Arranging the Ultimate At-Home Happy Hour
A guide to apps, alcohol, and entertainment
In perhaps the textbook example of rock 'n' roll redundancy, Destroyers frontman George Thorogood declared that when he drinks alone, he prefers to be by himself. (And to clarify, by "alone" he means "with nobody else").
With social distancing our new status quo, solitary imbibement doesn't carry the same roguishness in 2020 that it did in 1985. But just because our favorite weekend (or weeknight) watering holes are closed doesn't mean we all have to drink alone. Video conferencing apps have ushered in the era of the "virtual" or "at-home" happy hour (what the Japanese refer to as on-nomi) — wherein we can still see our friends' faces, hear their voices, and laugh at them (or with them) accordingly — all from the safety of our own homes. So raise a glass in open rebellion, all you shut-ins, and give COVID-19 a party it can't poop.
Here's a step-by-step guide to making your virtual happy hour happen.
1. Make sure you have a webcam, microphone, and an Internet connection
Sure, there are those out there still basking in the glow of their vintage cathode ray tube monitors, lying atop their dragon hoards of American Online trial CD-ROMs and waiting for their moms to hang up the phone. However, the overwhelming majority of modern adults have a webcam and internal microphone built into their computing set-ups and access to a high-speed wireless connection at home.
If you are unsure that you are in possession of any of the above, open Device Manager (Windows 10) or Finder (Mac) to determine if your machine knows something you don't know. Or, alternatively, use the smartphone that's already in your thoroughly washed hands.
2. Download a video conferencing app
Forget what you've heard about mixing business with pleasure — the same video conferencing apps you've been using to hide from your boss in pajamas can be used to visually interface with friends (hopefully you're properly dressed by now).
If you have a Gmail account, then you have Google Meets (under the "Google Apps" menu in the top right of your browser window) and engage up to 10 other Gmail users in a video conference — just share the link (note that they must be Gmail users).
If you spring for a G Suite account (the basic tier is $6 per user), then you can invite up to 250 others (Gmail users or no) into your virtual happy hour for a genuine Thanksgiving Eve-style experience. After July 1, G Suite Basic subscribers will be capped at 100 invitees. For most of us over 30, though, 10 is more than enough to accommodate our entire social circle.
Another popular choice among remote revelers, Zoom allows for up to 100 participants to join in a video conference with the free version — with one caveat. Crowds of three or more are limited to video calls of 40 minutes (which means you'll have to start a new call when time expires). Parties of two, however, can stare at one another in awkward silence as long as they like. Only the virtual happy hour host needs to register for an account — all others simply need to download the app.
This old standby features live captions and subtitles, as well as the option to record, save, and share video calls (between up to 50 participants) — making it a top choice for blackmailers. Note that all invitees must have a Skype account and the Skype software prior to joining the virtual happy hour.
Both versatile and widely adopted (2 billion users), WhatsApp is a more evolved cousin to Facebook Messenger. When syncing to your contacts list, it will automatically sort out who has the app and who doesn't (making it easy to send invites so everyone can get on board). Be aware that there is a limit of four participants per video call, so you may want to reserve those precious slots for besties only.
3. Set a time (and theme, if desired)
Regardless of what video conferencing platform you choose, your virtual happy hour will need to commence at a mutually agreed-upon time, with necessary allowances for test runs and troubleshooting with the software of destiny. You might also consider a theme involving a specific activity, beverage category, or dress code (perhaps a Tiger King-themed affair with mullet wigs and White Claws?) Don't worry about looking silly — none of this leaves your houses until quarantine is over.
4. Procure your beverages
Of course, once you've got all the details hammered out, you'll need the goods. Fortunately, beer, wine, and liquor are all still readily obtainable, albeit to different degrees as prescribed by Pennsylvania law.
Perhaps the easiest to obtain, due to the fact beer is purchasable from grocery stores, which are firmly in the "essential business" category. Most area restaurants and bars are offering six-packs to go along with their carryout meal options. Local microbreweries are offering crowler (i.e. on-demand cans) and growler (unused only) fills to-go, along with their usual selections of cans and bottles. Each one of them is highly eager for and appreciative of any support.
While not widely offered by area bars and restaurants, wine is also available for pick-up from grocery stores and most Lake Erie Wine Country wineries. For those truly dedicated to lockdown, up to 36 cases of wine (of up to nine liters per case) can be delivered to your doorstep annually by licensed direct wine shippers registered with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB).
Given that all Pennsylvania Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores are closed indefinitely, many may think COVID-19 has cut them off. Not so! A virtual high five goes out to our area microdistilleries, who are both transitioning to hand sanitizer production to aid with supply shortages and offering bottles of their wares to go. As a special bonus for those who buy in bulk (three bottles are more), Luminary Distilling and Erie Distillery are even willing to deliver to you personally (within 10 or five miles, respectively) if you pay in advance. Altered State Distilling, Cart/Horse Distilling, and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing will happily deliver to your car parked outside their doors. Pittsburgh's Wigle Whiskey is selling a variety of stock-up bundles to in-state customers through its online store, ideal for those living in more remote areas of Northwest Pennsylvania.
Let's all pour ourselves a Quarantini in celebration. Or mayhap a Manhattan if you're feeling fancy:
5. Mingle all the way
During your first few virtual happy-hours, you may be able to get by with conversation alone. However, once you're all caught up (e.g. "Floofy only coughed up two hairballs today"), you'll probably crave some form of entertainment to liven things up.
Fortunately, technology hasn't abandoned us in this arena either. The Houseparty app is a video networking app with trivia and other games built right-in. Jackbox Games supplies an array of riotous Party Packs downloadable on all the most popular computing, mobile, and video gaming platforms. If drinking games are your primary pursuit, try Picolo for a truly unpredictable evening (except for the passing out on your couch part).
Low-tech classics like 20 Questions, Two Truths and a Lie, Truth Or Dare, and Never Have I Ever have been an embarrassment of riches for party-goers for decades (or just embarrassment).
Be creative, be resourceful, and be proactive and your social life will be sure to suffer little. Unless, of course, when you drink alone you prefer to be by yourself.
Matt Swanseger is still working through some web camera shyness (but more likely in his pajamas keeping up with his emails at firstname.lastname@example.org).