All Aboard, Beverages in Hand

by Nicole Gerszberg

Overstuffed tote bags and preppy, nautical attire are but two of the essentials necessary for one to make the trek from New York City to the Hamptons or Montauk on a Friday afternoon. Not to mention the traveler’s drink of choice—maybe a glass of chilled white wine or a can of beer—intended to ease him/her into the weekend early and make the journey of three plus hours a little more bearable.

A recent NY Times article titled “To the Hamptons, and Step on It!” compared the two most popular ways to get to this summer destination without getting behind the steering wheel (or having a chauffeur to do that for you).  The article recounts stories of various passengers who loyally hop aboard the Jitney, while others endure a sweaty Penn Station terminal and its even rowdier party en route to the Long Island shores. While many flock to the beaches and begin drinking upon their arrival, the party  begins earlier and is a part of the traveling experience for those aboard a Long Island Railroad train car or a more upscale Jitney bus, referred to as the Ambassador.

Those who choose to pay the extra bucks to take the Ambassador are provided with wine and snacks along with their luxury bus seating. Passengers are polite, orderly and often seen quietly reading the newspaper or toying with their iPads over sips of wine.

The train from Penn Station to Montauk is an entirely different scene. Even on early morning train rides out to the beach, riders fill every seat and get their drink on as soon as they leave the station. The ritual of getting the party started before hitting the beach is a highlight for many train travelers.

Crisp white wines and beach cocktails are an essential part of the Hamptons/Montauk experience for many.  But it seems that ride from city side to beachside has become the newest booze locale. As the summer nears to a close with August just around the corner, passengers will be sure to toast its finale—whether it’s sparkling wine in a Dixie cup overflowing onto the train floor or a plastic wine glass on board the Ambassador.

Nicole Gerszberg is a student at Wesleyan University. Her work has been published on “The Choice” blog on


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The High School Party Scene: Then & Now

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother—then a high school senior—planned a big party at our house. Not only did he have my parents’ blessing, but they even went out to dinner while he was setting things up in our basement. It must’ve been winter, because I remember my brother making a fire just before the guests began to arrive, when a spark flew and lit one of the couch pillows on fire.

I guess the quickest way to deal with the pillow was to toss it outside, presuming the flames had been put to their rest. Within a couple of hours, only when numerous firefighters and their big red engine pulled into our driveway, did any of us realize that the pillow had been smoldering outside the basement door. The neighbors evidently called 911 when the odor wafted their way.

The friendly firefighters tended to the pillow and most definitely noticed the scene—harmless high school beer-drinking revelers hanging out, listening to music, and playing pool. Once the pillow was extinguished for real, they smiled and took off.

Fast-forward 30 years and note a number of significant facts:

  1. I’m the parent of the high school senior now.
  2. The drinking age is 21, while it was 18 when I was in high school.
  3. I live down the street from the local police station.
  4. High school kids in our community routinely attempt, often successfully, to smuggle beer and booze into a house party.

Last Saturday night, it was my child’s turn to host the party. While we were glad to let our daughter invite friends and other students from her school’s performing arts program–in celebration of four days of play performances–my husband and I had no intention of going out while the festivities took place. In fact, we had a plan in place, which was to ask each and every teen who walked through our front door to leave their coat and any bag on the table by the front door. This seemed a reasonable request, especially since we know people who have hired off-duty police officers to stand outside and monitor any potential contraband being smuggled into their kid’s party.

Once the shindig began, hordes of kids began to pour through our front door. These days, it takes only seconds to text your posse and tell them where the fun is. My husband stood guard at the door, while I took to the stairs. Within 30 minutes, the police had arrived.

The two officers stood on our front lawn, amid the small groups of kids who’d most likely exited to get high or drink outside of our house. When word traveled to the basement that the police were on site, my daughter ran upstairs and asked us to stall for a few minutes–she needed to clean up the beer cans she’d already discovered in the guest bedroom downstairs. We told her we would try, but I couldn’t help but wonder: “How is possible that kids have the nerve to stick bottles and cans down their pants and in their shirts right in the face of two adults who are asking them not to?”

Well, live and learn. My husband eventually let one of the officers take a walk inside and around the house–despite my hesitation–and the officer concluded that all was well and we were “doing a great job.” We were asked to lower the music (oh, did I mention two of the kids brought their professional DJ equipment?) and the party rocked on.

Kids came and left, and though we continued to eye each one of them, more beer and a bottle of vodka made it passed our parental checkpoint. The fire alarm eventually went off–thanks to the DJ’s fog machine–but the party lasted until about 1:00 am. My daughter came up afterwards to thank us for the party, and told us she had a great time.

