Free Booze

Never pay for a drink in this town again

It was easily one of the least successful nights of my ten-day binge. I knew I'd done something wrong, but I wasn't sure what, so I called up 22-year-old Ryan Cotter, enfant terrible of Houston's gay scene, and asked him for some tips.

"When you see an old guy by himself, he'll do almost anything to not be standing there by himself and to have someone in his company, especially a younger, attractive person," he said. "So try to make some eye contact across the bar and then go over there and say hi. Almost instantly he should offer you a drink. If not, you can inquire about his drink and be like, 'Well, I don't know. I'm trying to decide what to get. I'm not sure what's good here. What do you recommend?' "

When I said that's what Anthony and I had done, he told me it rarely works when you do it as a couple. And that's when it hit me: The mark is going to assume the two of you are together, no matter what you say to the contrary. And even if he does think you're available, he knows you're less likely to run off with an old dude when you have witnesses.

Cotter's been scamming booze far longer than he's been of drinking age, and he offered some other tips that'll work in any bar, gay or straight:

Place an order every time someone gets up and asks if anyone needs anything. It's assumed you'll pay, but we all know what happens when people assume.

Got a friend who always starts a tab? Just go up to the bar when he's not looking and order away.

Clump together with groups when they enter the bar and just throw your order in with theirs. Someone's probably buying the first round.

Tell a friend you'll buy the next round. Don't.

Say you've only got a hundred and the bar won't break it.

And finally, "just go up to a friend or anybody and say, 'Hey, buy me a drink.' You'd be surprised how often that works."

</1> Back to the Source

It looks so inauspicious, tucked away in an industrial park off Hempstead Road in northwest Houston, but Saint Arnold Brewing Company is a must-visit for the booze mooch on Saturdays.

Somewhere between 250 and 400 people come out for the weekly tour, says brewery owner Brock Wagner. "There are about eight people who, if they don't show up, I'm concerned for their health."

On a recent Saturday, 300 visitors crammed together next to the brewery's large metal tanks, listening to Wagner recount the legend of Saint Arnold, who was perhaps the coolest clergyman of all time. Back in the seventh century, Bishop Arnold advised his parishioners against drinking water, saying it was nasty and foul. But beer, on the other hand…well, let's just say ol' Arnold was a popular guy.

And the miracle that earned him sainthood? Shortly after his death, legend has it the procession carrying his body stopped at a pub -- it must've been a long walk -- and discovered the publican had only one mug's worth of beer. But that mythical mug never ran dry and Arnold got the drunken funeral he deserved. And the rest, as they slur, is history.

Wagner and company work hard to keep Arnold's spirit alive, offering up four eight-ounce beers to anyone who comes by. If you want to avoid wasting time in line, snake your way through the crowd during Wagner's speech, so you'll be in front once the floodgates are open, and then you can just get back in line and drink one beer while waiting for the next. Or you could take the slow approach, as many regulars do, bringing their lunches and chilling out on lawn chairs. You make the call.

Many Saturdays you can keep your holy buzz going at Cactus Music & Video, where pints of Saint Arnold Amber Ale are given out during in-store performances. Stop by and you'll see some of the same faces you saw at the brewery.

Another opportunity to drink freely from the source is at Haak Vineyards & Winery in Santa Fe. A friend and I recently drove down, straight through Klan country, to see what kind of freebies Haak had to offer. (In case you're wondering, Haak is the last name of the vineyard's owners, not a misspelled denigration of the wine's quality.) And it was good, at least in terms of free drinking.

Some wine snob next to me at the tasting kept throwing his nose in the air and dumping out his samples, but I drank all six given to me and managed to finagle two more. On the way out, I noticed a full glass of vino on the back porch. It had been sitting there awhile and had even begun to separate a little, but I did what any respectable boozehound would do: I chugged it.

Who's the real wine lover now?

</1>Advanced Scamming

By the eighth day of my drinking streak I was a little short on inspiration (not to mention brain cells), so I set up a meeting with filmmaker and master crasher Michael Ayers to talk freebies. He was roaming around the Wild West parking lot when I arrived.

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