By the numbers, Modern Drunkard's first convention in Las Vegas May 14-16 was a hit, with over 500 participants, four weddings, three proposals, six Denver punk bands, seven burlesque girls, zero arrests and at least one stomach-pumping.
"There were some other hospitalizations," says Frank Rich, chief editor of the Denver-based magazine, "but they were unrelated to the drinking. One guy got pneumonia, partly due to staying up all the time and drinking straight through, but that was a day afterward." As designated glad-hander, Rich held down the international shit-faced fort of Americans, Europeans, Canadians and a few Asians. "My entire job was to meet and greet, so I was drunk the entire time," he explains. "I spent a thousand dollars at the bar. But I can write off almost anything that involves drinking."
Such as Denver bartender Luke Schmaltz's drunken pratfall routine that was equal parts Foster Brooks and Chevy Chase, and the up-front activities of Ooh La La burlesque troupe's Kitty Crimson, who had her "tits pimped out for some extra lobster," according to fellow stripteuse Fanny Fitztightlee. And then, like the maraschino cherry in a sickly sweet cocktail, there was a drinking contest of confounding proportions.
"A lot of 'em showed up already drunk -- which tells you the confidence they had," Rich notes. "The ground rules are pretty simple: A coin toss determines who goes first, then the opponents take turns ordering drinks from whatever is available at the bar. So they're going for a lot of strange drinks, trying to throw their opponent off with the most horrible shots you can imagine -- like, half vodka, half red wine, a 'Brutal Hammer,' was really popular. Using all kinds of strange tactics that were pretty effective sometimes and sometimes not. Sometimes they would pace themselves on beer and kind of get their head back, then dive into insane vodka-Tabasco-and-milk shots. And they'd study each other so they knew what the other guy didn't like. It was really quite a weird strategy. These guys were pretty sharp.
"Once the first person finishes his drink," Rich continues, "the other guy has ten seconds to finish his. And there was a countdown, like at a boxing match. It got really crazy. It was like The Deer Hunter, you know, pistol to his head. It was really strange. Some of the rounds went for, like, 24 different drinks. And they had to be drunk within a minute. This one kid was sort of an outsider, sort of a skinny, apple-cheeked frat-boy type from this online drinking company, and he hung in there until the finals. Nobody expected it. Most of the people in this contest were these huge, ogre-ous sort of guys -- 300-pound guys. Their capacity was amazing. But the kid just finally lost it and started vomiting. The winner was this gigantic bald guy; I believe he was a bouncer. Nicest guy in the world. Amazing capacity. Amazing."
Rich may not remember it, but the ballroom at the Stardust Casino screened his intoxicating full-length film, Nixing the Twist, as well as a trailer for his upcoming Modern Drunkard movie (currently in post-production). Seminars by Boyd Rice on tiki-bar culture and the origins of alcohol filled out the $49-per-person weekend, which built with increasing Dutch courage toward an awards ceremony at which the sodden Rich presided. "I understand it was quite something," he says. "I was so loaded by then, it was a black-out propaganda speech. I'm surprised I even knew how the microphone worked."
In summary? "All in all, a fantastic disaster," he concludes.
Next year, livers notwithstanding, the drunkards hope to take their convention to New Orleans. Boo-yah!
Meanwhile, back in Denver: For those suburbanites still scared silly by the 16th Street Mall, May 22 must have been a truly frightening day. That Saturday, Jim Schlottman turned loose nearly fifty students from countries ranging from Peru to Poland. More kids on the mall! All speaking odd languages! Call the ambassadors!
Turns out that these aliens, part of the Cultural Care Au Pair program, were on a meet-and-greet with Denver, scavenging for clues to the city's history and existence. "They kind of know downtown," says Schlottman, CCAP's local child-care coordinator. "The problem is, all they know are the nightclubs."
Twenty-somethings with a better working knowledge of Lime's drink specials and Rise's doormen than the history of their host city? Say it ain't so!
