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Binge drinking, big fighting 

Halifax drinkers get drunk and fight too much now. Not like the 1980s...

We think we partied hard in the ’80s in Halifax bars, but recent events at major liquor establishments have us old-timers wondering if we were wimps.

We lined up at the Misty Moon and (gag) Secretary’s. We chugged down mini-drafts at Alexander’s and Bleachers during beat-the-clock pricing (40 cents at 4pm, 50 cents at 5pm etc. until mass vomiting ensued). We lined up at Brandy’s or Thackeray’s, then danced drunk until we stumbled out at 2am and wobbled home.

Twenty-five years later, reports roll in of blocks knocked onto the block by bouncers, or “old-Western-style” barroom brawls with scores of arrests in the wake. Something has changed. There was less fighting in my early drinking days, although ’80s bar/restaurant manager Chris Makin saw a few.

“Bad behaviour was always an issue,” remembers Makin, who did time on the scene managing bars before moving to other booze roles. He now pours at Saege Bistro.

“The classic example was Misty Moon, especially when it was on Gottingen Street,” remembers Makin. “Stabbings in washrooms, fights outside, aggressive doormen. Bouncers have been tossing patrons through doors, windows, etc. for a long time.”

So what changed? Binge drinking isn’t new. Haligonian bartenders (surveyed anonymously for job-security reasons) have theories. Bar booze is generally more expensive now, so the young crowd drinks at home and heads out later, already primed for action. Another theory surrounds X. No, not the awesome ’80s LA Punk band, but ecstasy. One staff member notes, “kids are doing X and staying out until the early hours---there are a number of after-hour dance clubs in town that cater to the party-all-night crowd.”

This theory looks like bunk to young X fans since X is a “let’s hug and kiss” drug, not a “let’s yell and fight” enhancer. But maybe it explains a kind of mob mentality that we didn’t experience in the ’80s. Does a dancing gang of partiers on X change from “peaceful and friendly” to “let’s gang up on authority figures” when things turn bad?

Technology, like text messaging, plays a role, too.

“Everybody knows where the action is,” commented one source. “Texting is the main social discourse and it’s easy to move around downtown (or even within a crowded club) as a group or meet up with others. This would seem to foster a group or gang mentality when partying.”

Hmm...I actually thought young people today were more sophisticated in their drinking habits than we were. There are exponentially more young people sipping wine with meals than in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Are these the same people doing buck-a-shot nights and scrapping?

Makin says, “The university students who work at Saege have a far better knowledge of wine than I ever did at their age, but when they go out on the town---they are looking for a good time and wine isn’t their drink of choice.” He has a theory on the core problem: that the reputation, promotion even, of Halifax’s downtown core as a drinking destination, has not encouraged a more spread-out scene, with neighbourhood pubs and eateries. This type of licensee---the local, been-there-forever place, where everyone knows your name---might be more conducive to responsible enjoyment of alcohol.

“People tell me that zoning regulations and noise abatement laws make it virtually impossible to open a liquor establishment outside of the downtown area,” explains Makin. “Downtown is basically a mosh pit of alcohol and the city has helped create a situation it cannot control.”

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