These Are the Only Acceptable Drinking Games, According to Bartenders
The Devil’s Triangle: Yes, another awful part of the Brett Kavanaugh shit show; no, definitely not a drinking game as he suggested. (It, um, means something very different.) Drinking games are, though, a staple among friends, roommates and floormates in college and immediately thereafter at post-college house parties, if generally forgotten by the age of 25. Still, no matter your age, combining games and alcohol can truly be a fun way to enjoy the company of strangers, especially when the focus is on the competition and not how many shots you can mow down in a row.
And so, here’s what some of my favorite fellow bartenders had to say about the games they used to play when they were younger (and dumber) — and the ones they play now that they’re older (and ostensibly more sophisticated) — as well as what kind of gamesmanship they see their customers partaking in while downing their drinks…
Ride the Bus and Baseball
Shaun Traxler, general manager and head bartender at Vault, Fayetteville, AR: Personally, I love drinking games, provided there isn’t too heavy a focus on binge drinking — mainly because I’m one of those humans who has a hard time just relaxing while drinking. I absolutely love activities, especially social ones with good friends and good booze. Catch me at a bar, and I’ll be wherever the action is. Darts, pool, ping pong, shuffleboard, pinball — you name it, I’ll play it. (I also find that engaging in such activities will prevent me from over-indulging.) As for more traditional drinking games, my favorites would have to be the card game Ride the Bus and Baseball.
Ride the Bus is a simple, effective way to get your evening started. It’s not a game that requires an immense amount of thought or focus so it’s perfect for allowing for conversation and distractions. Most often, too, Ride the Bus isn’t a game that requires massive amounts of binge drinking. Although, sometimes, the “loser” who has to ride the bus can be tasked with drinking a relatively heavy amount.
Baseball is a derivative of Beer Pong with a little Flip Cup mixed in. Depending on the skill level of the players, it can involve a fair amount of drinking. This one is incredibly fun with the right group of people.
Last but not least, dice. I’m a particular fan of 1–4–24. It isn’t inherently a drinking game, but it’s much more fun when played with a rowdy, reasonably intoxicated group of your best buds.
Joe Gowland, bartender, Vik’s Wheelhouse Vallejo, CA: It’s been a while, but my favorite was King’s Cup. You could get a lot of people involved, and it was great for parties.
Outside of that, Battle Shots. Have you heard of this? Oh my God, it’s absolutely fantastic. Whoever created it ought to get the Nobel Peace Prize. I played it once at a friend’s house, and I was absolutely blown away. Remember Battleship? You call out coordinates and try to hit and then sink the other person’s boats? It’s the same thing, except every time you get a hit, instead of putting that little red peg in the boat, there’s a shot glass. Some people even put in a ton of time and effort constructing their own boards. Me, too, I guess, as I’m actually building one of my own right now, in fact.
At the bar, on the other hand, I don’t see a lot of drinking games being played. With the prevalence of cell phones at bars, I feel like people have apps and games preloaded on their phones now. I know for a fact that there are trivia games on phones that I see people play a lot while they’re drinking, which isn’t a drinking game, per se. But, for example, I have an older crowd that comes in and plays trivia at like 8 a.m. on Saturdays. They’re not playing it to get drunk, though; it’s just a nice social experience for them while they’re at the bar.
Cards Against Humanity
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, bar manager at Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko in Portland, OR, and author of Drinking Distilled: A How-To Guide for Drinkers (which has its own chapter on drinking games): I’m gonna preface this with the fact that I’ve never been a drinking game person. Like even when I was in college I just, like, drank. I never played quarters or beer pong or anything.
That said, I think my favorite drinking game now is Cards Against Humanity.
I know, I know, it isn’t like, a drinking game, but it’s so much more fun to play with alcohol. Also, it’s the perfect drinking game in that nobody really wins, but nobody really loses either. Everyone just has a good time and gets drunk in the process, which, for me, is the point of a drinking game — to get drunk, right? While I’m on the topic of winning and losing, I feel like with what we all consider to be real drinking games, the loser has to drink. But, then, they win, because they get drunk and you don’t.
As for games at the bar, I think card games are really good, but I don’t want you flipping quarters off my bar top. (It’s stupidly loud.) Same thing for watching YouTube videos on your phone — like if you have to watch this right now, at full volume, get the fuck out. Do that at home. Don’t force the whole bar to watch your cat video.
I mean, I wrote a whole book about how to be a good bar patron, and I feel like it’s basic etiquette and decency to keep Flip Cup to your basement. Also, classic drinking games are great — when you’re in your 20s. Similarly, if you’re in your 30s and still playing Edward Forty Hands… stop.
Never Have I Ever… and Thunderstruck
Clair McLafferty, bartender at The Essential, Birmingham, AL and author of the forthcoming Romantic Cocktails: Craft Cocktail Recipes for Crushes, Heartbreakers, and Star-Crossed Lovers: I haven’t done a lot in the way of drinking game since I started bartending about five years ago, but in college, my favorites were Never Have I Ever and Thunderstruck.
I feel like everyone knows Never Have I Ever…, but just in case, it’s played with a group of people you ideally don’t know super well because it’s not as fun when you play with people you do know. Either way, you go around and say, “Never have I ever…,” and then you say something you haven’t done. Everyone who has done this particular thing, drinks. Admittedly, it’s probably not the best game to play with people you’ve just started dating.
Thunderstruck is basically where you sit or stand in a circle and play the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck.” Every time the guy says “thunder,” you start drinking and don’t stop until he says “thunder” again. Then, when you stop on that thunder, the person next to you starts drinking — and so on and so forth.
But again I don’t really play drinking games anymore. I mean I can drink legally now. Plus, I’m a terrible pool player; I don’t even have that golden spot, of like two beers in where you’re pretty good, I’m just bad all the time. Also, instead of playing drinking games, today we just buy rounds of shots, which serves much the same purpose: to get nice and drunk.
Haley Hamilton is MEL’s booze correspondent. She last compiled a gentleman’s guide for ordering drinks.