Someone must close down the bar, but I am through volunteering for the position. This is not to say bourbon has lost its bloom, or that work days do not begin with brief foamy fantasies about the first cold beers to be cracked eight hours later. I can say (with a straight face) that serious carousing is an occupation for swollen wallets and spare time, and claim that, as of late, I have neither. I can rationalize moderation because I wake up very early and tire before last call the following morning. I can insist that going out is harder than staying in, especially when it’s raining and there’s work to do and Netflix in the mailbox. I can affect a jaded outlook, yawning that the sport of drinking doesn’t hold the appeal it had ten years ago. I can label it a secondary activity, something I associate with games to watch, gigs to play, food to eat, and good conversations with friends. Big nights happen, yes, but usually on accident, I can say — candidly, with no regrets.
Those are all parts of the problem (if embracing moderation can ever be considered one) but the real reason, the one that really has me avoiding bars and heading home early when I can’t, is that these days, when I drink too much, my hangovers hit like Mike Tyson circa 1986. After a few too many, I wake up stuffy, morose, disoriented, ugly, and sore. I don’t ever get sick, but I forget details about where I went and who I saw. I don’t have the energy to do the things that the day ahead demands, and my mood plummets correspondingly. When I was 20, I could shake off boozy sweats, dehydration, and body aches, and spring out of bed after five hours of sleep to bound around the house, read, study, and socialize — all miraculously on an empty stomach. Now, on those increasingly infrequent occasions where I over-indulge, I am discovering that I desperately require food — breakfast maybe, or at least a snack of heroic proportions — to piece myself together again.
Restorative noshing is welcome immediately after the party, or hours later, upon waking. The fact that I’ve only really realized this in the latter half of my twenties probably says something about my learning curve in general. If hunger pangs strike on the way home from the bar, possibilities are limited. Most restaurants aren’t open. Chorizo tacos from El Farolito and Taqueria Vallarta hit the spot. I haven’t been, but Nombe, the new-ish izakaya on Mission St., has a late-night take-out window selling ramen to revelers staggering home. Sometimes, an attack on the refrigerator is the best and cheapest recourse. I went out on Saturday night and stayed out — gasp — until 1 a.m. When I came home I realized nearly everything in the house that I felt like eating was being saved for a dinner with my dad the following night — sausage for pizza, bread for croutons, and olives. Instead, I microwaved some leftover white rice and added salt and a few squirts of srirachi sauce. Something with srirachi sauce usually does the trick. Lately, I’ve also been especially enjoying plain corn tortillas roasted on a cast-iron skillet and then topped with srirachi and a few creamy squiggles of Kewpie mayonnaise. I do two at a time, folded over like miniature fusion-y quesadillas, and eat them fast, usually burning my mouth in the process.
For those disinclined to wallow in gastronomic gutters, there is also, of course, street food — bacon dogs, tamales, and the ever-growing assortment of heavily Twittered carts that tend to pop up on corners outside the doors of drinking establishments. As good as some of this stuff is (I’m thinking about you, gumbo guy), such trendy offerings come with long lines, and waiting fifteen minutes for a grilled flatbread behind a bunch of ravenous drunk people is rarely an attractive option when you’re ravenous and drunk yourself. Fifteen minutes? I could be home by then, putting the final drizzle of srirachi on a corn tortilla, wearing the sweats, watching a little Larry David before passing out with a smile on my face.
Tortilla with srirachi and Kewpie mayonnaise. You won’t see this in Saveur.
Alcohol stirs the strangest cravings the morning after. Some people wake up and go for eggs, pancakes, waffles, sausage, and other conventional breakfast-y things. There is scientific logic to this. Eggs contain cysteine, a substance that breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver. Fruit juice actually hastens the rate at which a body gets ride of toxins like those generated by alcohol metabolism. Bananas, also common at breakfast, replace potassium lost to alcohol’s diuretic tendencies. Fried or stupendously unhealthy foods appeal because sufferers suspect that grease will soothe their irritated stomach linings — nevermind the fact that it’s more likely to have the opposite effect. Psychology is powerful, however, especially the morning after losing brain cells, and I think that sometimes people condition themselves to crave the very things that will hurt them more. It’s, in the long run, a fairly harmless sort of self-loathing — sitting down to a plate of battered chicken, savoring the punishment disguised as a cure, letting your over-taxed body pay the tab your inconsiderate brain racked up. Some treat their morning afflictions like illness and self-medicate with more austere feasts — steamed vegetables, spicy broths, and so on.
Every year, usually when New Year’s Eve approaches, publications feel it necessary to run stories about hangovers and how to avoid them. Typically, these pieces involve interviews with bartenders, operating under the assumption that these callous dispensers of liquid poison know something about recovery too. On Christmas Eve, Grub Street consulted some mixologists on the subject, and the responses were fairly telegraphed, with most suggesting hair of the dog remedies. Likewise, a Dec. 31 Examiner article expanded the sample group and saw similar results, with respondents largely sticking to the guns articulated by their respective professions. The bartender recommended more booze. The personal trainer advocated drinking plenty of water and working out. The doctor condemned drinking too much in the first place. The acupuncturist suggested acupuncture. I’m not sure if I have a profession to stick to, but I have done both drinking and thinking in my day, and for that reason, I hesitate to press any so-called “cures” on others. Hangovers are, after all, very personal things. I will however share a few meals that I have managed to enjoy under the bleariest of circumstances:
Indian buffet. This goes back to a summer home from college. The morning after a long night, some friends and I went to an Indian restaurant attached to a worn motel. After three plates of chicken korma, saag paneer, and samosas, I felt well enough to spend the rest of the day at the zoo. I’m not sure if there’s a San Francisco equivalent, but once I woke up in San Jose, went to New Indian Cuisine, and came away again convinced that naan is merely Advil slicked with ghee.
A breaded chicken torta with chipotles from La Torta Gorda. I’m always momentarily tempted to get a junior, but the full is the way to go. Go home, eat half, and put the remainder in the fridge. Get some covers and stretch out on the couch. Watch basketball or half a season of a television show you’ve already seen. Look up at the clock. It’s nearly dinner-time. Good thing you have a brick-sized piece of torta to eat.
A pickle, dill.
Soup. I’m a soup person — that could be a post in and of itself — but it doesn’t help my hangovers unless it’s French onion from Ti Couz, with some seafood salad and maybe a mushroom crepe on the side.
Chicken fingers and waffle fries with ranch dressing from Phat Philly. This is actually my girlfriend’s thing. She’s yelling at me from the other room to include it.
John Campbell’s Irish Bakery. Once, a few years ago, I was staying out at my dad’s in the Richmond District — dog-sitting, house sitting, and cable-watching — and I woke up after a night out with a painkiller-resistant headache, a sour hollow stomach, and my dad’s whippet dashing around the bed in frantic circles. I had hopped off the 38 at 1:30 a.m. and decided to grab one more at the Blarney Stone. Pulling on a coat, leashing the dog, and stepping out into the stabbing mist, I walked back to the scene of the crime and had a piece of pizza (it might have been called “focaccia”) from John Campbell’s, the fantastic bakery next door to the ‘Stone. This was like nothing you’d see at A16, Flour + Water, or even Pizza Hut. There was turkey or ham in cubes, peppers and onions, maybe. A white sauce and cheese, I want to say. The dog was whimpering, begging for a taste. I can’t recall the details, but the slice (a slab, really) was like a combination of stew and scone, or an upside-down pot pie even — bread-y, bland, and bad, at least as far as pizza goes. Yet held to a different standard — alcohol absorption — it delivered — nearly as well as a corn tortilla with hot sauce and mayo.