In Praise of Airport Drinking
by Ruth Spivey | 05-07-2022 | 5 Comments
I love airports. Despite the tedious queues and necessary security measures, when it comes to alcohol consumption, you are in highly permissive and democratic territory.
Gatwick : South Terminal : 0700
I’m going to Greece.
I was at a wine dinner last night and escaped with no hangover, so hair of the dog isn’t required this morning. If it was however, I’m ideally placed, sat next to two indoor pubs packed to the rafters. Now, I know all pubs are indoors, but those are referred to as “pubs”. Pubs in airports are “indoor pubs”. In case the first door you came through didn’t make it clear, you’re already very much indoors and then you go indoors again. It’s like you’re on the set of a bad daytime soap.
The 7am pints and fishbowl G&Ts are in full swing. Despite the liquidity of the scene, it’s difficult to tell if anyone is having any fun. Several couples look as if they haven’t spoken for 15 years. Why do these people travel together? Solo travellers are locked in thousand-yard stares and, of course, there’s a group of ‘lads, lads, lads’. Everyone’s knackered and should be drinking coffee but when has common sense ever stopped anyone from having a proper drink instead?
Never. And certainly not in an airport.
In an airport you can drink what you want, when you want and absolutely no-one bats an eyelid. Zero judgement. Zero guilt. It’s as if to say Champagne at dawn is the only rational option in an irrational world. The definition of “vacation” really should be “drinking freely at socially unacceptable hours”.
And when does vacation start? At The Airport.
Whoever your inner boozehound is, it can live freely at The Airport, the spiritual home of any keen drinker, an Ethanol Mecca. It’s a safe space for all faiths: the breakfast boozer, dedicated day-drinker, champagne socialist or slutty cocktail fanatic. Green light, DO pass go and collect 200 units.
You don’t even have to be sat at a table. It starts when you walk through Duty Free. Sample of Bailey’s at 8am? Don’t mind if I do.
And this is perfectly reasonable behaviour because Time does not exist in airports despite time passing. Until, that is, you hear your name over the loudspeaker because you’re still in the indoor pub, at which point Time becomes a very real and pressing concept once again. Those people who quip ‘it’s 6pm somewhere!’ every time they have a drink before 6pm must spontaneously combust when faced with the concept of Time in an airport. Either that or they’re in their element.
The urge and enthusiasm to drink things you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole in real life is yet another reason to love The Airport. Unless you’re in Heathrow T5 where this month you’ll find yourself faced with Diageo’s “immersive alcohol-free experiential space” called Lounge 0.0%.
My theory is that the classier drinker you are outside airports, the more basic and gung-ho you are inside.
Take the wine trade. Fussy and pedantic, never seen without a grand cru this or cult natural unicorn that. Well, that all goes out of the window the minute we step inside an airport.
Is it temporary relief from dick-swinging drinking or – worryingly – is the ‘airport us’ the real us? It’s also suddenly fine to proudly post whatever nefarious thing you’re imbibing on social media, an act you wouldn’t dream of doing with your secret Bacardi Breezer fix back in real life. The trick here is simply to geotag all your unacceptable drinking as ‘Heathrow’, even if it’s Stanstead and especially if it’s Luton. Sit back and watch the likes roll in.
A hedonistic town planner must have designed the beverage offer in airports because, quite thoughtfully, there’s something for everyone. It’s truly democratic in a way the outside world is not.
For those of us desperate to elevate any occasion no matter how futile (hi there) there’s the pretentious Champagne & Caviar Bar for Social Climbers. Doughnut shaped, they’re invariably located right in the middle, like an island of aspiration, allowing our gastronomic superiority to be highly visible whilst offering a 360-degree opportunity to look down on everyone else. Until you realize they’re all looking at you perched on a horrible stool, with an equal level of disgust.
It’s dreadful, but the doughnut Champagne bar appeal is clearer than Cristal when the other options are indoor pub, chemical sandwich or sushi of dubious sell by date.
Although, who is having the last laugh when you’re drinking bulk Brut by a repellent brand out of an obnoxious flute and getting rinsed by 5000% mark up on unethical salmon and ‘chaviar’?
I have to admit, the last time I flew out of Gatwick I made a beeline for some of this nonsense. I had a hangover and for all its naffness, Aspirational Island is a calm place to sit. A busy indoor pub with sticky tables and flashing fruit machines would have broken me.
I was dismayed to discover it was now called Prosecco & Salmon, not Champagne & Caviar. To make matters worse, it was closed. In hindsight, given the change of concept I might have dodged a bullet.
Airport drinking on the return leg is the same but different.
Here you find yourself in an even more alternative reality – different money, different time zone, different language, with the added malaise of going back to work. Everything aligns to create an existential opportunity of anything goes at grand proportions. The last hurrah, within the boundaries of an indoor pub, of course, as no matter where in the world The Airport is, there will be an indoor pub.
Upon hearing your name being shouted down the loudspeaker, you realise reality is imminent. Decant that fishbowl of triple strength G&T into a plastic pint glass and leg it to the gate taking the last gasps of vacation with you.*
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* True story
“Let’s Gooooo” photo by @danwarham
‘Chav’ – cashed-up bogan, those of preposterous class aspirations ie The Kardashians
‘fruit machine’ – Slot machines found in old-school drinkers’ pubs