Jesse Sullivan is a 28yrold barkeep in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He is a renowned dance floor destroyer and primetime drinkathoner with the face of a Persian Bill Murray. The fella has razor wit, shortstop hands and a pop-culture-encyclopedia brain. He was 27 when this went down. (The following was written by Jesse.)
You know what? Fuck it. I like Maroon 5.
That has nothing to do with this story, but here it goes:
This is a tale about two dudes who decided to beat a hangover the only way they knew how. Prolonging it.
I met William in Brooklyn, a year before he moved to East LA to buy a low-rider Impala and record an album with his band. When he returned to the East Coast a couple years later I was managing (to slowly drive) a bar (into the ground) and William was looking for work. I hired him immediately hoping he could save my ass.
William, I call him Billy, is a charming young man with a barrel chest and a Rollie Fingers mustache. He enjoys golfing, quality time with his nieces and nephews, and drinking the fucking shit out of everything (everything but whiskey, oddly).
Once a trio of fraternity brothers came into our bar and ordered something called a “Bear Fight”. It was an Irish Car Bomb (a shot glass of 1/2 Jameson and 1/2 Bailey’s dropped into a 1/2 pint of Guinness) followed by a Jager Bomb (a shot of Jagermeister dropped into a half pint of Red Bull). Billy and I mocked these jabroneys and rolled our eyes condescendingly, up until the second they left. Then we drank about 9 Bear Fights; so much Red Bull.
Billy and I work in a few different bars in a city that has more bars per square mile than anywhere on earth. Bar-owners hire people like Billy and me because no bar patron likes to drink alone and we are a couple of nice, accommodating dudes.
We’re in the hospitality business. If you have a shot, it’d be rude if we didn’t join, right? So that’s what we did. A lot. The beauty was we could drink as much as we wanted, for free, on two conditions. One: we count the money correctly and properly lock the bar at the end of the night. Two: we’re only allowed to drink well liquor.
Well liquor is fucked. It’s cheap as shit. Bars get bottles for, like, $4 a pop. Mostly brands you’ve never fucking heard of. Well vodka is always something that sounds remotely Eastern European: Popov, Nikolai, Zemkoff, Georgi. Well rum always sounds like the entertainment on a cruise ship: Uncle Wray and Nephew, Caribbean Nights, Rico Bay, etc. Whiskey companies know that people who drink bullshit whiskey don’t give a fuck, so they name their labels like shitty motels: Bellow’s, Carstairs, Ten High, Five Star, etc. Gin I’m not quite sure about. My mom told me as a kid that gin makes men mean, so, honest to God, I never touch the stuff.
Billy and I danced with the devil known as well tequila. These bottles sport names from a Spanish 101 pop quiz: Conquistador, Montezuma, Zapata, Tres Generales, Chupa Mi Culo, etc.
We enjoyed drinking the Zapata brand. To scholars of Mexican history, “Zapata” alludes to Emiliano Zapata, a prominent figure in the Mexican Revolution. To people like me, who learned Spanish from the kids on my mostly Mexican high school soccer team, “zapata” means “shoe”. The latter definition is an accurate description of the taste of Zapata Tequila.
We preferred well tequila because it’s the only liquor that’s also a stimulant. All others are depressants. So, working at a bar that stays open until 4 (or 5 or 6), tequila is the obvious choice.
One day, Billy and I were a little bored during our Wednesday shift, which started at 4 pm, ended at 4 am. That’s a long time. Our shift was a simple one-man, drink-pouring operation that the two of us chose to split. Thus, we could drink ourselves half-blind every Wednesday and still have two good eyes between us at the end of the night. On this particular evening we began wondering how much we actually drank throughout a shift and decided to keep count.
We tallied them throughout our shift. At closing time William had taken 35 shots, I had put down 32. He snuck in three extra when I took a quick break to go home and walk my dog. That’s fine because while he was busy drinking water at the beginning of the shift, I was entertaining a salesman, sipping one of the undrinkable beers that he wanted our bar to sell.
I must admit the shot glasses were small, about 1 1/4 ounce. It still works out to a little over a liter of tequila for each of us (plus one shit beer for me). Also, we drank this over the course of 8 hours.
Every time I tell the story of “the night Billy and I drank 30 plus shots” the first thing people ask is, “You guys must’ve felt like dogshit the next day. What was that, like, 16 shots each?”
The answer is a proud/ashamed, “No, it was 30 plus each.” Followed by the grosser statement, “And no, I wasn’t terribly hung over.”
Instead, the next day we woke up shitfaced. At 4pm we headed to work at the other bar we both tended and kept the tequila train arunnin’. Our bodies were so dehydrated neither of us pissed the entire day.
The previous night was hazy, but we both recalled looking each other in the eye and saying, “Let’s never fucking do this again.”
At the time it probably meant, “Let’s never drink this much again.” But after a few shots that morning we decided it meant, “Let’s never count how many shots we take, ever again.”
We didn’t. However, we did celebrate our disgusting accomplishment of the night before by taking X more shots during work. We continued putting them back all evening, straight through our shift. This is where we made the bad choice.
