.Surviving Your Imbibing

California’s ‘drunkest city’ during the holidays

It’s the time of year again when holiday cheer is served by the glass.

In this regard, my thinking is Cartesian: “I drink, therefore I am.” Thus, the holidays provide an excuse to be full of myself. But, I’m also a Petaluman, where a visitor once opined that they’d never seen so much vomit in a business district, especially during the holidays.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a staunch supporter of the local bars, clubs and tasting rooms. And I’m not alone. According to a recent article by 24/7 Tempo, Santa Rosa and Petaluma have been identified as California’s most alcohol-consuming region—or the “drunkest,” as local headlines are apt to call them.

The analysis by 24/7 Tempo involved examining the proportion of individuals over 18 who engage in heavy or binge drinking in metropolitan areas across the state, as indicated by the 2023 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. It found that in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma area, with a population of 482,650, about 23.2% of adults engage in excessive drinking. This figure is notably higher than the California state average of 18.4%. Additionally, the report highlighted that in the county, 32.8% of driving fatalities are alcohol-related, surpassing the state average of 27.7%.

Given the stats, it’s not surprising that Petaluma, a burgeoning wine country-identified locale, was the site of several DUI arrests last Friday night.

During a check-point operation conducted last Friday, one downtown Petaluma location screened 126 vehicles, which resulted in seven DUI-alcohol suspects arrested and one DUI-drugs suspect arrested, as well as one DUI warrant suspect arrested (not to mention the eight drivers cited and/or arrested for operating a vehicle unlicensed or while suspended or revoked). All in, that’s 13.5% of drivers stopped—busted.

On Saturday, an allegedly intoxicated young man knocked over a fire hydrant in Petaluma, fleeing the resulting geyser (and his damaged Dodge Challenger) to chance it on foot, only to be apprehended by Petaluma PD. Vastly more tragically that same night, a man was killed in a head-on collision on Roblar Road by a Volvo SUV driven by a woman suspected of drunk driving.

The uptick in enforcement comes courtesy of a $425,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) awarded to the Petaluma Police Department in November.

“This funding will strengthen our commitment to public safety in our community,” Chief Ken Savano said in a statement at the time. “We will be able to increase our efforts in making our roads safer for everyone and focus on critical areas such as distracted driving, impaired driving and speeding.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office was also awarded a grant from the OTS, but for a specialized DUI Prosecution Team. District Attorney Carla Rodriguez recently announced that her office received a $516,000 grant from the OTS to continue its specialized prosecution efforts regarding alcohol- and drug-impaired driving cases. It’s the twelfth such grant received in as many years.

As the Petaluma PD likes to remind, “Drivers caught driving impaired and charged with a first-time DUI face an average of $13,500 to $20,000 in fines and penalties, as well as a suspended license.” This, of course, raises the ultimate price of even the most lowly local cocktail considerably (about 200,000%).

Of course, sometimes a good (read: expensive) lawyer can help plea down a DUI into a “wet and reckless” charge, a misdemeanor offense characterized by reckless driving in conjunction with the presence of alcohol. It’s the legal equivalent of getting caught with one’s hand near the cookie jar, regardless of how many cookies one has had.

Because I’m on a newspaper person’s budget and can’t afford the luxury—let alone the staggering ethical lapse—of driving under the influence, I do my public drinking at neighborhood joints within walking or Ubering distance. You should too, though it may require avoiding the red asphalt when crossing the street and the risk of becoming it due to the drunks on the road.

And if you’re staying safely at home, consider these celebratory cocktail options:

The Gin Rickey

A bartender allegedly invented this concoction for a 19th-century Democratic lobbyist named Tom Rickey who despised sugary cocktails. It was a favorite of spy-turned-novelist Graham Greene.


2 ounces gin

1/2 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed

Club soda

Procedure: Fill a highball glass with ice, then the gin, and then the lime juice (do not change this order). Top off with the club soda, and garnish with a pair of lime wheels.

Rum Eggnog

No beverage says “Christmas” more than eggnog, and no eggnog is complete without a splash of booze to elevate the experience. Any dark liquor generally works, but this rum-based recipe adds a certain je ne c’est quoi, especially by the second one.


1 1/2 ounces of rum

1 1/2 ounces port (Sonoma Portworks is a favorite)

1/2 ounce of simple syrup

1 large farm fresh, cage-free, locally-grown, organic egg

Nutmeg, grated

Procedure: Combine the rum, port, simple syrup and egg in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice at first, then add ice and shake again—vigorously. Strain the results into a wine glass (it’s classier that way), and sprinkle on the nutmeg for an extra Christmas kick.

Cranberry & Ginger Mimosa

If you’re getting into the sparkling wine you’re supposed to save for New Year’s Eve, there’s no better way to camouflage the indiscretion than a holiday-hued mimosa. Hand your partner this Cranberry & Ginger Mimosa when asked, “Who opened the champers?”


2 ounces ginger beer

2 ounces cranberry juice

Sparkling wine, chilled

Garnish: a sprig of rosemary, a slice of lime or both

Procedure: This is an easy one—just pour it all into a glass and toss and spear a few dried cranberries to garnish if you’re feeling especially fancy. Cheers!

Daedalus Howellhttps://dhowell.com
Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of the feature filmsPill Head and the upcoming Werewolf Serenade. Learn more at dhowell.com.


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