Free Booze

Never pay for a drink in this town again

Online listings can do only so much unless you learn to read between the lines. Say the Museum of Natural Science is debuting an exhibition on a Friday. You can bet there's going to be a celebration on the preceding Wednesday or Thursday. Just show up, pull out your cell phone and stroll past the people giving out name badges. If you do get stopped, use one of Mark McLin's tricks: Walk right up to the table and ask where your badge is. When it can't be found, ask the staff to make you a new one.

But the most special of events are those where you don't have to pretend you belong, and nowhere is this more the case than at the tailgate parties for Texans home games. The whole thing's like a convention for the Drink Givers of America: Rows of hard-core fans pass out booze and barbecue to anyone who's hollering for the home team.

"We can't go down on the field and play with them, so let's do everything else around it," says Shin, a 36-year-old whose tailgating crew, Team Smoke, sets up kegs, grills and satellite TVs for every home game. "Let's get in good spirits. Let's go win the game. If we win, let's come out and let's party about it. And if we lose, we're still going to party."

</1> House Party!

We didn't belong, but Hafner and I walked into the backyard like we owned the place. It was a week after we'd pillaged the pirate party, and we were crashing a shindig Haf had found on Facebook.com, a networking site for college students. It had been posted by a 19-year-old named Eric, whom neither of us knew, but it promised "2 Kegs. Jungle Juice. Best Tits Contest." We were so there.

"Hey!" some guy yelled as we entered, stopping us dead in our tracks. And then, "Y'all need to get some beer."

We scooped some punch out of a large cooler and surveyed the scene. Damn, these kids looked young. Most of the guys were wearing Polos -- a lot of pink -- and standing around the keg. The girls: low-cut sweaters, standing in concentric circles around the guys. Everyone seemed caught up in their own conversations, except for when some dudes convinced a couple of lucky ladies to do keg stands.

"Chug, chug, chug," the crowd chanted, and the girls chugged, chugged, chugged.

Up walked a peroxide blond who said, "I'm so glad to see y'all here. I was afraid there weren't going to be any older people."

"When'd you graduate?" asked Hafner, who's 22.

"O-four," she said, referring to high school. Hafner's smile dropped a bit.

"Well, you've got nothing to worry about," I said, wondering if she had any idea I was a year shy of 30.

She asked us who we knew there. When we told her no one, she thought we were joking. After all, who would just show up at a party without knowing anyone?

Mooches, that's who.

A good house party is the Shangri-la of free drinks. But the older you get, the smaller and more sedated the parties become: Large crowds of strangers are replaced by intimate groups of friends; beer and Jell-O shots give way to wine and martinis. All of which can be fun, but small crowds seriously limit your scamming opportunities.

The key to crashing any party is to act like you belong. Walk right up to the first group you see and give those folks a big "Whassup?" After a round of hellos, move straight for the booze, because once you have a drink, everyone's going to assume you should be there. Then it's all a matter of outpacing the rest of the crowd in the combined effort to drain whatever alcohol is on hand.

Bubbling over with confidence from Eric's party, Haf and I drove around near the Warehouse District, looking for a two-kegger we'd heard about from a friend. We were circling the 'hood in a spiral when we saw a clump of pickup trucks parked outside a two-story house. I made Haf stop, even though he was pretty sure it wasn't the right place.

I should've listened to him. There we were, standing right in the middle of a birthday party full of Latinos. My eyes were on the table full of drinks; Hafner's were on the group of little kids playing with their parents. Even the best crasher knows when to bail, so we mumbled something about looking for a friend and headed back to the car.

A couple of blocks later we found what we were looking for: hipsters, standing in a yard, sucking down butts and Shiners.

We walked up, whassuped a few people and headed for the keg.

"Is that thing floated?" asked some guy in line behind me.

"Not yet," I said. "But it looks like it will be soon."

</1> Potion Promotions

No local lush worth her margarita salt would miss Friday afternoons at the giant Spec's on Smith Street. Come five o'clock, the TGIF crowd swarms the joint, stocking up on beverages and delicacies for the long slog ahead.

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