Category Archives: House Rules

House Rules: Buybacks

We’re loathe to admit that New York City has ever done anything better than Baltimore. Sure, they do everything bigger, but that’s not necessarily better.

It almost killed us when we were forced to admit that they’ve outdone us for happy hour, and it hurts us again when we have to discuss the matter of buybacks.

The next round's on the house, Hon.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘buyback’ is a round of drinks received on the house after buying a few rounds in a row. The idea of the buyback is an old tradition which is present in bars nationwide, and even internationally, but nowhere is it more ingrained than in New York. In Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, a round on the house is almost an entitlement in any bar worth drinking in. Instead of giving bartenders ‘shift drinks’ to comp at discretion, it’s not unusual for management in NYC to have stated policies on buybacks for employees and patrons to follow.

Granted, it is a decidedly old school practice, and like much of old New York is barely fighting to stay alive. This is why we were so pleased to discover by accident a website devoted entirely to finding and documenting the best bars for buybacks on the internet.

BuybackNYC.com never appears to have made it out of beta, and their scant blog hasn’t been updated in some 14 months. Still, their FAQ page is an excellent primer on the culture of buybacks, and the idea of mapping buyback bars is absolutely genius. We’re sorry it didn’t work out better.

Here in Charm City, people are currently still in a months-long frenzy over ‘deals’ sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, Chewpons, CityCents, Mobile Deals, Google and Facebook deals, etc. Personally, we’ve never understood the appeal of most of these, as a lot of them are designed to get you to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise, and to spend more than the value of the ‘deal.’ How many times has a $10 for $20 worth of food coupon turned into a $50 restaurant check? Many, we’d wager. Then there’s a whole host of restrictions and limitations to deal with, not to mention the problem of places closing down before you’ve got a chance to claim your deal.

We’ve always been more partial to specials that are offered directly by bars and restaurants themselves, and we’ve long admired the potential for sites and mobile apps like 600 Block, which like BuybackNYC is still in beta, and seldom if ever updated. At its inception, 600 Block was an invaluable tool for keeping track of the cheapest drinks in town. Unfortunately, a site like that is just too much for one or two people to keep updating daily when the only revenue is Google ads and a few local restaurant sponsorships.

The only solution we can see to the failure of such great ideas is is the publication of a fixed list, with regular specials that recur year in and year out, or to make happy hour calendars a wiki, which can easily be updated and edited by anyone, whether they happen to work in a bar or not. We’d love to see a wiki buybacks site here in Baltimore, to help prevent certain neophytes from walking into bars and behaving like a hipster dufus.

In the meantime though, we’ll continue to find our buybacks and happy hours the old fashioned way; on a barstool.

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House Rules: Drinking on Your Wedding Day

It takes a lot of time and effort to plan a wedding. It’s no small matter to co-ordinate a real life fairy tale which is meant to be the one and only happiest day of your life. If you’re a bride or groom, it’s hard enough to pull together the budgetary and logistical challenges in a way that pleases you, not to mention pleasing parents, in-laws, and everyone else. It’s a challenge even to the professionals, and for someone with no experience in event planning it’s enough to drive you to drink.

If you’re about to put so much money and planning into a reception, you may be worried about a certain drunken uncle or a beast of a best man. What no one ever tells you about wedding planning though is not to tip your own glass too many times during the toast. You’re going to want to remember this.

Norman Mailer was an expert on drinking- and on weddings for that matter. His example though, is not one to emulate.

Please don’t get us wrong. We don’t mean to criticize any happy couples here, and heaven knows your Chop is typically the first (and last) in line for an open bar. We’re usually the last to urge moderation, but your own wedding is one of the few times when a little temperance is called for. If you’ve got a date set for this season, it’s true that it’s your party, your day, and you’re free to spend it how you will. At the same time though, it’s your party. Even though you’ve got a staff of waiters and bartenders at the ready, the hosting duties are still yours.

Sure, every couple is in pretty good shape throughout the dinner hour, and most people are savvy enough not to really pour it on until the photographers are long gone. In a lot of ways though, your wedding day can be the longest day of your life. Once you make it to the point where cake is cut and the old folks start to trickle out, but the bar is still open, you’re not quite done yet. This is precisely the point where it’s best to ease up and just maintain. You’ve still got plenty of wedding ahead of you.

Besides, you only get one shot at wedding night sex, and whiskey dick is a most unwelcome wedding crasher.

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House Rules: 2 for 1 Happy Hour and the New Math

In many ways, there’s no better bar special out there than the two for one happy hour. Unless you’re going to feed us some free tasty food, getting twice the drink and half the check is pretty hard to beat.

