Blotto Bye-Bye to Booze on the Tube

Revelers, most of whom organized on the Web site Facebook, enjoy their last legal swigs on the Underground. The new mayor, Boris Johnson, enacted the ban.
Revelers, most of whom organized on the Web site Facebook, enjoy their last legal swigs on the Underground. The new mayor, Boris Johnson, enacted the ban. (By Dominic Lipinski -- Associated Press)

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By Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 1, 2008

LONDON, May 31 -- Pete Duffell stood on the subway platform late Saturday, swigging a cold beer and ready to party.

Duffell, 24, a professional scuba diver from Kent, and two buddies -- one with his hair dyed green for the occasion -- hauled three plastic bags filled with beer and wine onto a Circle Line subway train.

At midnight Saturday, drinking on London's Tube would suddenly be banned for the first time in the storied history of the world's oldest underground train system. Duffell and thousands of others, many wearing tuxedos, Mexican sombreros and Darth Vader masks, decided to hold one last public guzzle-a-thon to mark the moment.

So in super-octane parties organized largely on the social networking Web site Facebook, thousands of raucous revelers transformed the Tube into a huge, sweaty party all Saturday evening. They sang, hooted, ripped off their shirts in the swampy heat and consumed massive amounts of alcohol -- some through funnels -- as if there were no tomorrow, which, in the case of drinking on the Tube, there wasn't.

"I am not in favor of anarchy, I am not trying to cause harm; we are just here to have a laugh," said Duffell, who said he started his "Tube crawl" at 2 p.m. and planned to go until the last legal second.

"If you tell a British person not to do something, if you say no, we will do it even more," said Duffell, offering a drink to six passing police officers, who ignored him -- at least for a few more hours.

When Mayor Boris Johnson took office this month, one of his first acts was to ban, as of June 1, the age-old London tradition of boozing on subways and buses.

In sharp contrast to the United States, it is perfectly common to see people drinking alcohol on London public transportation. In fact, it is legal to drink in almost any public place in the city.

"People have been consuming alcohol in public places in this city longer than the United States has been around," said Tim O'Toole, an American who is managing director of the London Underground. "This is much more of a drinking culture, so a change like this would seem more dramatic."

With a stroke of his mayoral pen, Johnson created a debate that cuts to the heart of a society that cherishes drinking the way Americans revere shopping.

"This has hit a nerve. People are asking about civil liberties," said Stephen Emslie, 27, who announced a Tube drinking party on Facebook, prompting more than 4,000 people to sign up.

"A part of British culture is about drinking," he said. "I had no intention of throwing a big party. It seems people are using this as a way to express the way they feel."

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