Tag Archives: specials

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: 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: 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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