From cab drivers to a college professor, everyone has a story to tell about drinking in Charlottesville. Scroll through for hilarity and some helpful hints, and click over to our bar guide for a practical take on drinking local.
Breathe easy: Two C-VILLE staffers test their tolerance
We’ve all seen that person at the bar—the guy who slams his empty beer glass down and fumbles for his keys against the protest of his buddies, or the girl who insists that no, she doesn’t need to call a cab after three margaritas. When we drink, how we feel, how much we’ve actually had to drink, and our blood alcohol level may all be drastically different from one another, and it can vary from person to person.
C-VILLE Editor Courteney Stuart and I are roughly the same height and weight—a little over 5′ tall and about 120 pounds—and we both consume a couple of drinks several times per week. Intrigued by the handheld breathalyzer a coworker recently purchased at CVS pharmacy—who knew that was a thing?—we decided to do some research. So with notepads, pens, and the AlcoHAWK Slim Ultra breathalyzer in hand, we parked ourselves at Tempo around 7pm one recent Saturday, curious as to how we’d compare in terms of blood alcohol levels and tipsiness after drinking the same drinks at the same pace—and if we’d be able to tell when we topped the legal limit.
(Disclaimer: We’d already determined we’d be cabbing it home, and blood alcohol levels can continue to rise long after the last sip is taken, so these home breathalyzers should not be used to determine whether you should drive or not.)
Before ordering the first round, we both checked our blood alcohol content (BAC), just to make sure those salads we had for dinner weren’t hiding any booze. Zeroes all around; let’s do this.
After poring over the cocktail menu, we decided that simple, classic gin and tonics were the way to go. We watched bartender Justin Cavanaugh carefully pour two ounces of gin into each glass, top them off with tonic water, and add sliced limes.
Immediately upon finishing the drinks, we blew into the breathalyzer. (The packaging states that the breathalyzer won’t make an accurate reading until 20 minutes after alcohol consumption, but we were curious.) With gin obviously still on our breaths, I blew a 0.17 and Courteney came in at 0.10. After waiting the appropriate amount of time, however, the numbers dropped to 0.05 and 0.04, respectively.
We went for another round. At about 8pm, halfway through our second G&T, we concluded that we were feeling moderately buzzed—definitely wouldn’t drive, we agreed—but not really drunk.
We sipped water, and shared some fried Brussels sprouts leaves and shrimp tempura. Twenty minutes later, wondering if our food intake had any impact on our BACs, we blew into the gadget again. Down to 0.09 and 0.10, mine still being the higher of the two. Both were higher than we’d anticipated, and above Virginia’s legal driving limit of 0.08, but neither of us were stumbling or slurring by any means.
Our fellow bar patrons, on the other hand, were a different story. Given the glassy-eyed stare and overwhelming smell of beer radiating from the man next to me who claimed to have only had three drinks all day, we were less than surprised when he unsteadily took the breathalyzer from my hand and blew a 0.25. We were also not surprised, unfortunately, when he waved his hand and said “Aw, I’d still drive home.”
We strolled over the Belmont Bridge to Champion Brewing Company where we ran into a friend who confessed he’d had “a few” but didn’t think he was too far gone. He waited a while after taking a sip but still blew a .24 and was shocked that he was triple the legal limit. “I might drive a short distance,” he mused. Fortunately, he lived within walking distance, but it was enough to make you worry about people on the road who think they’re O.K. but are actually legally wasted.
By the time we wrapped up our evening, a little more than two hours after the first sip, we both ended up with BACs of 0.06. Turns out two women of roughly the same stature will in fact end up with the same levels after throwing back the same drinks, but it may take some time to get there. And it bolstered our belief that no matter what your size, you’re always better off with a totally sober ride home even if you’re only planning on a couple of drinks.—Laura Ingles
Hit or miss: How to throw a punch
We’re not saying violence is the answer, but if push comes to punch, it’s best to know what you’re doing rather than rely on your gin-soaked wits when the scene gets less than friendly. We asked Marianne Kubik at UVA to give us some pointers. An associate professor and the head of movement for the school’s drama department, Kubik is a certified stage combat instructor and knows a thing or two about serving up a knuckle sandwich. Sock it to ’em!—Caite White
Step 1: Preparation
Put your drink down. You’ll need both hands for this. Stand with your feet grounded and shoulder-width apart, with the foot of your punching hand behind and the other foot toward the target. Bend your knees and put most of your weight on your back foot. Bring your punching hand up in front of your ear, with your elbow close to your ribs. Keep your free hand up in front of you for balance and defense.
