There’s this busted bar in Missouri that sells bottle rockets. But they’re incredibly hard to shoot because of their constitution: a half-drank 40 ounce bottle of malt liquor filled with the alcohol-infused energy drink Sparks. It tastes like Pop Rocks and gasoline fermented in the African sun for three years. It tastes like — freedom.
Once I decided to drink two, which provoked a freestyle battle and me tumbling out the back entrance without paying the bill.
The following morning, after a long conference with board members Advil, Gatorade and cheese fries, my “friends” told me a secret: While I was pretending to be GrandMaster Flash, about 20 Crown Royal shots were put on my credit card tab by pretty much everyone in the saloon. The bartender thought it fine because I was busy in the corner reassuring everyone I’m perpetually white.
I was mad, but only the kind of mad a person can be after their head was repeatedly ran over. I should have kept an eye on my tab.
But hey, live and let die. My head will recover (still waiting), I’ll take a freestyle class and I’ll pay the tab next time I’m at my busted bar. No biggie, right?
Wrong. The next weekend, I moseyed into the bar to square up and found a livid barkeep. She said I was lucky to be allowed back in her house of liquor, and that from now on I was going to have to forfeit my credit card before being served anything.
This was new to me. Most of the places I get my drank on don’t require you to put your plastic down upfront. I mean, why would they? It’s not like I’m going to get loaded and leave without paying. But the more bars I visit, and after I read an article that discusses the issue, the more I notice being asked for a credit card before I can begin the inebriation process.
Do I look shady? Did the busted saloon in Missouri send out a telegram warning of a drunken, tab-skipping Vanilla Ice? Does no one trust me anymore? Am I getting fat?
I imagine it comes down to two things: If the bar is slammed, they’re going to ask for some type of insurance so they won’t get confused by all the customers, and a credit card is the norm. It’s much easier for someone to duck out without paying if the employees are busy making thousands of Crown Royal shots and bottle rockets. So having a customer’s card ensures they will pay. Also, the more corporate the establishment, the more likely you’ll be asked to give up your credit card. Few mom-and-pop bars are going to demand plastic collateral because they know the majority of their regulars.
So after thinking about it, I’m at peace with giving my credit card upfront. After all, I’m getting mature in my old age. Well, a little more mature.
A week after moving to Austin, I was at it again. This time I was Hank Williams Jr. (see picture), which meant Jack Daniels had to come party with us. And you know, people like to trash talk Mr. Daniels, but he helped me sing every single note of “Family Tradition” — 117 times. I was responsible, though, because I started a tab with my credit card before the singing started, so I had to pay the bill before leaving.
Well, not really. Mr. Daniels persuaded us to roll down to another local watering hole after they pulled the plug on the jukebox for some good old-fashioned breakdancing. I had to oblige.
It wasn’t until the next day’s board meeting that I discovered I didn’t have my Discover. No biggie. I called the bar, hoping they would be merciful on an old country music star, and told them I would come get it pronto.
When I arrived, I found my disgustingly large bill had an additional 25 percent added to it. Apparently this is standard practice for many bars. Comments on a Baltimore Sun blog say about 10 to 15 drunks customers leave their card behind every night at your average busy bar, which puts all those people at a high risk for identity theft.
Bar managers defend the charge by saying left cards are super inconvenient because those open tabs can’t be closed, which means their final numbers at the end of the night are off. Managers also say they waste a lot of time dealing with customers who lost their cards, which is time that could be spent working, or drinking.
At many bars, it is visibly advertised how much will be charged on left cards. But that clearly doesn’t stop a lot of people, including this writer, from skipping out without paying.
Perhaps the reason so many of us forget to pay our tabs is deeper than just having an absent mind. Maybe we’re trying to forget about our financial situations in general, which I imagine a lot of us are trying to do nowadays.
Or maybe I’m stretching. Maybe I just need to stay away from any more bottle rockets.
See related: Give Real unveils drinking 2.0, Don’t party with your credit card