By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
On a recent Friday afternoon there were four little booths set up by alcohol distributors, all offering free mini-shots. The dude manning the Knob Creek booth was pouring the heaviest, so I asked him how many shots he was allowed to give out. His answer: one per person. When queried whether I could show up again later wearing a fake mustache, he said, "No way, Jose." Why? Because he gets to take home whatever he doesn't give away.
The women who do promotions in bars aren't so lucky.
"We give away everything," says Lena Cruz, a 25-year-old model who's been doing street-team promotions for three years.
Promotion models are like free-drink pixies, and sightings of these beautiful, booze-endowing women are all too rare. When they do show up, they usually pass out drinks and disappear faster than you can say, "May I have another?"
Most people think the bar brings them in; most people are wrong. It's illegal for a bar to give away drinks. What has to happen is a manufacturer has to sell to a distributor, which in turn has to sell to a retailer -- that's one, two, three tiers -- and then the distributor has to walk into the bar and buy back the booze to give it away. If it sounds complicated, that's because it is.
"A lot of people think we just go out and we have our own credit cards and we buy beer and give it out," says Cruz.
Yeah, and a lot of people apparently don't think things through: Look, it's another random group of hotties buying drinks for the bar. I love it when that happens.
The real deal is branding. These promotions exist so you'll associate Cuervo or Jägermeister or whatever with good times, pretty ladies and cheap key chains. Think of it as a live Super Bowl commercial.
Distributors are prohibited by law from telling bars exactly when they're coming, so you have to keep your eyes open. Last month when I was scanning free drink options at a random wake -- don't ask -- I got a call from a buddy who had seen a giant Jägermeister van parked outside the Wet Spot. Fifteen minutes of zigzagging through traffic got me there just in time to sample one of the last free shots of licoricey goodness.
Actually, anyone who's ever tasted Jäger knows it wasn't very good, but it was the best shot I didn't buy that night.
Women typically have it easier than men when it comes to scamming hooch off fellow bar patrons. All they have to do is sit back, look bored and wait for not-so-poor saps to offer them a beverage. I wanted a little bit of that free-drink love for myself, so I decided to cruise some gay bars with my friend Anthony (not his real name), who's no stranger to the scene.
But first I had to learn how to make an entrance.
"No, no, no," he told me as I practiced at a restaurant in Rice Village. "Keep your head up and stop right when you walk in, making eye contact with everyone for just one second. You have to own the place."
After confusing a couple of waiters, we decided I was ready and headed out to JR.'s Bar & Grill, right in the heart of the gayborhood. We made our entrance, headed to the back and awkwardly stood near a couple. No luck there, so we cruised around the joint in search of a single, older man. We were chickens hunting for a hawk, and we thought we'd found one standing alone at the side bar, watching a drag show on the wooden stage.
"Hey-ay," said Anthony.
"Hello," replied the guy, looking awfully suspicious.
Now either he was onto us or we weren't as fetching as we thought, but he had no interest in buying us cocktails. No interest at all. This was turning out to be tougher than we'd imagined. We went and checked in with a female friend who'd come along and told her we were going across the street to the Montrose Mining Company, a place that's just as dirty as it sounds. She opted to stay at JR.'s, preferring its pool tables and sports-bar vibe to the thought of cramming around a large bar with a bunch of men staring at dick dancers. To each her own.
As Anthony and I stood around, making eyes at people on the back patio, he motioned to one group and sighed, "They're just not coming up to us because they know we're out of their league."
Yeah, that must've been it.
After some stilted conversation with another couple, we slowly backed away and returned to JR.'s, where Anthony began doing some serious pouting -- as a gay man, he couldn't help but take offense at his lack of freebies. I chatted for a bit with our female friend, who illuminated the true depth of our failure: The woman had scored a free drink while we were gone! She was just sitting at the bar when a guy came up, started talking to her and -- well, what do you know? -- bought her a drink.