While all permanent Antarctic bases have a pub, the bases are scattered across the continent which is roughly the size of the lower 48 United States. Thus it may seem that a pub crawl is not possible in Antarctica without the use of helicopters, jet aircraft, snowmobiles, and ice axes.
Au contraire mon petit.
In the tradition of the great explorers, every day in Antarctica is an Irish funeral, the Feast of San Gennaro, Bastille Day, or any other international excuse to blotto one's self to stupidity. The great 19th and 20th century Antarctic explorers were typically navy men who knew they would spend up to three years eating nothing but penguins and seal blubber in the company of likewise gristled males. There was a strict caste system and no comforts. Death was likely, and there is a classic advertisement in which the great Sir Ernest Shackelton trolls for crewmembers for the voyage of the Endurance, describes the hardships and great dangers likely to befall any crewmember, promises lousy pay, and ends his ad with "Safe Return Doubtful".
Of course, he couldn't hold back the flood of applicants.
But one presumes with a 21st century mind the only diversions from suicidal ennui for these hearty explorers were drunkenness and frequent masturbation, and an occasional homosexual encounter. These stalwart traditions live on in the modern Antarctic program, and with the welcome addition of a nearly equal ratio of the sexes on the ice, getting laid in Antarctica has never been easier (unless you're a geek, in which case even close quarters, no escape, and co-ed sleeping arrangements with attractive people won't help). See: Antarctic sex. Though I digress...
A pub crawl between the bars at McMurdo Station and the pub at the New Zealand Scott Base is entirely within the possibility of any United States Antarctic Program participant who can remember how to walk. Let's see what's in store for the intrepid explorer with a desire to get shit faced.
Southern Exposure : United States Ten paces from Gallager's, this is the so-called smoking bar, so-called because it is indeed filled with smoke. It is the only place you can smoke on the US-inhabited portions of the continent without having to petition the United Nations for an amendment to the International Antarctic Treaty. Here is where people smoke with an intensity usually reserved for those fleeing bullets or rabid Bengal Tigers. The charm and decor are classic 1960's Madison, Wisconsin trailer park, similar to Gallagers in size and layout except for the occasional horking up of phlegm. One increases their chance of incurable carcinomas by walking inside to see if Bob is there. An iron lung is required for those people trapped inside during a Condition One lockdown. You should drink heavily while you're here so you can forget how horrible it's going to be to wither and eventually croak from metastasized cancer cells invading your precious bodily organs.
The Coffee House : United States Two hundred yards from Southern Exposure and across from the 209 Dorm is The Coffee House. This is a "T" shaped quonset hut which used to be the officer's club when the US Air Force and Navy used to command McMurdo Station. The ceiling is about 8' at the center of the rounded arc, and the walls are covered in tongue and groove hardwood. There are old sledges and skis on the walls. An electric fireplace casts an orangy glow across from two worn sofas that look like they came from the common room in a dorm in New Jersey. There are 10 base-T network connections here, so you can plug in your laptop and send e-mail to your friends proclaiming, "I'm in Antarctica and I can barely remember my name."
- Scott Base: New Zealand
- Though access to the gift shop is always possible, foreigners are generally not welcome on Scott Base without an invitation. This is especially true of the Kiwis' ill-mannered American neighbors. Take one step onto Scott Base and you'll see why. Compared to the filth of McMurdo Station, Scott Base is a palace. It's small, and staffed by only 50 people year round. The entire complex is carpeted. People take their shoes off before entering. Imagine: walking around Antarctic in stocking feet.
The pub at Scott Base is small, bright, and well appointed. There are sofas and nice Ikea coffee tables. Relics from Douglas Mawson's expeditions hang on the painted, plasterboard walls. Capacity is probably close to 50 people. The ambiance is one of a living room in a friend's house: one with the most spectacular view in the world. Unlike the American Antarctic bars which are windowless, The Royal Society Range, Mt. Discovery, and McMurdo Sound are all visible out the windows of the pub. Wearing a hat is forbidden and being caught with one will require you to buy a round for the house, though this is a great way to make friends. The bartenders are themselves scientists and support workers so asking them to serve up something complicated will get you tossed onto the ice. If you like playing pool, there's a slightly undersized table there. The lesson of pool playing is: be good. They do nothing but play pool on their off hours. If you gamble, you will lose. They know which directions the balls roll and you don't.