Perhaps the greatest thing about it though, is the new math. When you buy a drink for a friend, sometimes the 2 for 1 actually pays the dividends of a 3 for 1. Bear with us here: what we’re about to say might not make much sense, or it might blow your mind.

Have your beer, drink it too, and get another one into the bargain. The new happy hour math.

One of the recurring themes in our personal life this year has been the notion of trying to have your cake and eat it too. We’re convinced that with careful study and attention to detail that this is often possible, and that it’s one of the great keys to a life well lived. We’ve spent the better part of this year really concentrating on how to avoid making trade-offs in life, and so far it’s been working out pretty well for us.

A two for one happy hour is obviously one of the easiest ways to have your cake and eat it too. You can literally sip one drink while the other one sits on the bar. Giving it to your friend though, or anyone nearby, is a much better move. When you do this you’re actually buying 3 drinks: yours, your friend’s, and the one your friend will give you on the next round.

Granted, he’s technically purchasing that last one, but he is obligated. During a non-happy hour, the obligation might still be there, but it wouldn’t be quite so strong. There are plenty of situations in which you can accept a drink with polite thanks and not be on the hook to respond in kind, but during happy hour, when they’re pouring them two at a time, there’s no excuse for not giving back that second drink.

For just the price of a single drink, you’ve received your first drink, bought your friend a drink, and put him on the hook for your next round. That’s three drinks. It’s even better than having your cake and eating it too, and it works both ways. Your buddy is also getting three for one, after a fashion. It’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re in one of our favorite bars with a two for one happy hour, like George’s or the CVP.

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House Rules: Doggie Dining

Let us say this emphatically, because we want you to know it and believe it right off the bat: The Chop is not, repeat not a mean old dog-hater. We like dogs. We like them a lot, actually; more than we like most people. Dogs are almost always nice and friendly. People are often inconsiderate assholes.

As the Sun’s Julie Bykowicz reported last month a new state law will officially legalize bringing dogs into the outdoor seating sections of restaurants. The way we see it, when the law takes effect July 1, it will merely serve to double down on an already prevalent practice among dog-owning Baltimoreans.

A visual approximation of the Chop enjoying some peaceful, quiet, uninterrupted, dog-free al fresco dining.

The main reason we started a “House Rules” section on this blog is that a lot of people simply don’t know how to act when they’re out in public. This is never more true than where dogs are concerned. Where dogs cause problems, it’s never the dog’s fault. People are the real problem.

Let’s assume for a moment that your dog is perfect. It’s not true, but let’s imagine that your dog was the valedictorian of obedience school and that he’ll lie motionless under your chair for the duration of a meal. You’re still bringing it into an environment with several other dogs, and one of them is going to bark at your dog. We’re at the next table over, and we were just about to make a point before a whole patio of barking erupted because someone else not you, gentle reader doesn’t know how to keep their dog quiet.

It’s not even always the dogs that annoy. Even if you’re dog is lying still and sweetly under your table, somebody is going to come outside to smoke. That person is then going to fawn all over your dog whether you want them to or not. Although you’re probably used to that by now, we’re not, and we’re at the next table over. This asshole is now bumping into our chair and getting smoke all over us while we’re eating.

It’s not your fault either, that you let the waiter pet your dog when he brought the little bowl of water for it. He asked, after all, and it would have been rude to say no. But we just watched the waiter pet your dog and we’re not too happy about it. Especially since our salad hasn’t arrived yet.

These are just a few ways that even your perfect little pooch can cause a lot of chaos in a restaurant setting. If you’re eating outside this Spring and Summer, please keep in mind that you are in a restaurant and not at a kennel club or dog show. You don’t have to pet every dog you see just because it’s cute. We love eating outdoors, but come July we’ll be enjoying the air-conditioning in the dog-free, smoke-free indoor part of the restaurant. We’re not the only local blog who feels this way, either.

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House Rules: Check Cashing at the Corner Bar

The Chop is a stand up guy. How do you know you can trust the Chop? Because we don’t fool around with office buildings and churches and meeting rooms and all of that mess. All of our most important business, and most of our life decisions are conducted properly… down at the bar.

People often ask how we got started in our career, and the answer is “by talking to some guy in a bar.” We sold a car in a bar once, and rented an apartment too. We’ve borrowed and repaid money, made several major life choices and met some of the most important people in our life. Of course, we’ve also cashed a paycheck or two.