The following morning, while cleaning up, I found a water bottle with the words “Cousins’ Reunion” splashed across the front–with just a little water left in it. “Smell it,” my daughter said. “Oh yeah,” I instantly realized. “Pure vodka.” My husband, meanwhile, was outside busily picking up empty beer cans and bottles around our front yard and our neighbors’.

I couldn’t help but feel badly for these kids. They are growing up in an environment that has made alcohol so forbidden, so undeniably dangerous in nearly every way, that they feel the need to sneak it at every turn. While the dangers are obvious–and we’ve been clear to discuss them with our daughter in addition to what she’s learned in school–there seems to be such a focus on controlling our children that they are bursting at the seams to get their hands on the stuff.

I wish things were a bit more relaxed, like when we were in high school. If the authorities showed up, rather than ask you to search your house, they’d survey the scene, see the responsible parents on hand, and go merrily on their way.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-editor of the Drinking Diaries.

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Adding Bartender to Your Party List

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Tim Murphy writes that among the 30-something New Yorker set, hiring a bartender adds class to a party, no matter how small the apartment and its reading-corner-cum-bar.

In addition to polishing your act (no more keg and chips for you), hiring a bartender for an at-home party can have pragmatic purpose–relieving the host of having to deal with all of your guests’ beverage needs.

In every city, there are professional services that can provide you with bartender sources–the Times piece reports that for four to five hours of work, bartenders charge between $100 and $200. Or, you could do what we do: hire a relative, give him a quick bartending education (or refer him to any of the Bartending 101-like classes on line), and unless he tests out too many of his concoctions and forgets how to mix a cocktail, you should be all set. Party on.

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The Royal Palm, Ithaca, New York


For a new series of essays (and poems), we have invited some of our contributors to share a story, an episode, an experience that took place at a particular bar–a place that they hold in their memory for one reason or another. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Leah Odze Epstein

I’ll never forget the first night I walked into the Royal Palm—or the Palms, as we called it. “New York, New York” played on the tabletop jukeboxes, reminding me of my favorite diner back home.

“Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it, New York, New York,” Frank Sinatra sang in his velvety voice, luring me in.  “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” This pretty much summed up how I felt about college.

After a high school career of pound-the-books nerd-dom, I’d decided that in college, academics would no longer take precedence (if my parents only knew…). I skipped the first few days of orientation to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert. Then I came in with a bang—greeted by the Leah Ooze sign on the door of my dorm room (my last name’s Odze), complete with a dripping puddle some helpful dorm-mate had drawn.

No matter. As I’ve detailed here at Drinking Diaries, I got drunk for the first time my first night of college. I blacked out, in fact. After that, I got a little smarter, but only a bit. Alcohol loosened my inhibitions, and by the second day, I took up with our helpful OC (orientation counselor). Call him Chaz.

Chaz was a junior, and by about night three, he began ushering me around to all the best campus sights: his apartment, his bedroom, and, when he realized he wasn’t going to get as lucky as he’d thought–his favorite bar.

I was thrilled that some guy wanted me. A junior, at that. And he wasn’t that bad- looking, if you could get past the nervous twitch. He was kind of bohemian and I liked that. I still wore acid-washed jeans, God love me, and pastels. My friend Julie soon put the kibosh on my wardrobe when she raised her eyebrow and said, “Pastels?” When I walked into the Palms, Julie’s words really hit home. From then on, I’d wear black and army green.

Did I mention that none of my fellow freshmen had ventured beyond the campus pub? I felt like a pioneer as I stepped into that smoky air, as if it were coating me with a new aura. Pool balls cracked, pinball machines plinked, but mostly, the place buzzed with constant conversation and beer bottles clinking, as if life at this bar were a constant toast to the fun of it all.

Kids sat four or six to a booth, head to head, at beat-up wooden tables with carvings and graffiti. And the smell. The Palms reeked of the beer that everyone drank—Rolling Rock in bottles, mostly—but also Budweiser and Gennee Cream Ale.rollingrock

Chaz steered me to the back of the bar. Next to the pinball machines, a bald guy with a thin braid down his back sat cross-legged on top of a picnic table, holding court and smoking clove cigarettes, while people stood around him. One guy wore a beret, which thrilled me to no end, because trust me, no guy in suburban Maryland dared to wear a beret.

