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The Imbiber: 5 Ways to Master Bar Conversations
  • November 22, 2011 : 20:11
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3. Say What?

Between the noise in the joint and the spirits in its patrons, conversations tend to drift miles from their intended destinations. Let them. Life is too short to not find out what's out there in left field. Last weekend, hunkered down at The King's Head, my favorite local pub, I got into a debate over who would win an imaginary fight between a drunk and a stoner. Not the most interesting topic, I'll admit, which is why I was happy when it went off the rails and into a ditch. My dance partner in this mess was a spiky-haired, 20-something Club Dude who had apparently downed a bunch of E earlier in the evening. No doubt this helped the conceptual slipperiness of what followed.

“Before considering this question we must first establish the identities of the parties under the influence,” I said, in as professorial a manner as I could manage in a semi-inebriated state.

Club Dude nodded in agreement. “For instance, take noted puffer Chris Robinson, frontman for the Black Crowes. Dude weighs about a buck-05, if he's soaked with bong water. Let's put him up against another Crowe, say Russell. Chris would wind up on his back faster than a one-legged hooker."

Club Dude concurred. “Russell Crowe is one nasty drunk. I partied with that guy once at my buddy Todd’s place in Malibu. Kept rambling on about what a bad-ass he was cuz he wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and shit.”

"Sounds like a nasty scene, but I will say one thing for Cameron Crowe, he knows how to write a tune," I added, picking up this rapidly mutating football and running with it.

"Yeah, what's that song, 'Mister Jones?' I love that shit." he replied, revealing a taste in music as appalling as his taste in hair product.

"Yeah, I'd do Sheryl Crow in a hot minute," I fired back.

“Me, too, bro,” he laughed, tossing an arm around me. “Me, too.”

4. The Parasite

This maneuver has the highest degree of difficulty of the bunch. Even seasoned tavern talkers have a hard time pulling it off consistently. I'm talking about the black art of injecting yourself into someone else's conversation. If you’re game to give it a go, note that your success relies almost entirely on brevity and timing. When you butt in uninvited, you’ve got five, maybe ten words with which to make an impression and be invited in. If they're not delivered at precisely the right moment, you’re toast. It's just “Hey, David Bowie wore tights,” and out. Lean back, say no more. Worked like a charm for me once with a couple of British magazine editors in Budapest. Tried something similar in Miami, though, and fucked it all up trying to quote the chorus to "Velvet Goldmine." Again, brevity and timing, my friends. Just don't forget what a raging bitch karma can be. Do this enough and you're bound to find this technique coming back at you from the other direction. When your conversation is the one being butted in upon, it can either be the beginning of a beautiful friendship or a the end of a potentially magical night. If you sense you're about to end up on the wrong end of a rag session about some lush's hag of an ex-wife, just remember these magic words: "Before we get into that, can I tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" Works every time.

5. The Diplomat

Engage in enough conversations with drunken strangers, and trouble is bound to rear its ugly head. Maybe you made an impolitic remark about the Mets' chances in this year's world series and the biggest Mets fan in the world now has strong opinions about the manliness of your shirt. In fact he'd like to butch it up a bit by decorating it with, say, your blood. It may seem as though the conversation has moved past the verbal rebuttal phase and into “let me make that point another way” territory, but there are still a number of ways to achieve a non-violent resolution:

a) Apologize and offer to buy the next round. This should settle things down, at least momentarily. Hell, one of his friends may even concede that you have a point, and claim this is the year the Royals finally turn things around. Don’t let the fleeting feeling of brotherhood lull you into a false sense of security. You need to get out of Dodge at your earliest opportunity, because eventually shirt guy will forget all about that conciliatory whiskey sour you bought him (ironically, he’ll forget because of that whiskey sour you bought him) and remember that you referred to his hero David Wright as a “poor man’s A-Rod.”

b) Apologize, offer to buy the next round, and excuse yourself to take a leak. Then sneak out and stick them with the tab. A strategy for the thrill seeker.

c) If all else fails and you’re in clear and present danger with no line of escape, try throwing up on yourself. It’ll be messy and embarrassing, sure, but think about it—not even Mike Tyson would hit a man who just puked himself. And take it from someone who knows: your lunch washes out a lot easier than blood.

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