Secret Societies Slosh About on the Quiet

Mum's the word in drinking clubs spanning centuries


It’s no secret that there are lots of secrets in our nation. Secret recipes, secret ingredients and secret sauces abound. So, it may come as no surprise that there are secret drinking societies. This isn’t a recent phenomenon; there have been drinking societies for thousands of years.

In the waning days of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra took her place as the last pharaoh. In addition to possessing incredible beauty, she spoke nearly a dozen languages and was a student of math, philosophy and astronomy. She and her lover, Roman general Mark Antony, founded a secret drinking club called “Inimitable Livers.” The club, which turned out to be not-so-secret, was said to merely be an excuse to drink and feast together with abandon.

Moving forward in history to the California Gold Rush, scene of the formation of E Clampus Vitus, or Clampers. Miners flooding the area sought entry into secret societies like the Freemasons but learned they weren’t welcome. To thumb their noses at the uppity Masons, they formed their own group. As the glory days of the Gold Rush ended, so did the Clampers. In the 1930s, the society was “revivified” by a group of academics. Today, nearly 40 chapters persist, each living by the motto, “It is absurd; therefore, I believe it.” They’re known for placing plaques at odd, and sometimes dubious, historical sites. They refer to themselves as a historical drinking society.

College campuses have historically been bastions of hard partying and heavy drinking. Even as frat parties rage every weekend, secret drinking societies conduct their own excessive rituals. One of the most notorious is Princeton’s “21 Club.” An offshoot of the university’s dining clubs, 21 is said to have an initiation that requires prospects to drink 21 beers in just 42 minutes. Every year, the club invites only 21 new members from Princeton’s undergraduate junior class. Said to have been in existence for at least 70 years, alumni of 21 include James Baker and Donald Rumsfeld.

The Buffalo Club is a worldwide group that exists for no apparent purpose other than to provide an excuse to drink. The catch? Members must commit to a lifetime of drinking alcohol with only their left hand. It’s said this is due to Old West gunslingers, who’d hold their drinks in their left hands, to keep the right free for shooting. Fast-forward to today: They say it’s to keep one hand dry, to be able to shake hands without offending. Like most secret societies, members cannot simply join—they must be invited by a member in good standing. Initiation rituals vary by chapter, but one constant is that any member witnessing another member drinking alcohol from his or her right hand may say “Buffalo” to the offender, who must then chug the rest of the drink–using their left hand, of course.

There are many more drinking clubs in the world we know nothing about because, well, they’re secret. Inspires me to form a secret club for Pint-Sized readers–or did I already do that? I’d tell you, but it’s a secret.

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