On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Boss Tweed’s Saloon on the Lower East Side is humid with body heat, and it’s nearly impossible to navigate a path to the bar without spilling someone’s drink. “Living on a Prayer” bursts out of the speakers as people sing along—loudly. Non-neighborhood twenty- and thirtysomethings cluster around tables littered with discarded plastic cups and pizza crusts; many are dressed alike in groups of four. A chant of “Go, go, go, go!” rises up from the back of the bar and culminates in an enormous cheer, complete with hugs and backslaps. I’m at a Flip Cup tournament. And I’m kind of in shock.
Flip Cup, for the uninitiated, is a drinking game designed to get you soused as quickly as possible, frequently employed by college students—except at Boss Tweed’s, of course, where pretty much everyone was over the age of 25. (Though they were indeed getting soused. As quickly as possible.) Surely you remember this: You fill a plastic cup with two or three inches of beer, down it, and then flip the cup over so it lands perfectly upside-down. First team of four to do this in succession wins. And is drunk. And is very happy about it. “I just saw, like, 15 high-fives,” my friend Jill notes with wide eyes, walking the 10 feet back to our table from the bar. The fun started more than an hour ago, and we’re clearly behind in consumption—I desperately want to catch up, as my wallet was stolen the night before at a horrible bar on the Upper East Side (I was in the neighborhood for a dinner party), and I’m beyond pissed about the hoops I’m having to jump through to replace an out-of-state driver’s license. (Fucking lame!) Having ponied up $30 apiece, everyone here is taking full advantage of the unlimited beer—particularly those who’ve already competed. Once you’ve poured Bud Light down your throat amid the shouts of your relay team just an hour after lunchtime, you’re not exactly going to slow up.
If this sounds like an overgrown frat party, that’s because it kind of was. Having attended a Jesuit school in the Midwest, I know Flip Cup all too well. But never had I attended, like, a tournament.
This one was sponsored by the New York City Social Sports Club, one of those organizations that bring together active types for games like soccer and dodgeball (my idea of the seventh circle of hell, in other words). NYCSSC hosts Flip Cup fetes quarterly; this one served as the kick-off to next week’s new season. “Our events benefit various charities throughout the year, and proceeds from this Saturday’s event will be donated to the New York Food Bank,” wrote Amy Short, NYCSSC’s commissioner, in an e-mail the day before the event. “Congress’s delay in passing the Farm Bill has caused a dire shortage of emergency food in the five boroughs, and consequently the Food Bank is in need of donations. We want to help.” Charity is charity, of course, but I didn’t buy that anyone was losing sleep over the Food Bank—until I met Short the next day. She spoke genuinely and articulately about giving back, even amid the chaos of running the show—which, with 32 teams vying for one of the top eight positions, was considerable. I was impressed.
Also impressive, but for different reasons: the players’ dedication to winning. Early in the day, a member of Flip This promised me that his team would be in the finals—”We’re going all the way!”— despite the fact that the fourth member was a no-show; three hours later, he rushed by and excitedly relayed the news that they had indeed made it. (He seemed more surprised than I was.) Crowd favorite Upsilon Alpha Kappa (YAK, as their matching sweatshirts showed) seemed an obvious choice for the championship: I never saw their anchor—who was kind of intense—take an unsuccessful swipe at her cup. There also were, of course, cute girls who took the opportunity to resurrect Slutty Athlete costumes from Halloweens past: short shorts, knee-highs, old-school sneakers, and sweatbands. My favorite team melded a Flip Cup reference with Mean Girls and named themselves the Plastics, dressing in ultra-preppy oxfords and the tiniest pink pleated miniskirts I’d ever seen.
Listen, I know it sounds horrible, but somehow, it wasn’t. As the day progressed, of course, the behavior grew more predictable: I turned into a bit of a Mean Girl myself, snapping photos of a couple who were fighting in the middle of the bar—he was yelling, she was sobbing. A lot of girls had taken advantage of the warm weather and bared their legs (it was January, after all), and were thus bearing the brunt of increasingly sloppy male attention. But for the most part, there weren’t any gross come-ons; everyone was just kind of relaxed and talkative. I can often gauge the friendliness of a crowd by its willingness to share cigs (I “quit smoking” this year, which for now really just means “quit buying”), and at Boss Tweed’s, people actually offered up the last smokes in their packs. For real. That’s friendly.
Will I become an NYCSSC regular? Probably not. Will I take up the club’s inner-tube water polo? Absolutely not. But I did meet some people I’d hang out with again, and I was happily reminded of how much someone can change in five years, even while playing a game that hasn’t. It was a good day.