For someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I still spend a surprising amount of time at bars. However often I change things up and try and meet up with friends to go running, jet-skiing, trapezing, dancing, or myriad other exciting adventures, bars are still the staple go-to when there’s no other plans. Furthermore, however much I – and a good portion of my friends – extol the virtues of living a life without possessing a television, there are still occasionally things we want to watch: in my case, nearly exclusively sports. Again, bars provide the answer, and come the 6 Nations, Euro 2012, baseball and football postseasons and other such events, I’ll be found at one bar or another most nights shouting up at the screens.
For sports then, bars are perfect, but when I’m out with friends or on a date I will occasionally try and steer the encounter towards a similar locale with a quintisentally British twist. Tea parlours (or ‘tea houses’) – my favourite is Bosie’s in the West Village – offer nearly exactly the same merits as a bar but with three distinct advantages. Firstly, there’s tea. If you choose well, there’s brilliant tea, but anything is better than the cup of hot water with a Lipton tea-bag on the side you get outside of tea parlours. Tea being the most satisfying of all drinks, this shouldn’t need any further pushing, but one could also note the health benefits of a pot of tea over say, three beers. Secondly, there’s the atmosphere; you’re much more likely to have somewhere comfortable and classy to chat, without needing to shout over music or general clamour, and you’ll avoid the piquant fragrance of beer and sweat that the smoking ban has left us with. Finally, it can be a whole lot cheaper.
Except, I’ve discovered that last point isn’t quite true. You see, more often than not recently, when a bill (the cheque) has come at the end of an evening, or when I give a wave to the bartender that I’m ready to settle up, I’ll find that my non-alcoholic drinks are on the house. “Oh I’m not going to charge you for that, you weren’t even drinking right?”, “Don’t worry about it, you’re the designated driver” and so on — meaning that, a generous tip aside, I end up drinking for free.
The designated driver comment came just this week after a baseball game and, whilst it was meant in jest this time (we were discussing my subway route home), it reminded me of various offers I’ve seen elsewhere. I’ve certainly been to curry houses back in the UK that offered free soft drinks for a nominated designated driver and the occasional bar too. I came across an article in Freakonomics claiming that Argentinian government will refund nightclub entry fees to groups with a sober designated driver at the end of a night. The idea here is that the savings to be had from keeping drunk drivers off the road will more than offset the cost of funding clubbers’ nights out. That said, I’ve been hard-pressed to find verification for this story, but it’s a lovely concept.
But when you leave, the group walks up to the cashier and presents the designated driver, sober and fit for driving. Everyone in the group gets their entry fee back at that point! The club then gets the lost money back from the government…
Whatever the reasons, if I can drink and watch sports for free I’m happy. But that won’t stop me from petitioning the tea houses to get some screens up and start showing baseball games.