By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Web sites like Spacetaker.org, Glasstire.com and, of course, Houstonpress.com will give you the when and where on local openings, but be careful: Just because there's going to be a bunch of people standing around looking at art doesn't mean the drinks are going to be free. Legit nonprofits like DiverseWorks, the Contemporary Arts Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston usually charge for booze; they don't plan to sell the artwork and don't need to get people all liquored up so they'll buy something to impress their friends. It's at art dealers like International Decor Gallery that you'll find the good shit. Can you say Veuve Clicquot?
If you do find yourself at an opening where they're charging for drinks, don't give up and cash out immediately. Fellow staff writer Craig Malisow and I recently went to an event at the Museum of Fine Arts where you could get served only if you bought a ticket from the staff. Saying I was a member yielded nothing; only big-bucks donors were getting comped. (This would've made me angry if I actually had been a member.)
Then Malisow noticed an impromptu segregation going on between the two catering tables: One was staffed by gay men, the other by heteros. He sauntered up to the more stylish of the two, smiled and asked for a drink. Voilà: one gin and tonic on the house. A few minutes ticked by and the museum staff began closing up shop, making my turn easy. All I had to do was sigh and complain I'd just missed my last chance to buy a ticket.
"Well, what would you like?" asked the waiter.
"Anything you got."
The B List
Knowing a club owner is a surefire way to get free drinks, but you usually have to put up with his inane I-have-this-collared-shirt-in-six-different-colors attitude the whole time. And then you've got to fake like you're going for your wallet every time a new drink arrives, just to hear him tell you once again how he's a big shot who never, ever would dream of making his good friend pay.
In other words, the A list is for assholes.
The B list is where it's at, especially when it comes to scamming free drinks. Knowing the owner of a bar will get you only so far; knowing a bartender or a bouncer will get you all the way.
On a recent Saturday, fellow Presser Ray Hafner and I strolled up, makeshift bandannas in tow, to a pirate-themed party at Copa Cobana Latin Lounge. We were greeted at the door by one of his college friends, who handed us each two free drink tokens and waved us in. And that was just the beginning.
A half-hour later we checked in with Haf's buddy and got another set of tokens, which we studied carefully before spending. It was then we noticed they were plastic doubloons (arrrgh, matey!) marked up with a Sharpie. As there were a bunch of unmarked doubloons scattered around the bar for that extra-special seafaring effect, all it took was a quick trip down the street to borrow a Sharpie and aye, the treasure was ours for the taking.
But this doesn't mean you should just walk up to random bartenders and bouncers and try to become best effing friends with them. No matter how many times you go by and chat, you will always be labeled as a customer -- a friendly customer, perhaps, but a customer nonetheless. You've got to seize other opportunities to meet these folks, such as industry nights at other bars.
</1> (Not So) Special Events
People who work in bars -- God bless them -- usually have to sling drinks on the weekends, so they typically go out on Mondays and Tuesdays when the rest of us are curled up on the couch, giving our wallets and livers a break. Since these are the nights when the industry comes out to play, they're called industry nights.
Much like industrialists encouraged workers to blow their paychecks at the company store, bar owners offer plenty of drink specials to industry people on Mondays and Tuesdays. Anyone can take advantage of these deals, but a good booze mooch knows there's a huge difference between a cheap drink and a free one -- an infinite difference, if you think about it -- so I was quick to click when the owner of Joia announced the club's inaugural industry night on MySpace.com.
"RSVP and i'll hook you up w/ some drinks," said the posting.
"I will be attending," said I.
MySpace is kicking Friendster's butt in the battle to be the most popular online networking site, and part of MySpace's success can be found in the ease of its "events" section, where dozens of soirees are usually listed. Many of these postings offer chances for free drinking. And many of them do not, as I learned when I signed up for the release party for the latest issue of Envy, one of our city's free NYC-style glossies.
A magazine release party has to have free drinks, I figured. Otherwise you're just going to an overpriced bar to pick up a copy of something you can get anywhere. Not so with Envy, whose event at Hue set me back seven bucks when I ordered a cocktail. I made a note to remember "Houston is not New York" and began chatting with one of the mag's street-teamers, who told me she had just bought her own drink, too. Party on, party people.