R IS FOR ROUNDS
By Matthew Latkiewicz
R is for Rounds and other drink etiquette. One of my favorite things about drinking is how it can bring out our magnanimous side, the part that wants to do someone a service and brighten their day. Can I make you a drink? Here, let me buy a drink? Let me refresh your drink there, friend.
Buying a drink for someone is one of the simplest gifts that you can give, and one of the easiest to receive. Try buying a friend’s meal. It becomes an argument. Bring a gift to someone other than on their birthday or other gift-sanctioned day, and – unless you are married to that person – it’s a little much. But buying someone a drink has none of that baggage. It has other baggage, for sure, but done well, the art of buying drinks for others and having them bought for you is a part of drinking’s appeal: a drink is a substance of communion, a gift you give to a friend, either one you’ve known forever or one you’ve just met, as a recognition of the time you’re spending together. Drinking is one of the pleasures of life and you should give it freely.
I mean, when it’s appropriate. Not like a crazy person. Like all pleasures, some people give more than they should and others want something in return, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a gift someone will appreciate getting.
With that in mind, if you are drinking properly you should be buying drinks for other people, and they should be bought for you. A good drinking life involves at least four levels of round-buying:
A friend group get-together and drink-a-thon in which every person in the group buys a round over the course of the night until everyone is drunk enough to sing a song together or attempt a late night swim in a fountain. In the UK, the customs of group drinking sessions and who gets the next round are so central to pub life that a drinking newspaperman named William Greaves codified them in his Sunday column and now his semi-serious Greaves rules hang on the wall of many a pub. How frequently you have a night like this – and how big the group is – is up to you, of course, but if you go a year without a good classic group drink sesh, I’d look to start organizing one.
This is a person with whom you exchange drink rounds over a long period of time, see-sawing back and forth. Everyone needs a long-term drinking buddy, so if don’t have someone to say “hey I got this one,” to, or “I think it’s my turn,” then it’s time to go looking for a drinking pal.
The new best friend
If you sit at enough bars, you will meet the people sitting next to you. Sometimes these meetings are quick, polite chit-chat, but sometimes, they become that most special of thing: your new drunk best friend that you just met. Bars – and again, I’m not talking about nightclubs – but actual bars, like in Cheers, are one of the few places in the non-internet where you can meaningfully engage with strangers. On the subway, you’re going somewhere, in a restaurant you’re at a table, at a movie, you’re watching the movie. But a bar is a neighborhood living room, and you should take advantage of that. When you’re sitting at a bar, be open to meeting someone new, and if you’re getting on, offer to buy the next round. Something to toast your new friendship, even if that friendship only lasts as long as you are both on the stool.
The big one
buying a round for the whole bar, something I believe every drinker should do at least once in their drinking life, though I must admit, I myself have not done it. I’m waiting for the opportune time, when I have something so big to celebrate I need to share the celebration around. There are times in your life when the chips fall your way, and in those cases, it’s only humane to share a little of the wealth and a little of the joy beyond yourself and those you know. And on the day when my joy cup runneth over, I’m going to go to the nearest bar and telling the bartender, “I’d like to order a round for the bar,” and raise my glass to the people around me, whether I know them or not, because we are all in this together.
R is for rounds.