Around midnight last Saturday, I found myself shotgunning a beer on a gorgeous lawn in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounded by boys wearing pink shorts and Croakies. I would like to say that this was an unusual occurrence, but in the few minutes prior, I had already shotgunned a beer. And then another. And then another.
And though I had never been to Charlottesville before, this was far from a foreign experience. Before I was tasked with what I do now—I have the incredibly important job of reporting on parties for bespoke briefcases at boutiques in Soho and art fairs where models take selfies at the Gagosian booth—I went to Duke, in Durham, North Carolina. I spent four years drinking rose on golf club terraces in a seersucker jacket by day, and funneling Busch Light in a seersucker jacket by night. I shouldn’t have to explain to you why Duke is more southern than pimento cheese on fried green tomatoes. But by way of explanation, let’s go to the Duke Chapel, the centerpiece of campus, and revisit the statue of James Buchanan Duke, who is shown smoking a cigar. It’s the only statue of someone smoking in the world.
So I knew what I was getting myself into when I split the city for the south last weekend, to attend my brother’s graduation from the University of Virginia. Perhaps you went to school up north and had to drink half a handle just to brave the cold, or out west, where you were literally stoned for every waking moment of your four years. But in the south, there is a sense of decorum that pervades all the typical college shenanigans. Sure, you might be blacking out in pants that have tiny martini glasses all over them, but you’re doing so with pride and conviction. Your tenth cigarette in as many minutes is a product of this land’s tobacco fields. There’s the blood of a civil war on the ground that you’ve passed out on at 3:00pm after drinking since 7:00am. God, the history here! Have you ever looked out on a beautiful campus in the south and saw the Confederate Army charging the Union line? If so, you are probably using highly potent hallucinogenic drugs. While wearing a bowtie. Nice work.
But partying at a southern college is a nuanced, multi-layered thing. Here’s a few different ways to get wrecked on a southern campus while maintaining your reputation as a gentleman in three different shades of pastel.
ONE: THE GARDEN PARTY
One of the rich scions of the family that founded my school donated a small fraction of her giant wealth to create acres and acres of gardens, the rolling fauna dotted with stately gazebos and pretty birds, directly adjacent to the stone glory of Duke’s campus. It’s an excellent place to slam like 20 beers, yell inappropriate things while children are within earshot, and then promptly fall asleep in the sun.
Things weren’t quite as out of control at the garden party last weekend in Charlottesville. Mostly, that soiree, which took place behind the lovely stretch of land referred to as The Lawn, consisted of keeping straight the different blond girls with hyphenated names and crushing it at cornhole. White wine is acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, as you will not be drinking any of that stuff once the sun goes down. White wine: only for lunch and summer. I was wearing pink pants and a canary-yellow linen jacket, and this was an understated look, given my fellow garden party attendees. Garden parties in the south are really, really awesome.
TWO: THE LAWN AND THE BARS
As Thomas Jefferson said of the University of Virginia, “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, and after its students get blacked the fuck out during the day, they nap and rally.” Put away the Croakies and the Nantucket Reds, it’s time to do it again, but at night. A typical night out at my highly regarded bastion of academic discourse consisted of blasting music in a dorm room, shooting liquor until you can’t spell your own name, and then going out.
At Virginia, things are just a wee bit classier. Instead of some boxy piece of shit high rise that houses budding great minds, UVA has The Lawn, a glorious stretch of pristine grass lined on both sides by a series of one-bedroom, one-story rooms, all designed by President Jefferson himself. The rotunda was peaking out above the Palladian architecture as I walked up to the Lawn Saturday night with my three brothers, smokes in hand, and then we witnessed the bowtie-clad masses spilling out of each room, sounds of various EDM tracks intermingling as we walked among the revelry. Then I shotgunned four beers, as mentioned earlier, and proceeded to the bars. The main location of bad decisions at my school was called Shooters, which is an appropriate name for that kind of dive. “Shooters” as a name is applicable many times over. At Virginia, the place to mop up at closing time is called The Trinity, despite the fact it has absolutely nothing to do with the father, the son, or the holy spirit. The kids call it “The Trin.”
Or maybe it’s an appropriate enough name, given that we arrived on a Sunday morning. There was even an altar of sorts—the large DJ platform on the second floor, where the girls bopping to “Turn Down For What” made the floor shake. Then we got a ton of dumplings and my brothers dragged me away from a very nice girl I was chatting to, though I can’t recall what she looks like. I was later informed she was 18.
THREE: PRE-CEREMONY SUNRISE DRINKING
Because you certainly can’t go through a major life milestone without a serious buzz on, the entire class turned up at The Biltmore — “The Bilt” — at 6:00in the morning before walking in their graduation ceremonies. This is a very intelligent move. When I graduated, I arrived to my ceremony late, saw a bunch of my colleagues drinking beers that they most certainly would not share, and cursed myself for forgetting to bring my own. I had learned nothing in four years. So, to remedy that, I drank a pitcher of mimosas with my brother before he walked in those hilarious robes. A march back to campus began at 9:00, at which point rooms on The Lawn once again came stuffed with coolers full of Keystone. And I looked around at the kids in fat ties and red pants clutching cans of terrible light beer, and it ‘twas glorious.
Short of the long, the utter classiness of southern universities allows you to partake in highly questionable activities and brave, extended feats of boozing that otherwise would be considered degenerate. After returning to New York, pastels wedged safely back in my suitcase, I went to a dinner in the West Village, in a multi-story townhouse that serves as the headquarters for Magnises, a company that offers a sort-of “black card” for the young and not-super-rich. After some cocktail conversation, I discovered that another guest was also in Charlottesville for graduation.
“We could have met,” I said to him.
“We probably did meet!” he said. “ I can’t remember a thing.”