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[Neon Eden]

Sun columnist Patrick Coolican sets out to prove we’re a much drunker city than people think

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Booze boom: The Daily Beast says we are the14th drunkest city in America. She begs to differ.
Photo: Leila Navidi

The news came down on the eve of New Year’s weekend, early in the morning: Online magazine The Daily Beast had ranked America’s drunkest cities. Las Vegas ranked 14th, behind (or ahead?) of St. Louis, Reno and Burlington, Vermont. This, clearly, was an outrage.

Anytime you set out on a journalistic endeavor and the results seem wildly counter-intuitive, like when Las Vegas is your country’s 14th drunkest city, you should check the methodology, and if the results seem off, then change the methodology. As an editor once told a friend of mine: Never let the facts get in the way of the truth.

Daily Beast relied on Experian Simmons, a market-research firm, for survey data on the average number of alcoholic drinks consumed by residents of more than 200 cities.

They also gave more weight to cities with a lot of “binge” and “heavy” drinkers, based on data from the government’s Centers for Disease Control.

The whole thing is a wildly unscientific, desperate ploy for Web traffic, but for our purposes the key word here is “residents.”

This would seem not to take into account the roughly 40 million annual visitors to Las Vegas. As we all know, if you walk on the Strip any day of the week at midnight you’ll find yourself wondering how major historical events, like, say, World War II, might have gone differently if the whole country was like the Las Vegas Strip. Probably not well.

Anyway, with news that we’re only 14th drunkest, our newsroom mobilized, and it was decided that Coolican should take up this assignment because, “He could have the most fun with it,” which I don’t take to be particularly complimentary.

(Before I start, let me say I don’t mean to make light of the various social problems we suffer—especially here in Las Vegas—from substance abuse, which I’ve written about a lot. But it’s a topic for another day.)

This turns out to be a much harder assignment than you might think, requiring significant endurance and willpower that are both sapped by the very nature of the assignment. Thursday, my college alma mater’s football team plays a mid-tier bowl game in the middle of the afternoon. Perfect. Afternoon drinks while watching the game at my neighborhood bar. The bartender agrees: We’re way drunker than 14th. As the day darkens, so do my team’s chances. Ignominious loss. Boozy and embarrassing (on my end) conversations with friends and family.

At a local Station property The Guilty Pleasures are playing “Yacht Rock.” Rumors of free wine bring hordes of smooth rock-loving drunks. Meet a couple of friends who are newly engaged. Congrats, best wishes, etc. A few rounds later, we agree we’re more drunk than 14th. Discussion turns to The Wire, and the show’s drunk anti-hero Jimmy McNulty.

Friday: Similar.

Saturday: New Year’s Eve. Fat Tire at lunch. Home, and this assignment is starting to get old. I feel like someone served me the sludge of a melting tire that is now coursing through me. New Year’s resolutions coming sharply into focus. Friends over for dinner. Rogue Hazelnut Brown Ale. Restorative! I show them the best parts of Page One, which involve famous recovering drunk David Carr. Friends bag out of New Year’s activities. Bastards. I grab a cab, and as we head around the bend at 95, I get a great view of the fireworks that celebrate an arbitrary change of date.

The Beauty Bar is an enthusiastic, collective case in point that Las Vegas is much drunker than 14th. I see dancing, or writhing actually, yelling, serious smoking, laughing, crying. A couple of young women with eyes like electric marbles randomly demand a sour candy apple or some such ridiculous shot. It’s New Year’s, so I agree. Las Vegas, we all agree, is certainly not 14th drunkest. My girlfriend had to work, and she wants a New Year’s drink, so we go to the local Smith’s and get some vodka near 4 a.m. Enough already, Daily Beast. I surrender, but just do me a favor and don’t run this list next year.

J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter @jpcoolican or email him at patrick.coolican@lasvegassun.com. His Neon Eden radio show airs Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on 91.5 FM.
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