Admit it--if you walked by a newsstand, you'd pick it up. So would Carrie Nation. Even Lynne Cheney might give it a glance. That's what catchy titles are all about--so outrageous, you can't turn away. Yes, much of the pro-drinking prose results in a literary hangover, but who could resist the cover line "Inebriated in Iran"? So throw a few cubes into your highball--if it was good enough for Nick Charles, it's good enough for you--and down Modern Drunkard. (And if you don't know Nick Charles, you're in for a treat. Rent "The Thin Man," in which William Powell plays Nick Charles, the suave, cheeky 1930s PI with panache--aided by enough gin, scotch and bourbon to keep the Titanic afloat.)
Now, we're not suggesting that excess is laudable--or that MD appeals to anyone other than males 18-to-25 who consider alcohol a second career. True, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill produced great art, but talent played a bigger role than Tanqueray. Yet MD capitalizes on a renegade motif, film-noir design and a novel line when soliciting subscriptions: "it's hip, it's dangerous, it'll fill your family with dread." Especially if you're applying to law school.
Yet for a magazine that shows up on a New York newsstand, the ads are parochial--all Denver-based. That's because the editorial staff, which proudly claims a bar in the office, is on a perennial Rocky Mountain high. Apparently, so is the sales team, whose inventory extends to local pubs and the occasional attorney, no doubt suing on behalf of the injured party in a bar brawl. Strangely, what you won't find are liquor ads. What you will find is a poetry editor. Submissions show up in "Postcards from Skid Row," where one enterprising entrant wrote a haiku to Jack Daniels. It's Sylvia Plath for barflies.
But first, it's necessary to plow through the frat-boy groaners, like "The Wingman's Handbook," a salute to men who help their pal get the girl. The wingman's job is to distract her friend so his buddy can score. Of course, nine times out of 10 wingman and company aren't wading in the deep end of the gene pool. And the women, far from distractible, are tripping over each other in their race to the exit. It's one thing to imagine a hot babe, a couple of Stolis and a night of bliss. But it only counts if you don't have to put money on the dresser.
However, MD understands brand identity, clearly reinforced with merchandise, graphics and stories. Each piece has an alcohol link, whether the subject is political, historic or cultural. For instance, "FDR: Portrait of a Drinking President," salutes our most-esteemed commander-in-chief for beating the Nazis, spearheading The New Deal and repealing Prohibition, though MD would put axing Prohibition ahead of Hitler. Yes, its priorities are screwy, but that's the point: It's all about the booze.
Which is why MD notes FDR's love of hooch in detail. Many biographers have written about his--and his sons'--drinking, so it's not a reach. The article notes the real reason FDR legalized drink: the revenue. Alcohol generated big bucks in state and federal tax dollars, something Depression-era America desperately needed. Never mind that after reading the newspaper--then and now--it's easy to see why gin is considered a vitamin.
Similarly, "The Rise of the Dives" takes a socio-cultural look at the working-class bar and its psychological significance to patrons of all classes. The article quotes Jim Atkinson, who, in the book The View from Nowhere, describes dives as a place of "transcendent egalitarianism." Or, it could be a reaction to our Botox-obsessed, hit-the-gym, fast-track lifestyle. Whatever else a dive is, it isn't a place where fitness and drive reign. It is, in an odd way, authentic.
Still, one takes MD's wino wisdom, et. al. with a chaser, though I agree with its purist approach to martinis: Gin. Vermouth. Olive. Forget the peach gin or apple martinis or lemongrass vermouth. It would be like Ann Coulter embracing Hillary Clinton; it's just not done.
Nor, despite evidence to the contrary, would a sane person touch alcohol in Iran. The mullahs decreed that anyone caught drinking would be subject to 40 lashes. It may be, as the writer of "Inebriated in Iran" suggests, that the Armenian Christian minority and even a few Muslims have their liquor connections. But is a Tuborg worth a flogging? MD sticks to its credo, but fellas, there are limits. How drunk do you have to be before the concept of whipped into shape kicks in?