Don’t wind up with your arm behind you. It’s obvious, it leaves you wide open, and it makes you look like a schoolboy. Make a comfortable fist with your thumb on the outside. (If you squeeze your thumb inside your fist, it’s the last time you’ll feel it in one piece.) Look at the target. If you’re seeing double by this point in the evening, just pick one, you don’t have time to dicker about it. Don’t aim at your target, but through it. Breathe and stay loose.
Step 2: Delivery
Punch from the bottom up: Push off with your back leg and twist through your hip, shifting your weight onto your forward foot. Use those legs and hips to punch with your body weight, not your arm. Extend your arm sharply, keeping your middle knuckle in line with the bones of your forearm.
Make contact with the back of this knuckle, not the flat of your fingers. This will rotate your thumb slightly downward, lessening the chance of elbow lockage or a broken wrist. Drive the punch fast, 2″ beyond the target but not all the way through. Keep your chin down. It’ll help raise your arm and protect your face. Keep both heels on the ground. (This is not golf.) You may find yourself lifting your back heel as you finish. And then you’ll be lifting yourself off the floor when your own momentum throws you into your opponent.
And let’s be honest, your balance is already questionable by this point. Keep it in your heels. Yell! It drives up adrenaline, it releases muscle tension, and it’s the classic element of surprise.
Step 3: Recovery
Hopefully, you’ve hit your target. There’s no time for awe or celebration. Move on. Immediately snap your arm back in front of your own face, and keep your free hand up, to be ready for a response attack. Return to your stance in Step 1. Feel the pain for just a moment. I mean your own. That will clear your head a bit. Run. Run like hell and come back tomorrow to pay your tab.
Postscript: Real punches never land like they do in the movies. Staged fights are safely choreographed illusions of violence, while the actual thing happens so fast and clumsily that everyone usually ends up bloody and broken. Hand-to-hand fighting is serious stuff and can do permanent damage, physically and legally. Once you throw a punch—whether or not it lands—the situation is no longer in your control. That decisive moment just before the first attack is key. In theater and film, I love to see a conflict reduce itself to a good-looking bust ’em up. In the real world, if you can walk away, do it.
Marianne Kubik is a certified instructor of stage combat with the Society of American Fight Directors, and she stages the illusion of violence to satisfy our thrill and danger-seeking instincts so we can get it out of our systems, and out of our lives.
The ambassador: No one knows—and loves—Charlottesville’s night scene better than Alex Caines
When Alex Caines arrived in Charlottesville 23 years ago from New York City, it didn’t take him long to find a few favorite watering holes. First stop: Eastern Standard, the cozy establishment that for years occupied the second floor above the former Escafé and current Whiskey Jar space at the west end of the Downtown Mall.
“It was hot outside, and in there, it was cool and felt almost New Yorkish,” said Caines, who had worked in publishing in the Big Apple and would later become a fixture in Mall eating establishments through his role as the concierge at the Omni Hotel, where he developed relationships with restaurant owners and patrons, and sent hotel guests to his favorite places.
Walking the streets of his new home in those early days as a Northern transplant, Caines stumbled upon other spots that felt welcoming: St. Maarten’s on the Corner, where a mug with his name still hangs near the door, and the former Outback Lodge on Preston Avenue, where he worried that as a black man dating a white woman, he might raise eyebrows in the South.
“That was the test,” he recalled of his initial visit with his then-girlfriend. “It was a dark bar, filled with bikers we didn’t know,” he said. “On our first encounter there, everyone stopped and turned their heads.”
Moments after they sat down, Caines recalled, a big, burly guy approached the couple, and Caines felt a moment of uncertainty. “You’re new here?” the man asked. “You can come back anytime.” And Caines did just that, even as he branched out to spending time at C&O, Miller’s, and Court Square Tavern, among others.
For Caines, late nights at restaurant bars became a lifestyle, and while he enjoyed wild nights at the old Fellini’s, with its reputation for debauched after-hours parties (in which he may or may not have partaken, he laughs), it has always been more about the buddies than the booze, something that’s evident during a recent morning interview at a Downtown Mall coffee shop patio, as he waved to and hugged numerous passersby.
The connections he made through restaurants led to his involvement in the arts and business communities as well, he noted, and he served on the boards of the Virginia Film Festival, First Night Virginia, and The Downtown Foundation.
These days, Caines, who has been fighting cancer since the fall, is sticking closer to his Belmont home, and spending most of his bar time at tavola, The Local, Mas, and the outdoor Tiki Bar at La Taza. His love of restaurants—and the people he meets in them—is helping him through this tough time.
“I gotta keep going to new restaurants and bars,” he said, noting that even though he’s no longer in an official concierge role, he still sees himself as an ambassador for his adopted city.
