Food & Drink

H.L. Mencken and Charles Bukowski offer their own (differing) rules for drinking



You'd be challenged to find two literary figures more different than H.L. Mencken and Charles Bukowski. Mencken was a journalist, editor, author, and philologist based in Baltimore in the first part of the 20th century; Bukowski was a poet and novelist based in Los Angeles in the latter half of the 20th century. Mencken's prose was littered with silver-dollar words; Bukowski wrote in the profane language of the street. Mencken lived a comfortable life of bourgeois respectability; Bukowski eked out a living in working-class jobs, staying in cheap apartments. But both men loved drinking and defended their right to do so. Mencken called the cocktail "the greatest of all contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of humanity." Bukowski praised the relief drinking brought, writing "When you drank, the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn't have you by the throat."

Mencken even went so far as to offer rules for drinking. The man who once wrote a piece called "How to Drink Like a Gentleman" furnished these guidelines (paraphrased) for tipplers:

The rules are simple as mud.

1. Never drink if you've got any work to do. Never.

2. Never drink alone. That's the way to become a drunkard.

3. Even if you haven't got any work to do, never drink while the sun is shining. Wait until it's dark. By that time you're near enough to bed to recover quickly.

It's unknown if Bukowski was aware of Mencken's rules, but he offered something very similar in his novel Women, presented here in similar form, as if in reply to the Sage of Baltimore.

1. If something bad happens, drink in an attempt to forget.

2. If something good happens, drink in order to celebrate.

3. And if nothing happens, drink, to make something happen.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.