Baltimoreans have a knack for conducting business in bars; whether it's legitimate, illicit, or duck-related.

In this thoroughly modern world even going inside a bank branch is considered a somewhat old-fashioned activity, but we remember a time, if only vaguely, when people eschewed banks in favor of the financial services available at the local bar. Time was a man would get his check on Friday afternoon and carry it straight to the bar, where they’d cash it for him and he’d drink a certain portion of it after a hard week’s work. He might even take a part of it home as a money order in the amount of his BGE bill or car payment.

It’s strange to think of now, in an era when “totally free” checking, free debit cards and free online banking are the standard among banks, but for most of the 20th century a very large number of middle class people didn’t even have bank accounts. Those that did often used them primarily for savings, as opposed to checking, credit cards and other services. If you’re old enough to remember things like passbook savings and balancing a checkbook, then you know that those things were such a headache that they would drive a man to drink; with their minimums, monthly fees, long lines and bankers’ hours. Back in the day, it was just easier to manage your money in cash with the help of your favorite barmaid.

That’s to say nothing of another big advantage to doing your banking at a bar… the ability to hide money. If you’re flush, there’s seldom any need to hide money. Who among us is always flush though? At one time or another, we’ve all been hesitant to deposit a check because we never learned to balance a checkbook and we might come up short. If you’ve got an auto-pay bill or an overdraft fee looming, direct deposit can really fuck you when you’re trying to figure out who to pay first. Keeping your check away from the bank will allow you to insure that top priorities like the mortgage and grocery bill get paid, and the rest can wait if they have to.

Then there’s the wife. If you got a few hours of overtime on the check this week, well, she doesn’t have to know about that, does she?

For the most part these days, bar owners are out of the check cashing business. Only the oldest of old school bars do it (reluctantly) as a favor to their most regular and long-standing customers. Our own finances are more advanced than we ever thought they’d be, with our fancy free checking and credit cards and electronic transfers. Sometimes though, we miss our own little cash economy, and not having to stop at the bank before we hit the barstool.

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House Rules: Free Food for Happy Hour

The Chop is jumping on the Bolt Bus and heading up to New York for a party tonight. As much as we’re loathe to admit that any city anywhere has some advantage over Baltimore, and especially New York City, we can’t deny that there is one aspect in which the Big Apple is thoroughly and completely superior: free food at happy hour.

The tradition of free food at happy hour traces back to some time of yore in some place that we don’t really feel like Googling right now. However it is mentioned in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) in a scene in which Jurgis is low on money and chooses to go to the bar and buy whiskey in order to enjoy the free meal being served with it.

Rudy's in Hell's kitchen has been giving away hot dogs for decades and hasn't gone broke yet. Baltimore bar owners, please take note.

The Jungle is set in Chicago, of course, but we believe the tradition of free food to have originated in Manhattan, probably in bars with specific ethnic clienteles who all enjoyed specific ethnic foods. Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen has made itself famous nationwide as ‘the place that gives away free hot dogs all day every day’, and any New Yorker who is hungry or broke or both can easily pull up many lists of plenty of bars which are more than happy to feed customers for free during happy hour. And we’re not just talking wieners here; these bars are serving up everything from dogs and burgers to wings, hummus, cheese plates, pasta dishes and even bagels and brunch spreads on Sundays.

In an era when people are as thirsty as ever and still feeling the lingering effects of the Bush Economy, free food at happy hour makes perfect sense. Baltimoreans are always quick to embrace a deal, and a local bar scene in which taverns compete not on the basis of who can throw the best dance party or tap the most microbrews, but who gives away the best and most food is a winning situation for everyone.

If Baltimore wishes to hold onto its claim of being The Greatest City in America, we need to get our act together on the happy hour food giveaways.

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House Rules: How To Throw a Proper Bachelor Party

Spring is nearly upon us here in Baltimore, and on the heels of the first sunny days will be another Spring wedding season. For the women and the coupled men out there this can mean the welling up of all sorts of conflicting emotions, leading to long discussions and life choices. For a consummate bachelor such as the Chop is, it means nothing more than that we’re officially on the cusp of bachelor party season.

For the groom and his friends, a bachelor party means making memories of male bonding, drinking, debauchery and debasement. If you’re selected as the best man though, it means a whole lot of work.

It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

A well planned and successful bachelor party might just be the greatest gift that one man can give another. As with any great gift though, it’s the thought, effort, and considerations that go into it which make the thing so great. Anyone can throw a keg on the back porch and order a bunch of pizzas, but you’re the best man. The party you throw needs to be the best it can be. Follow these rules to insure that it is.