“I love promoting Charlottesville,” he said. “I love sharing that.”—Courteney Stuart
Cab of horrors
You rely on them when you’ve tippled too much to get yourself home, but there are times when cabbies aren’t so happy to see you. We asked two for their best worst fare stories, and we got a couple of great ones—and not just tales of late-night debauchery.—Graelyn Brashear
Kennan McCoy, McCoy’s Taxi
“Your worst case, obviously, is somebody getting sick in the car. It always seems to be the most upscale functions that you get the people that throw up.
One time it was a couple of women celebrating a UVA alumni reunion. As old as they were, they got drunk like college kids. The one woman was sick and threw up, and her friend went to take her upstairs to their hotel room and said she’d come back down with the credit card for the $300.
A few minutes had passed, and I called her to see what was going on. She finally showed up and her shirt was ripped and her hair was all messed up. She told her friend to give her her credit card, and she hauled off and punched her. That’s $300 I never want to collect.”
Doral Butler, Yellow Cab of Charlottesville
“It was pouring down rain. I hit the button on my cab, and it said it was a pickup on South Street right there where the brewery is. I pulled up and the guy walks out waving his hands. He’d said in his cab order that he wanted to go up 29, but he gets in the cab and says, ‘No, I gotta go to Waynesboro.’ I told him I had to get gas down on Fifth Street first, and he said, ‘No, no, just push it to Crozet and I’ll fill you up.’ I’m like, this guy must be in a real hurry.
I look in the backseat and he’s got all this money on his lap. He saw me looking and said, ‘I got my inheritance today.’ So then they push a message out to all the drivers saying be on the lookout for a white man age 18 to 33 who just robbed the First Union Bank. And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
I dropped him off in Waynesboro and right away Mark [Brown, owner of Yellow Cab] is like, ‘Did you pick up the bank robber?!’ I spent three hours at the Waynesboro Police Department. And you know, they took the $100 he paid me and I never got it back.”
Routine maintenance: Expand your beverage options and your mind
With swimsuit season upon us, you’re well-aware that the vodka-soda is a low-cal bev, but it’s also a little boring, and somewhat bracing to boot. So when you have a hankering for a vodka-soda, order up a Gin Rickey instead. Most folks forget that gin is the original flavored vodka, and it has far outlasted current, trending flavors (in my opinion) because it’s delicious. The Gin Rickey is essentially a vodka-soda (gin replaces vodka), with a healthy dose of lime juice added as a tart complement to gin’s botanicals.
If you’re a light beer drinker, try a local Kolsch. The crisp cousin of the Bavarian lager, Kolsch is a thirst-quenching, all-grain, delicious, consciously-crafted beer made without GMO corn, corn syrup, or propylene glycol. Check out the Champion Killer Kolsch or the Blue Mountain Kolsch—perfect for a hot, sunny, summer day.
If sweet wine is your drink of choice, explore good sweet wine. Sweet is a four-letter word as far as most serious wine serious drinkers are concerned. In fact, the word is generally eschewed in favor of terms like “off-dry” or “demi-sec” or the more peripheral “residual sweetness.” But many great wines and wine styles are sweet, and natural sugar is used to balance rich or acidic elements in the wine, rather than covering up bad juice. Sweeter wines are perfect for hot weather, spicy cuisine, or an exceptionally rich dish. I like a bottle of Lambrusco or good Moscato for summer afternoons on the porch, Riesling with Thai food, and Pinot Blanc with foie gras or pork belly.—Micah LeMon
You, a priest, and a rabbi walk into a bar. Priest orders a dry martini up with a twist. Rabbi orders a Hendrick’s French 75. You ask for a cranberry and vodka. Punch line? You just got shown up by a priest and a rabbi.
But it’s O.K. You can improve. First, the basics. Always state your order booze-first. Be specific about what kind of liquor you want, unless you’re fine with the well spirit (whatever inexpensive option the bar chooses). Have your card or, preferably, cash ready, and be prepared when it’s your turn to order.
“If the bar is busy, and especially if you have people with you, know what everyone wants before you get the bartender’s attention,” Parallel 38 owner Justin Ross said. “The worst thing you can do is grab the bartender’s attention and then turn your back and ask people what they want.”
Once you’re feeling confident, it’s time to step it up a notch, and reach deeper into the catalog of classic cocktails—a negroni (gin, red vermouth, and bitters), Manhattan (whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters), or sazerac (cognac/whisky, absinthe, bitters, and sugar) are all good—and slip in a veteran phrase or two. Just remember that “up” is short for “straight up” (i.e. no ice), but no one ever uses “down” to mean “on the rocks;” “double tall” will get you two shots in a large glass, and “double short” means you’re going to need a designated driver.
