Tarantula Billiards

It's been almost ten years since I last puked. Ten years without a flu vomit, a binge-drinking barf or even so much as a little spit-up. I used to be very proud of this — of the fact that on my 21st birthday, I drank 21 shots in two hours without heaving, not to mention dying; and that for all the late-night beer-pounding and shot-taking over the past decade, I never once put my face near a toilet bowl or doubled over behind a tree, had no recent frame of reference for bedside buckets and just-couldn't-make-its. It was almost as if I had lost anything resembling a gag reflex.


I vividly remember the last time I got physically ill. I was at a friend's cabin in southern Wisconsin, fifteen and sick with the flu, and I made it from the kitchen to the hallway bathroom with just enough time to flip the seat and get into porcelain-prayer pose. Since then, there's been one close call, during a 6:30 a.m. tailgate in college, when I attempted to take three Bud Lights through a fifteen-foot rooftop beer bong and had to spit most of the beer out because of foam; thankfully, roommates and bystanders ruled it un-retchworthy, since my response was due mostly to a mechanical malfunction and impatient pouring by the guy holding the funnel two stories up. Otherwise, I've been on a flawless, regurgitation-less streak.

Tonight is Day Two of Maggie's birthday weekend, and we're rolling eleven deep — her brother and my sister from Chicago, plus seven friends — to this year's Great American Beer Festival. But eleven is too large a group for such a clusterfuck of drunkenness, so we leave after only three hours of nibbling pretzels from self-strung necklaces and slamming one-ounce portions of beer both disgusting and divine, and head to the nearby Tarantula Billiards (1456 Champa Street). Everyone else is beered out, so they order cocktails while I grab myself a Guinness bottle and a Bud draft. Both beers go down well and keep me from remembering I haven't eaten dinner.

Thanks to our early departure from the beer fest, we've beaten the rush and have no trouble pushing three tall tables together by the DJ booth. The guy behind the dials is spinning non-stop electronica that no one really cares for, but it's cool — we're just happy to be sitting and drinking without having to push through a crowd. Sometime around beer four or five, I notice a full-sized air-hockey table nestled among the green-tops, and over the course of the next two hours convince just about everyone in the group to play. Those who decline — mostly ladies — stay at home base and are treated to pastel-colored roses from the owner; those who oblige compete like a bunch of drunks in a penny arcade, bruising up knuckles with fervent enthusiasm and spending a small fortune in an attempt to topple whoever's been on the table the longest. At one point, I knock an entire pint of Bud onto the blue and silver surface and can't stop laughing at how it bubbles and sizzles in the artificial air.

At 12:30 a.m., the group decides it's time to catch some cabs. My world is pretty blurry at this point, so I don't protest. But as I'm putting on my coat and others are bottoming out their drinks, Maggie's brother sets a final Guinness in front of me and all but demands that I finish it. I know he means well — plus, as far as he's concerned, I asked him to get it for me, though I doubt this is true — but a whole pint of stout just before leaving? Bad. News.

Our energy skyrockets along with our blood-alcohol levels thanks to a poppier set of techno music, and we break into a raucous dance party that's equal parts irony and sincerity as we slowly make our way down the stairs to street level. I'm a few steps behind the flailing arms and thrusting hips, mostly because I gagged a little on the last gulp of Guinness and am starting to taste warm bile in my mouth. Because I haven't felt this way in so long, I'm oblivious to the fact that I'm in the beginning stages of an involuntary beer exodus. Once outside, however, I am forced to face the terrible truth: Three projectile heaves and 180 degrees of carnage later, the streak is officially over.

What's your favorite neighborhood bar? Spill it to Drew Bixby at [email protected], and if he meets you there for a drink, the first round's on him.

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Drew Bixby