By the end of my bartending shift at 2am, I had drank somewhere around 100 ounces of well tequila in about 36 hours. According to the Internet, that puts my Blood Alcohol Content at about .9%. In other words, I should have been pretty fucking dead. But rather than call it quits, I properly counted all the register’s cash, locked up the bar like a champ and invited the few remaining customers to join Billy and me back at my apartment for a tattoo party.
I was 27, flirting with 28, and had zero tattoos. I live in a place where not having tattoos is much weirder than having tattoos and I liked that. I used to say my not-having-a-tattoo was my tattoo. But then I went on a two-day well tequila bender.
Now, I’m no teetotaler. I drink often. I get drunk often. But only once in my life have I demanded that someone use my roommate’s tattoo gun to help me pay permanent homage to my temporary love of well tequila.
Billy, myself, my roommates and the last few remaining bar patrons walked back to my apartment with a fresh bottle of well tequila in hand. Upon arrival, my roommate brought out an old tattoo gun he had scored a few years back in a late-night trade for a microphone cord. This is where shit gets real hazy. But here are some bullet points of what went down, all of which were terrible, terrible, decisions:
Before we could find batteries for the tattoo gun, Billy spotted a Darryl Strawberry painting in my bedroom. He decided to ink the number 18 (Strawberry’s jersey number) on the right side of his ribcage. It would be the best tattoo given that night.
I told the two young ladies that had come to my apartment from the bar that they were, “NOT TO LEAVE MY APARTMENT UNTIL I HAVE THE FUCKING WORD ‘WELL’ TATTOOED ON MY GODDAMNED LIVER.”
Not wanting to assume total responsibility for such a heinous act, the ladies decided to write two letters each. They honored my request and tattooed the letters right where I demanded them to, “on my liver.” I said that while pointing to the right of my spine in the middle of my back. Exactly where my liver is not. My bad.
Billy had “Well” in fancy script tattooed somewhere around the middle of his rib cage on his left side. After my first failed attempt at understanding human anatomy, we decided this was where the liver is located.
I still don’t know where the liver is.
I do know how to Google what my Blood Alcohol Level is.
So there you have it, two days of constant tequila shots, one night of prison tattoos and four days of believing I had Hepatitis before realizing that that’s just what a hangover feels like after drinking three liters of well tequila in two days.
ANY IDEA HOW MUCH YOU DRANK THE SECOND EVENING?
I’d say close to 30 shots again, but I’m not sure. I know we were trying to outdo the previous night, and each other that second day, but you have to keep in mind the Shampoo Effect: trying to build up a good lather the first time you shampoo is hard, much like it’s hard for someone with a high tolerance to get drunk the first time. But once you finish that first wash and rinse, repeating is easy as pie. Your hair lathers up in a heartbeat during the second wash. The same principle applies when getting drunk, if your blood is still full of booze from the night before, it doesn’t take a whole helluva’ lot. That’s why you get smashed off two beers at Sunday afternoon brunches.
WHAT TIME DID YOU START AND STOP DRINKING?
Day one we started around 8pm stopped around 4am. Day two we started at about 4pm and I’m not sure I’ve stopped yet.
YOU DIDN’T PUKE?
Nope. Day one we were just in the zone. The first 3 or 4 shots of well tequila are fucking vile, but once you get passed those, it’s all downhill. Meaning, taking shots is as easy as coasting a bike down a hill and the direction of your life is also going right downhill. By day two Billy discovered that chasing well tequila with orange soda tastes like stealing a homeless man’s Orange Julius and chugging it; surprisingly, it’s really fucking good.
WAS THE TATTOO GUN SANITARY OR A GRIMY PRISON-NEEDLE OPERATION?
Beats me, Mom.
DO YOU REMEMBER GETTING THE TATTOO, ANY SNIPPETS OF COGNIZANCE?
Mostly what I remember about getting the tattoo, and this is for anyone reading who doesn’t have a tattoo, is that it doesn’t hurt at all. Seriously, didn’t feel a goddamned thing. I think I slept through the entire letter ‘E’.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU’D GOTTEN THE TATOO? DID YOU WAKE UP CONFUSED ABOUT A WOUND ON YOUR BACK?
It was similar to drunkenly blowing a bunch of money at a strip club the night before. You kind of jolt out of bed the next morning, and there’s a brief moment of panic where you say to yourself, “Fuck, did I seriously blow $500 dollars last night? No way, right?” Then you open your wallet and it’s just full of ATM receipts and your heart drops to that place in your stomach where barf happens.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST THOUGHT WHEN YOU RECALLED THE GETTING THE TAT?
I’m so good at self-denial it’s dangerous. It’s 5:47 am and I’m in bed watching ‘Duck Soup’ with a 40 oz of Olde English. Hook me up to a lie detector and ask me if I’m an alcoholic. I’ll say no and pass. Ask me if I believe this tattoo will magically go away, I’ll say yes and pass.
DESCRIBE THE TYPOGRAPHY ON YOUR BACK. DID ONE LADY DO BETTER THAN THE OTHER?
The letters are all CAPS, probably about an inch and a half tall each. If you subtracted 20 years from the actual age of the girls who did it, you would get a pretty good idea of the quality of their penmanship. And yes, one girl did do a better job than the other. The one that hated me more did a stellar job of getting the ink in real good and deep… but it doesn’t matter because it’s going to magically disappear anyway.