In no time, you’ll be ordering with James Bond-level style. Or at least you’ll be able to hang with all those priests and rabbis that are always walking into bars.—Shea Gibbs
From me to you: One bartender’s advice to his customers
You don’t really like strawberry daiquiris, piña coladas, or mojitos. What you do like, dear bar patron, is the memory of a night at a certain bar, where you were handed a frozen, slushy drink, got tipsy, maybe ordered another, and had a total blast. That is an awesome memory—but maybe not an awesome drink. And asking me, your bartender, to summon this feeling of past euphoria by bringing you a strawberry daiquiri is impossible. I will inevitably disappoint, because your first sip of said beverage will not be as sweet as the memory of the night you are bringing to the bar. So why not be open to a differnt experience? Allow me to make you something special. Or how about trying something new and creating a memory that can live beside The Awesome Night of Strawberry Daiquiris. I’ll do my best not to disappoint—and I’ll be happy to muddle the mint.
In addition to requests for conjuring up memories of evenings past, I’ve had a patron or two ask, “Why should I tip you?” Well, that’s a fair question, and here is why:
1. Bartenders and waiters in Virginia are generally not paid a living wage, and make well under minimum wage while at work. Tips are the only money they take home from their work.
2. The cost of service is not included in checks at restaurants. If restaurant owners had to provide basic wages (or even, gasp, health insurance) for their staff, your bill would be significantly higher. Instead, your check is lower, and your service tip directly helps the person who served you, feed themselves and their family.
3. Bartenders and waiters are limited by time to the quantity of people they can serve and consequently how much money they can make. If they share their time and expertise with you, remember how precious that time is to them, and structure your tip accordingly. Twenty percent is appropriate for good service, and upward at your discretion.
Oh, and please also remember that nothing is free. While being hospitable is often synonymous with being lavishly generous, a bartender is not at liberty to whimsically give stuff away. That is, simply put, stealing from the owner. Even if it is your birthday, you still need to pay for the merchandise you’ve requested. Some establishments do have a “comp” tab, where a bartender can comp a drink or two for valued customers. Those comps are recorded, and the business still has to pay taxes on them. Comps are given, not requested, and if you get one, say thank you in one way or another.
And don’t take it personally if I ask for a card to start a tab. Sure, you come in all the time, and I know you by name. But I’m working with several bartenders, and having your card helps us accurately track your tab and promptly serve you—and it keeps you from the embarrassment of forgetting to pay on the night you’ve had one too many.
I live to make you happy. Grumpy customers haunt my dreams. They’re called “restaurant anxiety dreams,” and everyone who takes his job seriously in the biz has them. They come from moments in your shift where you are in the weeds, and customers start getting annoyed at having to wait for service. If the pace of my night is frenetic, please know that I am working as hard as I can to keep everyone—including you—happy, and banish sour faces from my dreams. When you leave the bar happy, I sleep like a baby.—Micah LeMon
Smart bomb: Photobombing 101
Photos are the fabric of this digital 3G circus in which we now reside, and as a professional photographer, I consider my photos the main event—for me, probably a little bit of graceful trick-riding mixed with just enough intrigue of the lion tamer. Facebook is the petting zoo for our egos, Instagram is the juggling act (look 11 plates of food at once!), Pinterest the bearded lady, somehow pretty and grotesque at once. Throughout the circus you will find the photobomber, the clowns of our show. Sometimes hidden in the corner of your friend’s duck-faced selfie, sometimes posted to some listicle on Buzzfeed.
As with clowns, many of us have grown to detest our head popping, tongue-wagging, bird flipping counterparts. While photographing weddings and other events through the years, I frequently encounter photobombs of all sorts. From the last-minute dive into the frame, to the well positioned, over the shoulder crazy face, I’ve gleaned what makes for the most successful photobomb.—John Robinson
1. Let the bomb come to you. No one likes the guy who chases the photographer around a party, looking to make himself a nano-legend. You just look pathetic and you’ll probably ruin somebody’s night. Bide your time, have fun, and you’ll get your chance.
2. Be creative. A funny dance move framed perfectly betwixt a pair of dancing drunkards is way better than the nose pick over your brother’s shoulder. Be witty, express yourself, and try something new.
3. Have a brain, have a heart. The middle finger? The air hump when grandmas in frame? Mooning during the couples portraits? Have some class, think about what you’re doing. Humor should not come at someone else’s expense.
4. Bombs away on the selfie. You know what I said about humor not coming at someone elses expense? This is the exception to prove the rule. The best way to eradicate the annoying selfie is to bomb early and bomb often.