Yes, there were other Cornell bars, but as far as I was concerned, those weren’t for me. Let the boarding-school types and the upscale snobs have their chardonnay at Ruloff’s; let the jocks and the grunters line up their penny shots at Dunbars. From the day Chaz took me into the Royal Palm, the Palms–with its “I don’t care if you love me” attitude–was mine.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating (but not much) when I say I ended up there every night, after every party, after every study session or to avoid studying. Any excuse, and I was there, sharing a pitcher with my friends. Afterwards, we’d head to the corner deli to marvel drunkenly at the Potted Meat Food Product.

I met my first real boyfriend at the Palms. It was the one time I walked into the bar alone, over the summer, without the armor of my friends. I can’t remember why, but I walked right up to this guy and asked him if he was Swedish (he was). So was I (half). And that was that.

Years later, I went back to my twentieth reunion. My friend Julie and I made the Palms our first stop, in the middle of the day. I looked at her and said, “Thank God it’s the same.” The jukeboxes, the dartboard, the ceiling tiles, each one hand-painted by a Palms regular. We looked for things we’d scratched into the tables, or that had been scratched into the tables about us. At the Palms, you made your mark, literally, whether by writing on the walls or tables, or painting a ceiling tile. The bar belonged to me and Julie and everyone else who passed through.

The owners hadn’t changed a bit–they’d already aged, long ago, from all the cigarette smoke and beer. They seemed happy to see us, even the guy who’d caught me with my pants down in the men’s room one drunken night, when I had to pee and the ladies room was full. I remembered how he stood there relentlessly, refusing to get out, despite my hollering, holding the door open until I pulled up my pants and exited to the cheers of the growing crowd. Still, I forgave him. The grumpy owners added to the charm, and life in your late teens is so much more fun when you have authority figures to push against.

We visited again at night, and maybe that was our mistake, because once the people filled in, we could see they were all wrong: popular people with their fickle tastes, listening to current favorites instead of classics–“Living on a Prayer” blasted from the CD jukebox.

The crowd spilled out onto a back patio, which I never knew existed. Julie and I opted for the bar, where the crowd seemed older than the table sitters or the people milling around, walking up and down the aisles to see who was there. I almost joined them out of habit, before I realized that all our peers were long gone.

We sat down, and Julie whispered to me, “Don’t look now, but that townie guy’s staring you down.” I glanced over at Grizzly Adams to my left, preparing to tell him I was here to reminisce with my friend, so if he could kindly give us some space, I’d appreciate it, when he said, “Hey, Leah.”

“Um, hi?” I said, not wanting to be rude. I felt like I was back in college, at the dining hall after a drunken night, when a guy I didn’t know would say hi and I’d cringe, wondering what idiotic thing I’d done the previous night.

Well, this guy knew me, all right. He turned out to be the boyfriend. My first love. Sitting next to me at the bar. Unrecognizable, until he opened his mouth. Then, he became the same laid-back guy I remembered, minus the frat-boy attitude, plus a long beard and a tattooed girlfriend.

Different-looking. Southern sounding, even though he was from the North. But underneath, he had the same essential nature. Just like the Palms, which, I reminded myself, still had “New York, New York” on the jukebox, just waiting for someone like me to come along and press play.

Leah Odze Epstein is the co-editor of Drinking Diaries. She also writes middle grade and young adult fiction. You can follow her on twitter at @Leaheps.

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What If He Did (or Didn’t) Like to Party?

images-3The other night, I went out to dinner with a couple I’ve known and been close to for years. As we sat at the bar of an über-hip downtown NYC restaurant, waiting for our table to materialize, my friend and I got to talking. My kids were babysitting hers, so we chatted about how cute that was. But we quickly moved on to work, how we both needed to shed a few pounds, and former boyfriends.

I learned, after all these years, that my friend used to go out with a recovering alcoholic (before she married my husband’s friend) and had many other friends who had been to AA, and who she had personally escorted to rehab.

Over my caiprinha and her vodka martini, she explained how she comes from a very straight family, but somehow has always been drawn to those who are prone to addiction and like to party and have a type of fun that her own family members didn’t have.

Conversely, I come from a family where fun and partying were right up there with dark chocolate and coffee ice cream (read: the best things in life). I loved the fact that my parents enjoy their life and weren’t afraid to show it—with friends, dinner parties, wine, dancing and lots of laughter.

When I met my husband, the fact that he liked to drink and party was attractive to me, and we’ve been doing it together (in moderation) for more than 20 years. But what if I fell for someone who was an alcoholic? How would it feel to sacrifice my love for drinking wine and catching a good buzz? I can’t help but wonder, are we attracted to those who either like to party or don’t? What do you think?