Bringing Alcohol to Conventions

Several people have asked me about drinking at conventions. Apparently, I have some sort of reputation for being a, uh, who the fuck am I kidding? I have a Twitter account for drunk-me, @NightMacklin[1]. I have a giant flask that’s bigger that your head, which holds 64 ounces of bourbon (however that’s expensive to fill and heavy, so I only fill it to the 50 oz point. SUE ME.) And I’ve been known to walk around conventions, like some sort of Alpine Saint Bernard, hooking those in need up.

But to quote the venerable Walter Sobchak, “This is not ‘Nam. There are rules.” Gen Con is coming up, so I’ll talk that specific, but many of these things apply in general. Today, we’ll talk about bringing your own booze to the show.[2]

Know The Convention Rules on Alcohol

Before you go swinging around booze like it’s the day before Prohibition, find out how kosher that is. What we’re talking about are rules and laws regarding open containers. Conventions often have some sort of rule about this, either their own or inherited from the convention center or hotel[3] they’re held at.

Do a little effort to find out how cool that is. For instance, having an open container and bringing it non-convention center food & drink are apparently not kosher, according to this forum post (and we all know how reliable forums are):


Not that I’m surprised. I found this by doing a quick google search on “site:gencon.com alcohol”. The only pages that came up where in the forums, and not in the other information. But really, the rules are more complicated. After all, if they weren’t, White Wolf wouldn’t have been able to do their bar in the dealer’s hall last year.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between having a cover-your-ass policy and enforcing it. Some people won’t care as long as you’re not a jerk or in-your-face. Others are hardcore about enforcing every rule in the book. If you decided to break an alcohol rule (or, really, any rule) and get called on it, be cool. Put it away. There’s always time later to get your drink on. And it’s not worth you getting ejected from the convention. Do you really want your convention story when you get back home to be “yeah, I decided to argue about how I had a constitutional right to this bottle of Captain Morgan and they kicked me out?

Frankly, that’s a better story for what happened to your character than to you. Here are some other ways to keep you in the good.

Follow-up: Check out this post that briefly goes over some of the legalese of Indiana state law. It also talks about how you shouldn’t fornicate with corpses, so it’s pretty good advice.

Don’t Be a Dick

Wheaton’s Law applies strongly here.

Not Being a Dick During a Game

When I do drink at a game, I limit it to one shot, one I sip. The point isn’t to get drunk, but to enjoy a moment in time where I’m engaging in my beloved hobby while also enjoying an adult beverage.[4] But before I do, I ask two things:

  • “Hey, does anyone mind if I do?”
  • “Would anyone also care for some?”

I don’t ask when I don’t know other folks at the table, because I don’t want to put people in an awkward position. It’s only when I feel like the answer will be “totally cool” when I bother to bring it up. Use your inherent social gauge for if it’s cool or not.

And when you offer, pour for those who accepted before you pour your own. Again, this is not Walter’s ‘Nam.

Not Being a Dick in the Dealers’ Hall

Offer to people you know, and if you’re in a situation where they’re around others, offer to them as well. Take quick pulls from a flask or bottle; don’t make a big deal with as you’re walking around the convention hall.

Not Being a Dick in General

You might be around alcoholics and not know it, or around people for whom alcohol is a bad memory trigger. Shit happens. Respect that. Be magnanimous. Discretion is the better part of valor, they say.

Don’t offer to minors. I know, I know, but I gotta say it.

Offer once, but don’t be pushy. If people say no, respect that. I violate this rule with friends sometimes, but that leads to the next bit…

Know Your Limitations

And here’s where we heed the words of Saint Callahan: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” This comes in two forms: knowing your body’s limits on consumption, and knowing your social limits. Some people can walk around the convention with a few bottles of booze on them without blinking an eye because that’s their function in their social circle. Others would look stupid, like they’re just drunks in constant need of a fix. (Some would argue that these are the same person. Whatevs. :)

Don’t get tipsy or drunk, especially during a game when people are relying in you to actually engage with others. Don’t be pushy or awkward about having it on you.

Use good judgement on when it’s cool to throw back. And if you don’t have a good sense of social cues, just don’t fucking do it.

It boils down to this: Don’t be a guy that causes concern.

Be Amusing

The best way to get out of an awkward social situation you’ve created, beyond just walking away, is to make a joke about it. Look at what’s engraved on my flask pictured above. People might not want to drink from it, but I get chuckles when they see it. It goes a long way to making me not look like a dick when I take a quick pull in front of them.

When In Doubt, Remember: After Hours

What I’m talking about is how to do the open container thing during a convention hall’s hours and at sanctioned events. Remember that there’s another time that’s more or less designed for this: after hours parties. Hotel lobbies, bars (though don’t flaunt your own stash there), suite parties, private games, things like that are great for drinking.

Final Word: The Litmus Test

If you think you’re pushing it, you are.

If someone else thinks you’re pushing it, you are.

If you’re pushing it, back the fuck up. Slow your roll, son.


Keep all this in mind, and people will not give you shit for carrying a small bar in your shoulder bag. (That said, it’s damned heavy. Stick to a small flask if you have back problems. I’m not kidding.)


Edit: A year later, I recorded a bit on packing alcohol for flying:

– Ryan

[1] True story: I was told if I didn’t make it, it would be made on my behalf. And I wouldn’t know the password.

[2] A friend said of this post: “That’s possibly the thing you’re most qualified to write about.” Wow.

[3] To be fair, hotel lobbies are hives of scum and villainy. You won’t get busted for an open container inside, especially one with a hotel bar. Being disorderly, however, that’s no good.

[4] Admit, you thought I was going to finish that sentence with “…while playing a game.”


2 Responses to Bringing Alcohol to Conventions

  1. Jason Pitre says:

    Thank you very much for your words of drunken wisdom. Are the embassy suites in the evenings possessing a decent bar and/or is it reasonable to share ones own stash there?

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Several folks, including me, have done so. We just don’t do it right at the bar. Plenty of seats away from the bar where people don’t care.

      – Ryan