March 6th, 2010
If you’re insulted by Men’s Health magazine ranking Boston the soberest city in the nation, get yourself over to the Boston Combat Zone: 1969-1978 photo exhibit at the Howard Yezerski Gallery in the South End. It’ll cheer you up with images of hookers, strippers and guys driving around in muscle cars drinking Schlitz. Hurry — you only have until March 16 to catch the show, which WBUR profiled nicely on the web and the airwaves with A Puritan City’s Experiment in Adult Entertainment.
» Now, about that Men’s Health article. America’s Drunkest Cities ranked Boston the least drunk of 100 metro areas. (Fresno, CA, was ranked the most drunk.) Reactions around town ranged from the fitness-and-moderation crowd giving themselves pats on the back to boozing homeboys lashing out as if Men’s Health had ranked Boston last in penis size. In any case, if the results sound surprising, you’re not alone. I mean, it was only four years ago that Forbes ranked Boston among the top five drunkest cities. You see how things get weird with these surveys when you examine the data on which they’re based.
Men’s Health ranked cities according to “most liver disease, most binge drinking, most deaths in DUI-related crashes, most DUI arrests and least stringent DUI laws.” As some people have pointed out, DUI crashes and arrests would logically be lower in Boston, where many people take public transportation or walk, than in cities where driving is the primary way of getting from bar to bar. Staggering around drunk results in fewer deaths than driving around drunk. But the survey doesn’t appear to correct for those sorts of disparities.
Forbes, meanwhile, looked at “state laws, number of drinkers, number of heavy drinkers, number of binge drinkers and alcoholism.” The problem with statistics like “number of heavy drinkers” and “number of binge drinkers” is that they are derived from self-reporting, which, when it comes to alcohol, is infamously inaccurate.
Why not just look at per-capita consumption of alcohol based on more reliable sources like wine/beer/liquor sales and tax revenue? Well, it seems no one is tallying that data — not at the city level, at least. However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism put out a recent report on per capita alcohol consumption state by state. Massachusetts is in the 4th decile, with the 1st decile representing the highest levels of consumption and the 10th representing the lowest. So, it appears that our state — and its capital, I’m guessing — rank above average in boozing.
Oh, but wait. The report notes that “many factors may result in inaccuracies in estimates of per capita alcohol consumption. For instance, per capita consumption estimates in some States can be inflated by such factors as cross-border sales to buyers from neighboring States.” Hello, New Hampshire! Turns out the Granite State is in the 1st decile. Would Massachusetts’ and New Hampshire’s rankings look different if all the lower-priced liquor that Bay Staters purchased north of the border — not to mention all the drunken crashes on I-93 involving Mass plates — were accounted for? I’m guessing yes.
» OK, I’m done being a wonk. Now back to the fun side of alcohol education. It seems that the Saturday-night bar scene at Lineage in Brookline is worth checking out. From 9:00 – 11:30 p.m., the restaurant’s website tells us, “resident mixologist” Ryan Lotz is exploring the Lineage of the Cocktail by way of mixing up recipes from Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: from the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond. It’s one of my fave cocktail books, and I’m not just saying that because Haigh mentions me and drinkboston in the revised edition. Each Lineage session features two different drinks in two different sizes (about $5 for the smaller and $9 or $10 for the larger). Call ahead if you want to see what’ll be on the menu: 617-232-0065.