To rectify that sorry situation, Schlottman organizes the annual downtown outing, and this year, he asked the nannies to find everything from a McDonald's napkin to the elevation marker on the State Capitol steps, as well as Colorado Rockies paraphernalia, the Tattered Cover and a police officer's signature and badge number. Unfortunately, Schlottman's charges kept asking unsuspecting RTD drivers to sign on the dotted line. "They tend to go find an RTD officer, thinking he's a police officer because he's in uniform," Schlottman explains. "They don't know what our police officers look like."
Let's hope the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau won't have the same problem with its downtown tours, which start June 3. Maybe the bureau should offer a grand prize for the person properly identifying the Downtown Denver Partnership ambassador placed on the newly not-scary mall to ensure that teens and panhandlers don't frighten visitors out of spending their hard-earned cash on shlocky gift items. (Clue: The ambassadors wear straw hats; RTD drivers and Denver cops do not.)
Starting at 9:45 a.m. every Thursday and Saturday through September, volunteers will guide tourists through the central business district, with stops at the mall, the Capitol, Trinity Methodist Church, the U.S. Mint, the Brown Palace, the talking sidewalk and the D&F Tower -- but no LoDo. "Participants will learn many interesting facts about the Mile High City's early rough-and-tumble history, its mining and railroad lore, the varied architecture and the colorful men and women who were instrumental in founding Denver and Colorado," according to the bureau.
Since they're obviously going to learn very little about the city's rough-and-tumble present, Off Limits is happy to fill in the blanks..
Our unofficial parade starts at the Diamond Cabaret, because, despite being a CVB member and within the physical bounds of the tour, the T & A palace is off, off, off limits. Especially to bureau members: This was the site of then-CVB director Eugene Dilbeck's downfall last October, after it was revealed that the club hosted a bureau membership mixer and he failed to protest the social event. (He also failed to show up, but that didn't save his job.) Our tour will take off at a more reasonable hour than the official tour -- say, noon -- so that we can hit the Diamond's famous five-buck buffet lunch. Nothing like a strip steak and a bored stripper to start a day in Denver right.
Next up is the talking sidewalk between 14th and 15th streets on Curtis Street. Sure, the bureau's including this, but there's more to the site than meets the eye. By day, this is a surefire tourist trap, designed to make visitors oooh and ahhh about how cosmopolitan Denver has become. Sounds from the sidewalk? Who'da thunk? But by night, this same stretch provides locals with hours of amusement, as the aforementioned tourists, now tanked, stop tottering toward their hotel and listen in horror for the sounds emanating from the streets. What is that? Do you hear horses? It's dark here. Scary. Did that man ask me for change? What's that noise? Where's an ambassador?
After that, you'll need a drink. Might we suggest the 15th Street Tavern, named one of the twenty best dive bars in America earlier this year by Stuff magazine?
With a good stiff one or three under your belt, it's time to visit Skyline Park, where you can mourn the march of progress. The Lawrence Halprin-designed landmark, perfect for skateboarding and people-watching, has been demolished to make the 16th Street Mall safe for soccer moms and conventioneers, and soon -- June 21 is the new completion date -- will be just another mess of grassy lawns and open spaces. Which means you might want to get familiar with Junkie Alley, between 17th and 18th streets and Champa and Stout. At just about any time of day or night, you can hear the calls of the urban dweller: Smoke, smoke, you need some smoke?
But Denver isn't all nakey chicks and booze and drugs. There's room here for art and culture, too. Why, in the first-floor bathrooms of the Denver Art Museum, the sinks sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as part of Jim Green's "Singing Sinks" installation. If you can coordinate washing up with your buddies, you'll be able to execute the entire song in a round, with different voices coming from each faucet.
Once you've cleaned up on culture, walk through the courtyard to the Denver Public Library. The first person to submit proof that he or she has stood atop Donald Lipski's "Yearling" sculpture (you know, the tiny horse on the big chair) wins the Off Limits walking-tour prize.
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