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Intoxicating Politics

A new drinking club brings liberals together.

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"Jon Stewart is the most powerful liberal in America, and there's nothing Washington can do to stop it!" shouts Zach Whitten, pounding his fist on a table at Celtic Crossing, the new Irish pub in Cooper-Young.

The young, curly-haired man is seated with about 10 others in the bar's back room. The room is usually reserved for nonsmokers, but on Thursday nights, a different crowd gathers here: the new drinking club for Democrats, Drinking Liberally.

Everyone laughs at Whitten's comment. Then someone brings up Air America Radio, and soon Whitten & Co. are deep in conversation.

"Those people probably wouldn't normally just start talking to one another in a bar," says the club's co-founder Sarah Rutledge during its second meeting. "That's what this is all about."

The social drinking club for left-wingers was started in New York in May 2003 by friends Justin Krebs and Matthew O'Neill as a way to offer Dems support and a place to strategize. But mainly it was formed to give Democrats a place to discuss politics over a few beers and meet some like-minded people. As their Web site states, "You don't need to be a policy expert and this isn't a book club -- just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustrations, and hang out."

Rutledge and her husband Brandon Fischer started the local chapter of Drinking Liberally about a month ago. Rutledge had run across something about the national group on the Internet and felt Memphis could use its own chapter, one of around 60 nationwide.

"Our point is not to take action or organize rallies," Rutledge says. "This is just a place to discuss politics in an anxiety-free environment."

In their first week, discussion topics included Harold Ford Jr., gay adoption, the city's lax park maintenance, and why people should scoop their dog's poop.

"I actually started scooping!" one guy exclaims.

At the second meeting, there's less politicizing and more socializing, although Ralph Nader comes up as do questions over third-party voting. There's also some talk about the rumor that Christopher Walken may run for president and why Oprah would be a good candidate.

Some chapters are more structured than others. One in Washington, D.C., hosts a speaker each week, and while Rutledge hopes to have some local politicians join in, she says she won't push the group to have any certain structure.

"If someone shows up and doesn't want to discuss politics but wants to talk about the latest style of blue jeans, they'll still be hanging out with people who share their ideals, even if we're not directly discussing them," Rutledge says.

With a name like Drinking Liberally, one might expect the night to result in some drunk Democrats and heated discussions. So far, no one's gotten out of hand.

"After a cocktail or a beer, you really open up," Ray Rico says, as he sips his drink.

The national group's site even has a "Guide to Politically Correct Drinking" that outlines which companies have donated to Republican causes and which ones support the Democratic way. For instance, did you know Bacardi is a contributor to Tom DeLay's political action committee? Or that V&S Spirits, the makers of Absolut Vodka, tend to be progressive in their views?

In any case, Rutledge finds the guide overwhelming so she doesn't use it. Most of the people at this meeting are drinking pints of Blue Moon or Guinness, while a couple others sip vodka tonics.

She picked Celtic Crossing because it serves pitchers of beer but isn't a dive. "I was looking for convenience and something comfortable," she says. "But it had to be nice enough for people in Germantown. I don't want to drag them to some ill-repaired corner on Madison.

"Memphis is so isolated. It's a strange social environment, and I want this club to offer a way for people to meet people from all over the city," Rutledge says. "People may be from different neighborhoods, but we share the same beliefs. Here we can get together and talk about them."

www.DrinkingLiberally.org

Drinking Liberally

meets every Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Celtic Crossing (903 S. Cooper)

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