Top Shelf Quality Booze on a Budget

Got a sock filled with nickels? Drink up!
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Got a sock filled with nickels? Drink up!
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Got a sock filled with nickels? Drink up!

Drinking shouldn’t require you to dip into your 401K or get a new line of credit. The guys at Party Earth were happy to remind everyone – from the blueblood to the Blue Collar Joe – that you can tie one on without sacrificing quality. Sadly, there's no such guarantee about the quality of their bathrooms. So whether you’re a regal prince or your only throne has a flush handle, here’s a select roundup of some of our favorite U.S. drinking dens that make up for the lack in luxury with liquor.

1. Mehanata Bulgarian Bar (New York, NY)

Hipsters, hookahs, and beat-heavy polka unite at Mehanata, a Lower East Side hotspot that puts the “rad” back in to comrade. It’s as unapologetically raucous as you’d expect a proud Soviet-themed bar to be: Naked mannequins, gaping mouth-shaped urinals, and Eastern European women spontaneously practicing CPR on each other. The “Get naked, get a free shot” sign also makes it one of the few bars in the world that reward us for taking our pants off.

The real draw at Mehanata is the infamous Ice Cage, which is a giant walk in fridge lined with fifty-plus bottles of premium vodka, Russia’s greatest creation behind Irina Shayk. It costs $20 to enter the Cage, but the price includes free use of authentic Soviet military uniforms, which patrons don before being given two minutes to pound a half-dozen shots of whichever vodkas they choose.

2. Dan’s Café (Washington, DC)

Dan’s Café looks abandoned; a little building with a boarded-up front and a ramshackle sign that’d earn a quick “F” in any fifth grade art project.

Inside the stuffy single room isn’t much better -- we’re pretty sure the ferns hanging from the ceiling died sometime before the Cold War. But perceptive patrons will notice a lot of rowdy regulars wielding what appear to be ketchup bottles. This wouldn’t normally be weird except there’s no food in this Café.

The large squeeze bottles, in fact, are loaded with hard alcohol, either pre-mixed with a favorite chaser or straight as the day the grain was born, and cost around $20.

We did the math after downing an entire one. Then realized we’d forgotten how to do math, so we asked the suddenly super hot old lady next to us. She said it averaged out to less than $2 a shot, speaking in a cigarette-ravaged voice that sounded like angels singing, so it must be true (love).  

3. The California Clipper (Chicago, IL)

Although it’s well-removed from the city’s bigger bar scenes, Chicago’s ol’ Clipper has been going strong since the 1930s. There are rumors the venue is haunted – the ghost, like our crazy cousin Ned, allegedly frequents the women’s bathroom – but the Clipper’s popular Purple Martin cocktail will have even the most phantasm-phobic patrons coming back time and again.

If a mixture of grape soda, rum and lemon reminds you more of a desperate last call at the frat house, this cozy neighborhood lounge offers a host of budget-friendly classics, from champagne cocktails and Rusty Nails to a California egg cream so good you won’t even ask how the hell they got cream out of a chicken egg. We’re guessing with a copy of Pen House or Barely Eagle. We really hope it wasn’t a gang pluck.

4. The Bigfoot Lodge (Los Angeles, CA)

The Bigfoot Lodge -- featuring talking trophies, gaudy taxidermy, log walls and a huge diorama of Smokey the Bear -- is the perfect setting for a hunting expedition or a horror movie. But you’ll forget your surroundings once you try the ridiculously good Girl Scout Cookie cocktail, which is reportedly made from Thin Mints.

We always seem to end up here, tucked along the creaky vinyl booths for regular trivia and bingo nights, cheap beer and shot specials, and to suck down Girl Scouts (ewww!), Beary Mules, S’mores, and the signature Sasquatch that melds Wild Turkey and ginger with the kind of powerful kick that almost makes Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet watchable.

5.15 Romolo (San Francisco, CA)

Hidden inside the heavily touristed North Beach area of San Francisco, 15 Romolo is surrounded by strip joints – some classy, some clearly lacking dental plans – but this subterranean den of drink has little in common with its nude neighbors.

The stylish saloon makes up for its lack of skin with an assortment of expertly crafted cocktails that cost far less than a lap dance, including a fresh Pimm’s Cup that only runs $7 during daily Happy Hour.

Pimm’s might be thought of as a fruity frou-frou drink, and Romolo’s own claim that it’s “brewed by a ginger fairy” doesn’t bolster the manliness quotient, but we’re betting the combination of ginger, bitters, cucumber, and mint would inspire even Chuck Norris to order seconds.

The same can be said of the $4 punch on weekends, as well as the savory brunch menu that comes with a free amuse-bouche waffle shot. Can you say “amuse-bouche” without sounding like a douche? No. But a waffle stick slathered in a boozy shot of syrup is definitely an offer…we can’t refuse-bouche!

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