By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
"Hey there," one yells to me. "You got a light?"
My hands fumble around my pockets. "Where you ladies going tonight?"
"That Irish bar," she says. "Why don't you buy us a drink?"
"OK, but let me ask you something. Do you know where I can get a dollar draft beer?"
With no other word, they're zipping off without me. A couple of minutes later, a grown man shrink-wrapped in a child-sized red T-shirt walks up wanting a cigarette. I hit him with the familiar refrain.
"No," he says, shaking his head. "No way. You need to go to the liquor store, get you something there."
"But I want to go to a bar."
"No way. Just go to the liquor store, man."
At a gas station, I score a Bud Light tallboy ($1.68), prophylactic that sucker in a bag, and slurp it on the corner of Collins and 12th. There, brownbagging under the art deco shadows, I ingest South Beach and its particular fauna: Russian billionaire types accessorized with runway-model gal pals. Tommy Bahama'd tourists. The twitchy homeless. And bros — a sea of bros — all spring-loaded with machismo and Red Bull. Nobody looks at me. I'm wallpaper.
"Don't listen to all these other fuckers out here trying to sell you stuff," a guy is soon telling me between Ocean and Collins. "You want, I can get my guy out here with some good shit."
"And I appreciate that," I tell him. "What I am really trying to do is find a place with dollar beers."
He looks me over, his face morphing from friendly banter to concern. "No bro," he says politely. "You should probably go home."
But I'm not done. No. It's now around 11 p.m. I'm just rounding into that part of the evening where my blood alcohol content is sufficient ego helium that my every idea seems Mensa-grade. I'm already failing to blend into the South Beach environs, so it might be time to go undercover. As a tourist. From Sweden.
Pasty and generally clueless? Check. I comb my hair over into a perfect Ken doll helmet, stuff my button-up into my pants. My posture straightens; I meet every look with smiling eyes. I Yoda-ize my sentences, sparkling every utterance with heapings of "please" and "thank yous." And I go where confused and sensory-blitzed tourists go: the Clevelander.
Colored lights flash against the hotel's white walls. A dance floor of white people two-step awkwardly like at a high-school mixer. I barely squeeze in at the outdoor bar. Bass humps from the stereo. "Beer for one dollar, you have it, right?" I ask one of the sports-bra-ed bartenders. She flicks me a dead look, then shouts over the music: "What kind of beer?"
"Please, one-dollar Miller Lite, yes?"
She hands me a beer. The single in my hand flutters in my fingers like a ticket for a ride. The bass bumps. The bartendress' eyes are unamused pools.
"One dollar beer. Yes?"
"No, this is America," she says, nonchalantly snapping the elastic strap of her bra while the bass Richters up a notch. "Nothing costs a dollar."
Among beer deals, the dollar draft is boss. Two-for-ones? Fine if you plan on going the distance on the barstool. Half-offs are usually a bar's tricky way to get you hooked on higher-end product. And penny drafts? Those are just a gimmick that frat boys use to conquer coed nether parts.
No, nothing beats the neat and easy economics of the dollar draft. Not only do ten singles alone pack enough kinetic pop for a one-way trip to a buzzy, calm headspace but the dollar draft is the great equalizer. In the bar serving the one-buck beer, nobody's priced out; the bricklayer and the longshoreman, the Russian gazillionaire and the Gucci bro drink together. Many are the times I've squinted into a bar's gloom to behold some working stiff leaning over the counter, singles spread over the wood, a temporary Big Timer throwing his weight. It's democratic, making every man a baller.
But unfortunately, beer prices are continuously bolting skyward. Each of your major brands — Miller, Budweiser, Coors — licenses to a single distributor in each region. Here in South Florida, just two companies — Brown Distributing and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors — have a lock on the territory. Those two distributors compete only with each other and keep their prices about the same. When one tweaks the price of a keg, so does the other. Wholesale buyers are at their mercy.
"The costs of brewing go up constantly," says Peter Greenstein, owner of King's Lounge and its adjacent liquor store in Lake Worth. "Their cost of gasoline for transportation goes up constantly. Their employee wages and benefits go up. I'm not blaming them; I'm recognizing that it is the way it has to be."
According to Greenstein, the last spasm hit the market in October, when the price of a keg of domestic crawled up around $7 to $105. "[The distributors] raised their prices the exact same amount, with no notice to any of the little guys," he says.
Each keg holds 1,984 ounces of beer. If none spills on the floor, that can fill 124 16-ounce pints. Sell 'em for a buck apiece and a bar owner will recoup his cost and have just $19 left over — but that disappears when you factor in the cost of paying a bartender. Even charging $2 a beer, a bar still stands to barely scrape any profit from the arrangement. Econ 101-wise, the only way cheap beer helps the bottom line is if you pour ultrahigh volume or use such a deal as a loss leader to get a consumer through the door, where he'll shell out full price for other products.
Wow that was an awesome piece. As a young undergraduate from FAU Boca Campus I really appreciate all that field work! It's so true - I look at my peers and see them buying expensive ass drinks, dancing to shit beats and molly and all that shit. Anyways keep writing!
$1 draft beer all day every day.
Thank you Mr. Swenson for this interesting and very well written piece. As I read I could see myself perched on a barstool leaning against the bar with a cold beer in my hand in any and all of the places you described. And, I feel I know all of those dive bar denisons. I are one. Another thing... 70 ain't old and gettin' old only happens when you think and act old. Anyway, thanks.
@gatorbytz aging is biological, getting old is optional.