Money for nothing and the booze for free

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By Molly Freedenberg

During the summer of 2000, as a a recent college grad with a lot of desire to drink and only a little money with which to do it, I made a chart of Portland bars’ happy hours, drink specials, and free food nights so I’d always have know where to drink affordably. The chart was divided by day. It was color coded. It also was a ridiculous waste of time – particularly since bar policies change so often that my chart was quickly rendered obsolete.

But I stand by the fact that the idea of such a resource was a good idea: for example, it’s Wednesday, it’s two o’clock, and I’m thirsty. Oh look! The chart says it’s half off beers at My Father’s Place right now! … or whatever.

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New York businesses already know that giving away alcohol is actually in their best interest. But Bay Area bars still need to catch on. “I never thought I’d say it, but SF needs to loosen up a bit,” said myopenbar staff writer Dave Schonenberg.

Well, the folks at sf.myopenbar have taken that idea (not from me, mind you) and improved upon it by about a thousand perfect. These wise folks compile a list of all the ways and places to drink for cheap or free in the SF area. And they’re actually places you’d want to go, like Amnesia for karaoke and $2 PBR, El Rio for free oysters and $2.50 drinks (today), or the Swap SF event for vodka, coffee, and clothes-sharing for $5 (Saturday). Plus, they include events like Critical Mass (Drinking on your bike is free, isn’t it?) and art gallery openings.

But as I said, compiling this list – and on a daily basis -- is quite the time consuming project. So what’s in it for myopenbar? Certainly not money, says Dave Schonenberg, staff writer for the local edition of the NY-based online mag. “We don’t make a dime,” he said. “I do this for the glory, and getting on the guest lists around town.”

The site also lends itself to the question: why would businesses want to give away free booze and then advertise it to myopenbar’s 1700+ subscribers? Aren’t they just throwing money away to freeloading hipsters?

Apparently not. When it comes to bars and clubs, says Schonenberg, having an open bar not only gets new patrons in to check out the place, but also it discourages barhopping and encourages people to open tabs. As for other kinds of open bars, Schonenberg says sponsors line up to pay for the booze at these open bars in exchange for getting to demonstrate their products or get hits on a website. And any money that trickles down to myopenbar keeps on trickling back to its clients.

“Any money we get goes towards throwing a huge, hedonistic, not-for-profit, everyone-is-invited fuck fest with free booze,” said Schonenberg, a Berkeley alum and “life-time anarchist.”

I’ll raise a free drink to that. It sure beats making my own Excel spreadsheets…

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