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Cheap Liquor Tastes Like College

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A few days ago, after a particularly awful day in the limbo world of holding a real job and still calling myself a “student,” I felt my liver growling and made the customary trip to my haunt down the road, where a few of my friends work. I pulled up a stool and sat among the other men who felt compelled to chase the burn of adulthood with shots of whiskey. Before I had a chance to figure out what I’d be over-consuming that night, my bar-keep friend prodded me for a quick decision. Seeing as it was a Monday, I ordered a margarita.

The bar was out of most tequilas (there’s not a huge demand for it — I think I’m the only one who drinks it) and my choices were narrowed down to Patrón and Tortilla. I’m no poor, but I still wasn’t looking to drop a Jackson on one drink, so I opted for the latter.

The first sip wasn’t what anyone would call pleasant. I don’t like a ton of sours mix, or that sweetened lime juice in my drinks, so the harshness of the well tequila put one right on my chin. But I welcomed it. I was in the mood for a cheap drink that bit back and the prescription was more Tortilla.

When I was still basking in the afterglow of my 21st birthday, it wasn’t out of character for me to spend good portions of my menial paychecks on Jameson, Belvedere and Avion — to name a few — just to mix them with off-brand colas and finish the bottle in a night. It didn’t take long to realize drinking only top-shelf liquor isn’t a sustainable habit during college.

In the waning months of my first (and second) senior year, I began spending less on bottles and more on nights out at the bar. I still stuck to Jameson and feathered a few Rolling Rocks in between my Irish high balls to spare my tab the brunt of $7 drinks.

Adulthood struck with a vengeance. The number of friends electing to drink on weekdays dwindled, as did my nights out and aggregate consumption. On the few nights I did hit the bars, I kept it on the cheap – usually sticking to beer specials during baseball games. It was depressing to a degree – especially for someone who isn’t that fond of beer. It sufficed, nonetheless.

But that Tortilla Gold margarita took me back.

It took me back to solo-cup shots of Nikolai on high school Fridays, when my friends and I would smoke swisher sweets in another friend’s garage and shoot water pong on patio tables.

It took me back to my rising-freshman summer when we would drink Canadian Club by the plastic handle, poolside, until we were all throwing up in the bushes.

It took me back to my first dormitory pregames, when we would mix whatever the floor could scrape together. Sometimes it was something “nicer” like Jose, but more often than not, it was half a bottle of Burnetts or a few shots of Evan Williams Cherry.

I even felt myself drift back to pledging. By then, the liquor had gotten a little better — but not by much. The burn reminded me of the time our class had to amble house-to-house, and finish whatever bottle the resident brothers provided before we could advance. It was a night marked by Pinnacle Raz, Admiral Nelson, darkness, trashcans, shaky steps, and then more darkness.

Cheap liquor is nostalgic for me. On nights like last Monday, I’ll happily trade a few shots of “the good stuff” to drink the same shit I used to polish off in my bygone years. Sometimes, I just want to feel like a degenerate, 19-year-old dipsomaniac again, and pledge to crush enough bottom-shelf whiskey to knock a rhino on its ass.

In a strange way, I miss the nights of praying to the porcelain god and coating couches with that night’s intoxicant, mixed with a few shots of stomach acid. The liquor was rough, the accompanying hangover was brutal, but they were some of the best times.

As I drank alone to nostalgia on Monday, some patrons came and went, and suddenly, it was pushing 1:00 a.m. I had my last cheap-ass margarita and closed out. I called an Uber and called it a night. I knew I’d be hungover for work the next day, but that was an issue for future me. The night was sentimental, but not something I can remake a habit of doing.

After all, 7 a.m. comes pretty quick when you’re drinking the cheap stuff.

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Kramer Smash

Unabashed Pitt alum with an affinity for brown girls and Manhattans. Send lovelies to

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