No two drinkers are quite alike. I, for instance, imbibe heroic amounts of barely diluted vodka with great regularity, but I’m a proud beer pussy, and if I have to chug a couple of Smirnoff Ices in quick succession, I’m absolutely going to blow chunks. In generalizing with respect to people’s alcohol habits, you may ignore such subtleties.
Yet there exists a guy, a type of guy, known to everyone who enjoys a night at the bar with friends. This guy is alternately feared, respected, beloved and reviled. He can be your saving grace… or your ruin. He is That Guy Who Always Buys a Round of Shots.
Who is the Shots Guy? What does he want? And can he cool it with the Jose Cuervo?
First and foremost, he seems to be what Silicon Valley calls a “disruptor.” He isn’t content with people drinking at their own pace, choosing their own method of intoxication or keeping track of their intake vis-à-vis their established tolerance. The Shots Guy looks to introduce the element of surprise — and thereby up the ante. Dare you insult him by refusing to slam 1.5 ounces of high-proof liquor that’s already paid for and placed in front of you at the bar? Of course not. The Shots Guy is in this sense carrying a torch passed to him by the Peer-Pressure Pal of your earliest drunken exploits. Where that lad persuaded you to try various libations for the first time, and eventually to overindulge, the Shots Guy sets you a new social challenge: Level up.
He’s also, it needs to be said, a bit of a sadist, eager to mingle the pleasures of insobriety with a dose of true pain. He delights in the groans and protests when he rejoins the group with a half-dozen miniature glasses expertly clenched in his hands. He may be partial to the true horrors of mixology — prank shots like the cement mixer and prairie fire — or just the grossest liqueurs on the shelf: your Rumple Minze, your Malört. This helps ensure that you’ll gulp it down in one grimacing motion instead of committing the sin of sipping. Combine that instinct with his frequently terrible timing (shots as the first drinks of the evening, to “pre-game,” or as the ill-advised “nightcap” at last call), and the Shots Guy has the potential to make things miserable for everyone, and pretty fast.
But wait. Am I being too hard on the Shots Guy? After all, his investment in the ritual, however hazing and mischievous, comes from a place of genuine affection and generosity. Nick Leftley, MEL’s resident Shots Guy, explains that although this bar persona developed in part due to the British drinking culture he grew up in, “which is essentially just binge-drinking” at bars that close much too early, it endures in the U.S. because of the bonds it creates. “I guess, despite crippling insecurity in most aspects of my life, I’m a pretty gregarious drunk, so two or three drinks in, I’ll decide that everyone in the room needs to be best friends,” he tells me. “How is that best achieved? The very rapid group consumption of liquor! … It comes also from a place of, ‘Hey, I really like these people. I want to buy them all a present. What do they sell here? Oh yeah, liquor. NOW DRINK THESE SHOTS BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.’”
Sweet guy, ain’t he?
Nevertheless, Nick cautions, we can’t forget the juvenile aspect here. A round of shots is “also definitely a troll move on the one guy who can’t stay late because they have to get up early, etc.,” he says, and when selecting the beverage, “the shittiness is kind of the point. If you’ve ever heard a drunk Brit in a bar demanding, ‘Ten shots of your cheapest, nastiest well whiskey,’ that was me (and sorry about your shoes, that was unfortunate).”
As far as choosing a moment to strike, he reiterates that “about three drinks in is best. No one wants to start a night like that, and anyone who pulls the shots trick at 4 a.m. is a fucking idiot (there are, admittedly, times when you read the room right, and it’s absolutely appropriate — but not normally). Three drinks in, everyone’s warmed up and ready to accept the possibility of getting more drunk than they meant to.”
One other reason to forgive Nick for foisting a strong bit of swill on you now and then is that, as a dad of two very young kids, he doesn’t get to paint the town red much anymore. “I have one night to cram in three months’ worth of drunken silliness,” he says, “and I need everyone around me to be as on-board/excited about being in this shitty Irish bar on a random Tuesday evening in Midtown as I am. So? SHOTS.” As a childless wastoid, I never would have considered this need, and hearing about it has increased my empathy for the Shots Guy. He’s not just trying to mess with you — he wants to make the most of an evening! Especially if he’s not a Happy Hour regular.
Even so, etiquette is essential. The most important rule, according to Nick? “Never force the shot. By all means, ignore every protest of ‘No! I’m not doing shots!’ and go ahead and buy them regardless, but if one person, as you hand them the drink, clearly is in no position to drink it, laugh and either drink it yourself or hand it to a complete stranger. A certain amount of peer-pressure among drinking buddies: completely acceptable. Holding someone down and forcing them to do a shot? Get the fuck outta here. This is supposed to be fun.”
And hey, it’s easier than setting up a beer pong table, right? Maybe the essence of shots is a drinking game without all the fuss and equipment — just you and some buds throwing back the same crappy mouthful of bottom-shelf bourbon in unison, knowing you’ll regret it, looking forward to nodding off on a cab ride home.
“God, I want to do shots now,” Nick concludes.
I’ve got to say it: So do I.