by Risa Nye
Over the last ten years, Matthew Latkiewicz been offering eager readers his hard-won knowledge about drinking through his humor writing for McSweeney’s and New York magazine’s Grub Street. During that time, he’s seen with his own eyes how people in general suck at drinking. In the ambitious new book You Suck at Drinking (subtitled: Being a Complete Guide to Drinking for Any and All Situations in Your Life, Including But Not Limited to Office Holiday Parties, Weddings, Breakups and Other Sad Times, Outdoor Chores Like Deck-Building, and While in Public, Legally and Illegally), he has taken it upon himself to set people straight about how to become a more educated drinker. (Available from your local bookseller or from Amazon or Indiebound.) With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he takes a look at the many situations in adult life that pretty much require a raised glass.
As he states in his introduction:
You Suck at Drinking is not so much a guide to alcohol as it is a guide to practicing good Drinkcraft. Will it prepare you to be the maid of honor at a wedding? It will. Will you learn how to drink to your advantage in casinos? You bet you will! What about children’s birthday parties? Let me put it this way: all possible parties, including child-centric ones, will be explored.
Latkiewicz begins with the basics: how to identify liquor by the label. For example:
- Anything at all pirate-related—pictures of pirates, of course, a label made to look like a treasure map, skull and crossbones, the word Pacific written in a pirate-way: This is rum.
- Illustrations of British admirals—anything particularly colonial. This is gin.
- A hand-drawn picture of a fancy house and way more words than seem necessary. This is wine.
- The label mentions barrel aging, but doesn’t have a picture of a fancy house on it. This is bourbon.
While the writing in this book is laugh-out-loud funny, I want to raise a glass to Carl Wiens for his excellent artwork. His illustrations throughout are equally hilarious and add volumes to the look and feel of this book: there are charts, graphs, tables— even a cut-out Drinking and Devices Safety Sheet, which you may tape onto your phone to ward off the possibility of drunk dialing late in the evening. One of my favorite charts showcases “Alcohol and Its Corresponding Art” (with examples of creative work). Five or more gin martinis? The Portable Dorothy Parker , of course. Bloody Marys and daiquiris? Papa Hemingway, natch.
Moving behind the bar, the characterizations of bartenders here is spot-on. Latkiewicz describes several types you may have seen, and includes tips for how to treat them: The Waxed Moustache; The Rocker; The Matthau (“No one can lean on a bar with a towel over a shoulder quite like a Matthau”); The Fraternity Brother (“Can be greeted with a complicated handshake/slap combination”); The Tom Cruise (“crazy bottle tricks and Vegas-style swagger”); and The Yacht Club (aka the Suburban Hotel), whom Latkiewicz describes thus: “Often quiet and clumsy, these are mostly new and seasonal bartenders just working the summer after their senior year in high school. Similar to the mayfly, they are weak and numerous.”
Latkiewicz offers his expert guidance on proper drinking behavior at parties. All kinds of parties, from backyard gatherings to bachelor blowouts to baby showers, with inebriation ratings for each occasion. (Baby shower=lowest; cast party/wrap party is way at the top of the leaderboard.) These inebriation ratings are subject to variables that add or subtract points, so you may want to consult the chart pre-party to check: going to the gym that day allows you to boost your rating, while a dislike of the host or guest of honor means an adjustment of -2 points.
And in case you’re already worried about next Valentine’s Day, Latkiewicz includes a handy reference chart that rates drinks from least romantic (“Any drink that takes two hands to hold”) to most romantic (“Anything with bubbles”) to help avoid any future faux pas. In fact, Latkiewicz covers any and all holidays and social events where spirits will be present and glasses will be filled.
Something I found of great interest is the series of illustrations on drink throwing. I’ve seen it done in the movies, but never knew that proper technique involves a five-step process. If you ever toss a drink, here’s an important tip: “If you can find someone to high-five on the way out, so much the better.” Bam!
On a semi-serious note, Latkiewicz addresses the ways in which we can work together to build a better drink culture: who-buys-the-next-round etiquette, how to offer a toast, and a few “general toasting guidelines.” For example, “When in doubt, cheers to everyone’s health. It’s like a little black dress or an Old Fashioned—timeless.”
And speaking of toasts—wedding season is coming up, so we are happy to share an excerpt from the book elsewhere in this issue of EDF. Members of the wedding party and extended family, take note.
Readers of You Suck at Drinking can look for guidance on the kind of necessary drinking strategy and proper drinking behavior that happens in the real world, not in the rarified land of schmancy cocktails poured over hand-chiseled ice. In an interview with Latkiewicz, he says there is “much to be mocked” in the bar scene today. The perfect glass, the garnishes, the right kind of ice—he pokes fun at that sort of thing, but you won’t mistake his attitude for prudishness. He also allows that sometimes—most times—it’s OK to get a little sloppy before you make your way up to the mic at a karaoke bar.
It’s probably five o’clock somewhere, so read this book. To your health—and cheers
Risa Nye lives in Oakland. Her articles and essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Monthly, Hippocampus magazine, and several anthologies. She writes about cocktails as Ms. Barstool for Nosh at berkeleyside.com and about other things at risanye.com.