot after another, there's not a snifter in the bunch.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes. Hey, listen, I gotta go throw up. That was a hell of a business trip.”

 

High and mighty or not, I may also be in denial. Are we really only slightly more sober than Boston, Norfolk, and Milwaukee? How could that be? When I think of Charleston’s drinking problem, I figure, “Well, sure, if you spend all your time in ACs….” Last time I was there, I saw a guy walk up to a table of strangers, sit down, throw up, then introduce himself. I would’ve insisted the bouncer kick him out immediately if he wasn’t my date...

 

(Sigh) Never mind, I get it. Seems that maybe we do have a problem.

 

Read the article here: 25 Drunkest Cities 

 

What do you think? Does it surprise you? Embarrass you? Light you up with Southern pride? Or maybe just make you a little... well, thirsty

 

Images: Skyline from filmsc.com; drink (Lion Tamer with Grand Marnier) by Paul Cheney, recipe here at charlestonmag.com