Bar patrons drink for club memberships

John Hult

John Hult

SDSU students never lack opportunities to fill their free time with club activities. Different clubs, of course, have different requirements for joining. Sometimes all you need to do is show up. Some clubs are more exclusive. For some clubs, all you need to do is drink.

Five of the bars in downtown Brookings have clubs for bar-goers whose membership earns them distinctions like “International Beer” or “Wine Connoisser” and “Barfly Society Member.”

Jim’s Tap’s promotional tour of duty is called “Around the World.” Brave patrons pay $35 up front for a card with a list of 10 beers from 10 different countries. Each time you drink one of the beers, the bartender punches your card and you move on to the next beer. Once a contender for the “International Beer Connossior” title has a full card, they get a T-Shirt bearing their new moniker.

According to bartender Nathan Davis, Jim’s does not encourage participants to do the entire tour of duty in one night.

“A lot of people try to do it in one night, but we encourage you not to,” Davis said.

Patrons can also go “Around the World” sampling wines in a promotion called the “Wrath of Grapes.”

Davis said that the promotions, which some people have done more than 30 times, attracts college students, community members and returning alumni.

“We have books going back to 1980,” Davis says. ” We get people that come back after a long time and decide to do ‘Around the World’ again.”

The Lantern Lounge puts its own spin on the sampling promotion with “Around the Trailer Park.”

The $25 promotion involves sampling 10 domestic beers, including Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Schmidt, Old Style and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Lantern does not keep track of the people who have completed the tour.

“Around the Trailer Park” was devised six years ago by a former bartender at the Lantern named Mike Patton as a way to stand out from the other promotions, general manager Troy Hicks says.

“You’ve got all of these light beers nowadays,” Hicks said. “So we decided to do something like your grandpa used to drink.”

Like many of the employees at beer sampling bars, Hicks has gone through the tour and earned his “Around the Trailer Park” T-Shirt.

“I’ve went through it a couple of times,” Hicks said. “You do something like that, you’ve got to try it out.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that he enjoyed drinking all of the beers on the trailer park list.

“Some of those beers are just nasty,” Hicks said.

The sampling champ amoung bar employees is bartender Ted Hosselkus of O’Hare’s, who has completed the bar’s “Coast to Coast” tour 16 times over the course of a year. Sixteen times is the record for O’Hare’s employees and patrons.

“Coast to Coast” costs $30 up front for 10 International and microbrew beers. O’Hare’s requires participants to divide the sampling into at least two visits.

“I did a few of mine before the rule, so it was a little easier,” Hosselkus said.

Like other bars, O’Hare’s gives out a T-Shirt to patrons completing the tour. O’Hare’s also has three mirrors hanging around the bar, where the names of those who have traveled “Coast to Coast” are listed. Those who have done the tour more than once have a picture of a mug next to their name for each time after one.

Hosselkus also stresses that there is no pressure to complete the tour quickly.

“You can do one beer a day if you want to,” Hosselkus said.

The sampling promotion that involves the most beer is the Skinner’s Barfly promotion, which is a pay-as-you go program that guides participants through 30 different microbrew beers to earn membership in the Barfly Society.

Bartender Trent Fischer said that he sees a lot of variety in the ways people approach the task of the tour.

“Some people do it in a week, some take a whole year,” Fischer said.

Fischer says the promotion is geared toward anyone, not just college students.

“It started as a way to get people to try new beers when we were just a beer bar,” Fischer said.

While many bars find that the sampling promotions bring repeat customers, Chevy’s manager Jeremiah Champ pointed to binging and policing of membership cards as reasons for not doing them.

“I’ve had friends that have done it in one night, and it’s not always pretty,” Champ said. “We try and be original and do something no one else is doing.”

What Chevy’s does do is a Member’s Club, which costs $2 and gives patrons free food at times and cheaper drinks.

While it may seem as though the membership promotions would encourage binge-drinking, bars take precautions to watch out for attendants.

SDSU student Kathleen Maxon, who did the Jim’s Tap “Around the World,” is amoung the many bargoers who spread the drinks out.

“You can do it all in one night, but it wouldn’t be very smart,’ Maxon said. “That’s a lot of beer.”