Fresno Beehive

Go home, Fresno, you’re not the drunkest city in America

You had to know, Fresno’s alcohol faithful, that we were never the drunkest city in America. Not even close.

Men’s Health bestowed the title upon us last year (and in 2010 and 2011, I believe) after studying national statistics on liver disease, self-admitted binge drinkers, DUI crashes/deaths and the “harshness” of an area’s DUI penalties.

These are all important statistics, and our presence at the top of this list is concerning. But they’re a reflection of alcoholism, bad decision making and what a high priority DUIs are for local law enforcement. They are not much of a factor in the overall drunkenness of a city.

Enter 24/7 Wall Street, who just released a new study using some of the Men’s Health factors but adding in important statistics like self-reported heavy drinking, defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as 15 drinks in a week. That DOES feel like a lot...

But the CDC also defines binge drinking as four drinks in one sitting as a woman, five as a man. That sobering (ha) definition has made me question my life.

The study also takes bars-per-capita into account.

Anyway, the new study gave the crown to Appleton, Wisconsin. In fact, 12 of the top 20 drunkest cities are in Wisconsin. This may be because the study used information from the University of Wisconsin, but I believe it’s accurate.

Fresno was nowhere near the top 20, I imagine.

At the behest of an Appleton transplant living in Fresno, a few friends and I took a drinking pilgrimage to my namesake city. Here are some of the things I saw there that flat out wouldn’t happen in Fresno.

Three Man

In Appleton, they play a drinking game called Three Man. And it would kill all of you.

Three Man is fairly complicated, but it is essentially a dice game. Rolling a seven means the person in front of you drinks, 11 means the person behind you. Getting a four and a two means – something, etc. There are hats involved.

The brutality comes from rolling doubles. Getting doubles allows you to give one die to one person and the other die to a second person. You then make a rule, such as low drinks double high. That would mean that if you rolled a five and your opponent a six, you now owe the group 12 drinks. To clarify, a drink is a strong sip of beer – not a shot, as that really would kill you.

We played it in Chicago near the end of the Midwest drinking pilgrimage. The first person to drop was, of course, a Fresnan. His punishment was swift and dire. I can’t share specifics on a family blog, but let’s just say the son of the lead singer of Cheap Trick did something to him you typically only see in raunchy comedy movies.

As far as I know, the game has been played only once in the state of California. It was in my living room, where two Appletonians (that’s what I’m calling them) put us far, far under the table.

We set a rule that doesn’t exist in the Midwest in order save our poor Californian livers: No more than double. In Appleton, low could be drinking triple high – or worse. We had to put a stop to that.

My best friend was there that night. I think he was 19 at the time, and it was probably the last time he was drunk. He was sick for a full 24 hours. I was his boss at the time, and I had to call him out of work – 24 hours after we had started drinking.

And he still owes us 16 drinks. We took pity on him. He no longer has more than one drink per sitting.

College Avenue

We took a drive to College Avenue, where we counted 35ish bars in a one-mile stretch. They’re stacked on top of each other – an Irish pub above a sports bar that’s next door to a dive spot, etc.

And that’s not all the bars in Appleton. There’s probably a dozen outside of College Avenue.

Bear in mind, the population of Appleton is about 75,000. As opposed to 500,000 in Fresno, which I would guess barely has 35 bars within its city limits.

The Flag

We spent one night in Appleton at my friend’s friend’s bar, The Checkered Flag.

Like many bars in Wisconsin (or so I am told), it is more of a community center. Most bars in Fresno are simply rooms to consume alcohol and hope that awkwardly babbling to a stranger will allow you to spend one night not feeling like an insignificant speck surrounding by bright, burning stars. But I digress.

It had – three? – indoor beach volleyball courts. Beach volleyball, inside a bar, in the middle of snowy Wisconsin. It also had this weird outdoor tiki area, but I think people can only use it like two months out of the year.


Inside it had: dart boards, video games, video poker, trivia, proper foosball tables (foosball is a religion in the Midwest) and a “Golden Tee” machine connected to a flat-screen TV. There were more things to do in this one bar than in every bar in Fresno combined – especially now since Swiggs has closed.

And it wasn’t the only one. One has indoor basketball courts. We saw one that had an archery range, which sounds woefully unsafe.

When I went to the Checkered Flag’s bar, my baby face forced the bartender to card me (we were already carded at the door). He saw that I was 21, laughed at my last name and told me the first one was free.

I ordered a vodka tonic – basically the only thing I knew I liked at 21 – and he handed me what I thought was a water. It was a 12-ounce glass, but it had bubbles. I sipped it.

“My God,” I thought, “the drinks come in big boy glasses.” And I wept.

Some time later, I returned for a second one. I expected to be gouged on the price.

“Six dollars.” Uh – excuse me? “Six bucks.”

A six-ounce vodka tonic in Fresno would be $6 – AT LEAST – and be much weaker than the angel tears I was given that night.

Things got fuzzy after that. I believe I played games? I know I lost $20 at the video poker.

The people

Fresno is filled to the brim with Cinderella drinkers. “Oh, I better get home before midnight, or my cocktail dress will turn to rags – my Miata to a pumpkin.”

As far as I can tell, these people don’t exist in Wisconsin. My friend’s friends all – ALL – stay up until at least 4 a.m. for these outdoor drinking nights. More strange drinking games go on around a large fire, which is I think for warding off bugs and/or evil spirits.

I mean everyone. One woman was heavily pregnant. She didn’t drink, but she stayed the whole time and drove her husband home. While all of the Californians were wiping their sleepy eyes – even though our time cycle is two hours behind Wisconsin’s – my friend’s mom was hitting her stride.

That’s how the ACTUAL drunkest city in the country rolls. We aren’t fit to worship at its altar.