General Tips for Drinking Cheaply

Updated: Dec 20, 2015 20:00
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This originally appeared in my book Young, Broke & Beautiful: Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply

Below are a few tips for getting your drink on cheaply.  Feel free to give your own advice in the comments section:

Tip extra if they do wild shit like this

Tip extra if they do wild shit like this

Buybacks: A buyback is when, after you buy a few rounds, the bartender buys the next one. While it doesn’t always happen, if it does, it’s after the third or fourth round. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help make sure you get one. Here’s some tips:

1. Try to order from the same bartender all night long.
2. Tip extra well on the first drink and at least a buck a drink after that.
3. If it’s not too busy try to chat a little with the barkeep.
4. Keep your orders simple and try to order the same things all night long.
5. Offer to buy the bartender a drink. Even if they accept, they probably won’t charge you.

If you do all these things, you are almost guaranteed to win the bartender’s favor and at least one free drink. If it doesn’t happen, this usually means one of three things:

1. The bar has super strict pouring rules. You probably shouldn’t have been drinking there in the first place.
2. The bartender is as dick. Try not to give him/her your business again.
3. The bartender remembers last time you were there and you got 86’d for whatever the hell it was you got 86’d for.

This is love at first alcohol poisoning

Buy a Flask: It’s the eternal dilemma: your friends call you an alcoholic if you drink by yourself, but you can’t afford to drink at a bar. So what do you do? That’s easy! Bring your own booze to the bar. Why else would god have invented flasks? Now all you need to do is pony up the cash for a mixer and pour your own drink on the sly. Just don’t get caught or they might not let you come back…ever.

As for the cost of the flask: if you wanna be fancy about your drinking you can get a billion different flask variations (like this badass one). But since I know you’re not worried about how people perceive you (you’re sneaking a flask into a bar for fuck’s sake), you can always just get a plastic flask for between $5 and $10. This way you can also get by any metal detectors.

I don’t know where Vitucci’s is, but I sure like their style

Industry Night: Landing somewhere between Sunday and Tuesday, Industry Night is when bars lower their prices in order to attract a service industry crowd. This benefits everyone: service industry people often have those nights off and want to go out. Those same nights are generally slow for most bars. As you can see it’s a match made in some kind of Dionysian heaven. So while you may not be an industry person yourself, you can certainly still go out and drink on industry nights. Ask around and find out which bars do it. Plus it’s a great way to meet servers and bartenders, people who may be inclined to hook you up some how at their place of employment. The tricky part is hoping they remember who you are. Industry people can party pretty hard.

Welcome to ladies night!

Ladies Night: Avoid Ladies Night like you would a homeless guy with his johnson hanging out. These events are always a awful occasions ripe with the potential for violence, and the truth is, nobody ever really has fun. Sure the drinks are cheap, but there’s usually only one chick for every four dudes. Calling it “Ladies Night”is the biggest misnomer ever. This is bad for the fellas because the competition gets extra fierce, and it’s bad for the ladies because that many horny guys competing with each other just makes the whole vibe fell kinda rapey. Just don’t go.

The dress code is meant to keep this guy out. Do you really want to be in the same place that he wants to be in?

Dress Codes: Any place that has a dress code is not gonna be cheap. Don’t even bother. Plus, generally speaking, the dress codes are meant to keep out the thuggish riffraff who get drunk and get into fights. I’m willing to bet that just about every night club where someone gets shot has a dress code.  People who spend all their time in places with fancy dress codes are just trying too hard anyways.

I swear there’s dancing and hot chicks there somewhere

Drink in Gay Bars: I don’t give a fuck if you’re gay or not. Gay bars have something for everyone. If you’re gay or lesbian duh, you’re here anyways. If you’re a straight girl it’s all the dancing you want without any of the weird grabby dudes. If you’re a straight guy, you’re the only available meat for a bunch of fruit flies who’ve spent all night dancing with attractive men who are absolutely unattainable. I have certainly met girls in gay bars before.

But here’s the rub (actually that happens in the bathroom), drinks are usually way cheaper than at non gay bars. For example, there used to be a bar in San Francisco called Bar on Church that sold 80 cent drinks during their Monday 80’s night. Yeah, you read that right, 80 cent drinks! At that price they should hand out a condom with every third drink. But actually they don’t have to because every gay bar I’ve ever been in has jars of free condoms anyways. Cheap drinks, free condoms, and shitty dance music. Hey, at least two out of three ain’t bad.

photos from Time out New York, Geekologie, NY Press

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.


  1. Zack Brewer
    June 18, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Don’t buy a flask, make one! Who hasn’t, at one point or another, bought a half pint of Jim Beam or Evan Williams (or even Ancient Age) to supplement the night’s $6 well drinks? Instead of tossing those gems in the recycling bin, reuse them! Those little glass bottles are PERFECT FLASKS! They pass metal detectors with ease, they’re clear, so you can see how much booze you have left, and they’re WAY easier to fill than your typical hip flask. Best of all, they’re less reflective than stainless steel, which means you’ll never have to see yourself as you take that morning-after nip. They also carry more liquid than most hip flasks (250 ml, more than 8oz), so there’s the potential that there might actually be some left the morning after (psych!).

    Just use some goo gone or lighter fluid to remove the label, and attach your favorite sticker(s). Those metallic/holographic stickers you get out of the vending machines work great. Who doesn’t want to see sparkling unicorns right before taking a swig of some delicious bourbon?! No one I’d want to drink with. If you don’t like the plastic lid, splurge on some Bulleit Bourbon some time when the paycheck’s a little fatter than usual, and when the Bulleit runs dry, you can use the cork from their fancy bottle to seal your flask. Now THAT’S CLASSY!

    • Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap
      June 18, 2010 at 11:53 am

      Good call Zack! Also, if you can get a plastic bottle it will work even better, you won’t have to worry about it breaking!

  2. Zack Brewer
    June 18, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Of course, safety first! Those plastic half-pints of Taaka or whatever are even cheaper than Ancient Age, anyway. (BTW, correction: a “half pint” bottle is 200 ml, not 250, which means an 8oz flask wins out by volume, but not by craftiness).

  3. Thomas
    December 20, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Ha, I remember Bar On Church… aww, the Amber days (a few doors up 14th St)

    Snort snort

  4. Thomas
    December 20, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Don’t buy a flask… use one of those small Schmirnoff, Svedka or whatever vodka comes in those plastic bottle for $5 that fits in your pocket. Add to you first two drinks to kick up your buzz and throw the bottle away (or keep it for another night). I haven’t done that in a while but it used to save me from spending close to $100 on drinks in a night.

  5. Frank Jaworski
    December 21, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Fuck you if you bring a flask into my bar. Or any bar. For one, it’s illegal to bring outside alcohol into any drinking establishment, and you’re not the only one that can get in trouble for it – it can get a bar fined, shut down and put all the employees out of work. Secondly, it misses the whole point of why the bar is there – to make a profit. Being a playground to entitled man-children is way down the list of reasons why the bar is there.
    I used to like you, Stuart, but…
    If you want to drink cheap. leave your broke ass at home or brown bag it in the park. ‘Cheap’ is an industry workers least favorite descriptive.