A Step-by-Step Guide for How to Drink in Public

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
March 12 2013 6:00 PM

The Slate Guide to Crime: How to Drink in Public

A man drinks a beer.

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As we all know, the city of Chicago is plagued by an alarmingly high murder rate. The other day, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy took a bold step toward restoring law and order by announcing that his department would hopefully soon start cracking down on people who drink in public.


McCarthy is an avowed fan of the “broken windows” theory of policing, which essentially argues that clean and orderly neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods. As such, McCarthy hopes to convince the city council to let the police arrest people who have failed to pay tickets previously issued for gambling, public urination, and drinking in public. (Ignoring those tickets does not currently count as a criminal offense.) “Fixing the little things prevents the big things,” says McCarthy, which makes sense—first you’re urinating in an alley, then pretty soon you’re murdering people in that same alley. Happens all the time.

I guess I understand what McCarthy’s trying to do here. But, look, Chicago can be a tough place to live. It’s freezing cold half the time, people keep getting murdered, the line at Hot Doug’s is always really long. Public drunkenness is often the only way Chicagoans can cope with the horror of it all. I think it’s terrible that the cops are trying to take that away. Thus, as a public service, here’s a step-by-step guide for how to get away with drinking in public.

Use a paper bag. As a wise old fictional policeman once said, the invention of the old “booze in a brown paper bag” trick was a great moment in the history of civic compromise. Cops don’t generally want to write you up for public consumption of alcohol, unless those cops are pedantic jerks. Brown-baggin’ your beer allows cops to ignore you and pretend that there could be anything in that paper bag. Oh, sure, they know it’s probably liquor you’re drinking, but as long as you’re discreet, and resist the impulse to write “Liquor Bag” on the paper in Sharpie, then they’ll probably pass you by.

Pour your drink into a different container. Don’t have a paper bag handy? You can still camouflage your drink by pouring it into another, more benign container. Beer looks like apple juice—put it in a Mott’s bottle. Red wine can and often does pass for fruit punch. Vodka and gin are visually indistinguishable from water. Take care to choose wisely, though, because you’ll attract attention if your clear plastic water bottle is filled with purple drank.

Be quiet. Often, it’s not the public drinking that attracts police attention so much as the subsequent public hooting, hollering, and buffoonery. If you can keep the belching and drunken catcalls to yourself, then your odds of getting pinched will decline dramatically.

Know your location. If you want to get away with drinking in public, then you need to choose a good spot. Look for remote public parks, suburban streets, or other places where the cops are few and far between. Try to refrain from drinking directly outside a precinct house, or while staring directly into a surveillance camera.

Utilize stealth drinking technology. One great benefit of this Age of Digressive Technology is that there are plenty of products that can facilitate surreptitious public drinking. Fill a Camelbak with booze and take a sip any time you’re in need of “hydration.” Confuse the cops by relabeling your beer helmet as a “juice helmet.” Want something even sneakier? This ridiculous company sells inflatable prosthetic breasts and stomachs that you can fill with liquor and sip through a discreet straw. Truly, we are living in the age of miracles.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.


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