You are free to get as drunk as you like, but puking on the carpet will require a letter of apology between the president, king, or grand Vizeer of your country and the prime minister of New Zealand, so just don't. Fighting will get you packed in a polycarbonate box and shipped back to Christchurch, and propositioning someone will get you laid. Take your pick.
- Gallager's : United States
Five miles from Scott Base at McMurdo Station, Gallager's is the primary non-smoking bar on McMurdo Station. It is modeled after a mid-western gin-mill with the difference that most of the clientele summitted Mt. Everest before they were 30. The rest settled for trekking Annapurna in mid-winter. It's dimly lit and furnished in 60's era linoleum and aluminum tables, folding chairs, and the spine-tingling perfidy of melmac. There are neon signs advertising Bud and Speight's beer on the wall. Maximum occupancy is probably between 150 and 200 very tightly packed people. There's a well-used dart board in the corner. One expects a motorcycle gang to burst in at any moment and start wasting geeks, so there is always an undercurrent running with the tension of potential violence and sex. On disco night, the geeks dance which is as terrifying to witness as a Zulu war charge.
The bartenders are likely to be the same people who put gas in your helicopters (fuelies) or bus tables in the 155 galley. Ask for something simple, like a shot of Jack and a Bass Ale, or get your throat torn out by the woman who just had a bad day scraping dried excrement from the toilets in Crary Lab. There are no beer kegs in Antarctica, so all beer comes from bottles. You can get mixed drinks at Gallager's, but your selection is limited to the skill of the mixologist on duty when you order. Be polite. Everyone has had a hard day. When in Gallager's it's best to pretend you're in a Ridley Scott movie and could at any moment be eviscerated by robots. This will keep you behaving correctly.
They do play loud music at Gallager's, though you don't get to choose the selection. Strange as it may be, many of the women on base actually know how to dance, and you may be invited to do so. There are pool tables and you can be propositioned by men and women who like to sleep with geeks.
As with the Kiwi base, fighting is prohibited. You'll have to take it outside to a parking lot in Christchurch. Besides, you don't want to fight these people. They've all been knighted by the British Empire, or have met the Dalai Lama, have skied Mt. Erebus or have crossed the African continent on foot in summer. Whatever you have done, they have done more and were covered by a National Geographic camera crew while doing it.
Gallager's is named after a navy worker who was killed on the job at McMurdo Station. People who don't want to die in Antarctica are often heard to proclaim they don't want a bar named after them.
In addition to coffee, lattes, cappucino, whatever, they pour wine here. Here is where you can get wasted on a fine Australian Shiraz while regaling your friends about your narrow escape from a ravenous leopard seal. Here is where you quietly ask someone to sleep with you rather than asking to trade their clothes for beer (which is how they do it in other bars). Conversations here are muted. You are liable to hear Dave Grusin on the stereo.
In the short part of the "T" there is a movie theater where they play whatever DVD or VHS features people have brought with them to the ice. Typical titles would be The Princess Bride or When Harry Met Sally.
After you have numbed your sensibilities on Cabernet and PG-13 movies and your eyes are dangling from their orbits by the optic nerves, you can take solace in the fact Gallagers and a proper mental destruction are only 200 yards away.
Bars at McMurdo station close at 11:00PM on work nights, which are all nights except Saturday. On Saturday the bars close at 1:00AM. After that, revelers and those requiring sex scatter to a variety of dorm lounges, ice huts, boiler rooms, utility tool sheds, broom closets, saunas, and dorm rooms to continue the partying. As the sun is always up, the partying can be eternal.