Dawn Drinking: A Beginner's Guide
Who You Will Meet: Old men! Lots of them!
"Oh yeah, we get a lot of third-shifters," says every bartender, manager, barmaid, and customer at the 11 or so bars across the city we visited. "A lot of guys coming from work."
And by "a lot," they mean not at all a lot. The cops, the firemen, the nurses, steelworkers, airport laborers, the gainfully employed under the age of 60 — they weren't there. That doesn't mean that they aren't there other days, at other hours. And that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit. If you need company to drink, you're probably not equipped for morning drinking.
Based on our soundly unscientific estimate, 62 percent of patrons before 10 a.m. are retirees. Keep in mind these septuagenarians wake up at 4, so traditional breakfast time is actually lunch, and that's as fine a time as any for a shot and a beer, especially when your most pressing decisions of the day include whether to watch the local weather or the Weather Channel, and whether to mow the grass once or twice. That's why everyone loves retirement; it's just nothing you'd want to experience sober.
Who You Won't Meet: Women.
Fact: 99.2 percent of morning drinkers are men. The remaining .8 percent are dragging their men home by the earlobes.
Work the third shift and want to find a date? Better try the Waffle House restroom.
What You Will Do: Why, you'll drink!
For your convenience, pre-dawn bar protocols are boiled down to the basics: You need do nothing more than drink and avoid drooling on the drinker next to you. At its heart, the endeavor is the same as a conventional happy hour. The purpose: Have a few, avoid going home, and convince yourself that you have a life.
The morning crew doesn't need the bells and whistles of the barfly social scene, and they sure don't get 'em. No karaoke, no bands playing bad music in the back of the house, no trivia, no old-man version of young professional nights. The booze is the thing.
The regular assortment of bar diversions are at your disposal. The best of the morning joints offer bar bowling, which is more a corollary than coincidence.
What You Will Drink: Straight alcohol, maybe with ice.
Did you know that vodka contains twice the nutritional value of orange juice?
The practiced morning boozer bypasses the Screwdriver and anything else made with fruit by-products. (Who drinks juice in the morning anyway?) Same goes for Bloody Marys. Steer clear of martinis or any other fancy concoction with créme de this or spirits of that. The post-graveyard-shift crowd hasn't lifted anything other than a beer bottle or vodka in years, so your bartender's mixology skills might be just a smidge off.
Also, stick with the specials. Busch for a dollar? Go for it. Everyone else gripping Black Labels? Do the same.
Who Will Look Upon You With Scorn? Everyone.
The great majority of your fellow citizens aren't hip to the a.m. libation scene. It's not their fault, and it will never be their priceless pleasure to sip Black Velvet with an unemployed scientist in Berea during rush hour.
But be prepared for the looks, of which there will be many. From the school bus driver who plows by while you're sneaking a smoke out on Lorain, to the guy in the sweater vest pumping gas into his Prius who spots you stumbling out of the bar rubbing your eyes. And when you stop off for a McMuffin? Yeah, that old lady behind the counter hates you too.
How Will You Smoke? Quite cleverly.
A handful of morning establishments allow smoking. Their names have been omitted here to protect the innocent. Since laying out actual ashtrays would be a blatant rejection of Ohio's smoking ban, those bars that turn a hazy eye away from the occasional — or more than occasional — lit cigarette must be just a tad subtle about it.
Two favorites stand out. First is the tavern featuring a stack of old Altoid cases, all black at the bottom, available to anyone in a nicotine fit. Perfectly suitable for ashing and for a quick snap-shut if the wrong person walks in. What? Who doesn't like fresh breath?
Second is the West Side stomping ground where everybody has a Pepsi can next to their alcohol beverage of choice. A spot of caffeine to counter the booze? No, just covert ashtrays with frustratingly tiny openings. What? Who doesn't love Pepsi?