The best man is in charge.
From the moment you’re named best man, it’s understood that it’s on you to produce a bachelor party. You may ask the groom for one or two suggestions, mainly to get an idea of the scale of the party. You don’t want to plan a simple night out in Fell’s if the groom is expecting a weekend blowout in Atlantic City. Once you agree on the scale though, no more input from the groom is really necessary. You may even want to keep him on a need-to-know basis. He’s riding shotgun in this adventure, and a few surprise turns thrown in will make the trip that much more fun.

Plan your logistics.
If the party does involve travel, a weekend in Atlantic City, a trip to see the Ravens on the road, or anything of that sort, or if certain friends live great distances apart or travel is required for the wedding itself, its obviously that much more difficult to swell the guest list for the bachelor party, and four guests might be plenty. If, on the other hand, someone in the company has a large suburban house with a club basement and an in-ground pool, go ahead and invite as many people as possible. Whatever you do, plan early, and keep everyone apprised on any changes that may arise. You should also make all guests aware of what the dress code will be. We recommend nothing less than collars and jackets. Ties are preferable.

Always arrange transportation beforehand.

Arrange transportation.
This will be specific to your locale and plans, but make sure your plan doesn’t involve drunk driving and leaving cars parked in tow away zones willy-nilly. Whether you get a limo, rely on cabs, designate a driver or whatever, just make sure you’ve got something lined up for the evening.

All day, all night, or both?
One of the best ways to go is to throw a progressive bachelor party. Start small in the afternoon with just the groomsmen enjoying some daytime activity; a round of golf, playing the horses at Pimlico or something of that nature. Have a few more friends meet the party in the evening for dinner, and then come one come all for the rest of the night.

Plan your budget.
Whatever you’re planning, you should have an idea of how the expenses will break down for everyone. Try to strike a fair balance between baller and budget. Everyone should know beforehand how much cash they should be expected to show up with, and there’s no way around it; a good, memorable bachelor party ain’t cheap. This is one advantage of a progressive party, if someone’s not exactly flush, he can beg off dinner and join the party later to save a few dollars.

Eat dinner.
The Chop heartily endorses a sit-down dinner in the nicest restaurant you can afford as part of any bachelor party. It’s a great chance to enjoy a bit of luxury, carbo-load before a night of heavy drinking, and exchange toasts. Depending on the number of diners at your table, you may want to ask everyone to lay out a certain amount before you even sit down. Make the amount high, like, so high no one man could possibly order that much. Then let everyone order what they will. There should be plenty extra, which can be used toward the tip and the groom’s meal, because The groom isn’t paying for anything tonight. If there’s still cash leftover it can be put toward a bottle of champagne for the table, the night’s cab rides, etc.

Something else to take into consideration if you’re going to have a dozen or more for dinner is the possibility of renting a private banquet room, arranging a prix fixe menu, or securing a couple hours of open bar. This can be easier for everyone involved, and you may save a few bucks in the long run.

Tom Hanks is still the gold standard for zany bachelor parties.

Strippers.
Strippers are still mandatory for a proper bachelor party, but they should not be the focus of the entire evening. A quick visit to one strip club will suffice. The longer a large group of guys stays in a club, the greater the potential for all sorts of trouble to occur. At a minimum, you’ll see all the money fall out of your pockets and may be pressed for bottle service by some shady club-manager type. And of course, someone’s going to make a bad decision sooner or later. Stay only long enough to get an eyeful of the girls and get the groom a lap dance, then move it somewhere else.

(By the by, we recommend the Red Room on the Block. Just make sure you pack your picnic basket.)

Party ’til you drop.
Most of the party will make it home eventually, but whichever groomsman has the biggest, most comfortable house should designate it as the crash pad for the night. The crash pad should be stocked ahead of time with enough liquor to wind the party up, some gourmet drunken snack foods, and brunch supplies for the morning after.


One final note…

As technology changes, the rules change too. We recommend that as best man you be the only one at the party with a working cell phone. Anyone needing to contact the party should contact the best man. The groom should have his phone taken away for safe keeping as soon as the party begins, and all other guests should be asked to keep their phones off for the evening. Everyone should be fully involved in the night, and calls and texts, Foursquare check-ins, Facebook statuses, and tweets are just distractions, as well as an easy way for fiancées and their friends to get too nosy in real time. We’d like to see the no phones rule become the new standard and tradition.

And of course the old standards and traditions still apply: whatever does or does not happen at a bachelor party is never to be discussed in mixed company. Ever.

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