Partying in the USA: Fraternities, college bars and the American drinking culture
Wednesday, April 18 2012
More often than not, the phrase “American college experience” evokes scenes from Animal House, Road Trip and Old School, of frat parties where doing keg stands, playing beer pong and chugging out of red party cups are standard must-dos.
When I first got to UPenn, these things rang extremely true to their film counterparts, and it was hard to believe I’d actually stepped onto the turf of fraternities with names like Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike), Delta Phi (St. Elmo’s), and Tau Epsilon Phi (TEP). But once you start socialising with these frats, it almost becomes a part of everyday life.
The first week of semester is what’s known as “Rush Week”, when the frats have extremely overcrowded open-house parties (that is, anyone can attend). These parties are, in all honesty, not the most fun thing I’ve done on campus, especially since they’re filled with big beefy American guys who try to grind up against all the girls, as well as one who, upon learning that I was an English major, decided to recite the Hamlet soliloquy, spitting on my face as he did so. However, they make for an excellent story, and, more importantly, making friends at these parties paves the way for access to better parties in future.
On St. Patrick’s Day, almost every frat had a day party that started around midday and just kept going. The weather was a beautiful seventy-five degrees (or twenty-four, in Celsius – I’ve forced myself to get used to Fahrenheit because Americans simply don’t understand if you speak in Celsius) and people walked from house to house carrying bottles of spiked ginger ale or lemonade. Think of music festivals in Australia, but with student cover bands and/or huge subwoofers, free alcohol, and green outfits as far as the eye could see.
However, essentially, the fraternity party scene in the US revolves around having personal connections with people, which is why going out during Rush Week is so important. This way we were able to get into TEP and St. Elmo’s by dropping the names of brothers we knew at the door. Score!
But frats aren’t the only way to party in the USA. Alcohol here is so unbelievably cheap it almost isn’t fair. Hard liquor such as vodka comes in sizes up to 1.75 litres. That’s right. They call it a “handle” because it’s so big the makers have attached a handle for easy mobility.
Moreover, beer also comes in forty-ounce bottles, colloquially known as “forties”. One of these is perfect for a night of sitting around in someone’s dorm room with a bunch of people and shooting the shit, which is what we end up doing a lot of the time.
A favourite pastime in Philadelphia is to head downtown to a liquor store and then to one of many BYO restaurants, where you can bring as much as you like and “pre-game” your night out – some places will even make your liquor into cocktails, as long as you provide the handle. Most are pretty decent restaurants too, but people don’t always think about the food.
But going to a BYO requires venturing across the river, something many Penn students are reluctant to do. But aside from the absence of a liquor store (the only one they had closed down just before this semester started), University City, Philly has enough alcohol to sustain the average student’s desire to kill their brain cells after last week’s hellish midterm.
Pretty much every bar in this area has at least one night that is heavily frequented by college students due to its drink specials: fifty-cent drinks on Wednesdays at Smokey Joe’s, seventy-five-cent bottles of beer at Drinker’s West on a Thursday, one-dollar refills if you hang on to your cup at Blarney Stone, et cetera, et cetera. Attending these has become a weekly ritual for the exchange group and on any given Wednesday, one can hear an abundance of foreign accents lurking around Smokey Joe’s.
Obviously, partying is not all the true “American college experience” is about, and there are many other aspects of this exchange I want to focus on, but it’s certainly a major part of it, which is why I devoted this post to it.