How much did he really drink?


I tried to search the forum, but couldn't find thread about this subject.

I was wondering, does anyone know how mutch (and how often) Bukowski really drank. I know that in his older days he started to take easy with the booze, but what was his alcohol consumption when he was in his 30' and 40's and 50's.

Somehow it seems like a miracle that he lived that long, specially if hi's alcohol consumption was nearly as "bad" as he discribes in his texts.

Hopefully you can understand my "English".

In the early days in Philadelphia, he claimed he would open and close the bar. I suppose you could estimate if he drank throughout the day what that might be approximately. While he wrote Post Office, I believe he said he would drink two six packs and a pint of Cutty Sark. During his later years, a typical writing session would be two bottles (sometimes three) of good German white wine (references to Bernkastel start to appear in the letters) What isn't clear to me is what the weekly intake was during various periods. Perhaps someone else would know here. John Thomas says they took dexaml, LSD, Dexadrine as well as DMT (the alkaloid in ayahuasca or yage (the powerful hallucinogenic plant from the Amazonian rainforest which William Burroughs was fond of). Vodka and Seven-Up.
There's an interesting passage on beer in a 1971 interview:
"Miller's is the easiest on my system but each new batch of Miller's seems to taste a bit worse. Something is going on there I don't like. I seem to be gradually going over to Schlitz. And I prefer beer in the bottle. Beer in the can definitely gives off a metallic taste. Cans are for the convenience of storekeepers and breweries. Whenever I see a man drinking out of a can I think, now there is a damn fool. Also, bottled beer should be in a brown bottle. Miller again errs in putting the stuff into a white bottle. Beer should be protected both from metal and from light.
Of course, if you have the money it's best to go up the scale and get the more expensive beers, imported or better-made American . Instead of a dollar 35 [SIC] you have to go a dollar 75 or 2 and a quarter and up. The taste is immediately noticeable. And you can drink more with less hangover. Most ordinary American beer is almost poison, especially the stuff that comes out of the spigots at racetracks. This beer actually stinks, I mean to the nose. If you must buy beer at the racetrack it is best to let it sit for 5 minutes before drinking it. There is something about the oxygen getting in there that removes some of the stink. The stuff is simply green.
Beer was much better before world war 2. It had tang and was filled with sharp little bubbles. It's wash now, strictly flat. You just do the best you can with it.
Beer is better to write with and talk with than whiskey. You can go longer and make more sense. But beer is fattening, plenty, and it lessens the sex drive. I mean both the day you are drinking it and the day after. Heavy drinking and heavy loving seldom go hand in hand after the age of 35. I'd say a good chilled wine is the best way out and it should be drunken (drank) slowly after a meal, with just perhaps a small glass before eating.
Heavy drinking is a substitute for companionship and it's a substitute for suicide. It's a secondary way of life. I dislike drunks but I do suppose I take a little drink now and then myself. Amen."


I don't think there was a whole lot of exaggeration in his claims. Maybe when he made references to "piles of empty beer bottles" lying around his apartment or such things in certain poems. But when you look at some of the company he kept, like Sean Penn and Harry Dean Stanton, hey - they weren't exactly prim Presbyterians stopping by for tea and readings from The New Testament. He enjoyed his drink. He also leaned on it heavily to get through the mourning period after Jane's death. Read a few of those letters from that period and it's downright scary, the mental state he was in. I'm glad he had booze to comfort him then, because he definitely had some dark things on his mind at that time.
What number6horse is trying to say is Buk drank a lot. I'll shepherd this thread for awhile to keep me out of trouble elsewhere. Heh.


If u don't know the poetry u don't know Bukowski
Founding member
Hey Petteri:
Be honest: does it really matter?
You'll never know for sure anyway.
Will you...
What Erik is trying to say is...err...mmm...Buk drank a lot but so what? Many a good poem was born from a beer-sotted Buk and it matters because I've read them. Perhaps trouble follows me wherever. ;))
Thank you for great answers :)

I do believe that he really drank alot, I was just curious about the amounts. Do you think the drinking was daily, or did he pause it sometimes?
There's no way to answer that for sure, especially with a self-mythologizer like Bukowski. I would suggest you start by reading his Letters--that's the best source for an as-close-as-you-can-get description of his daily life. Then read the interviews, then all the fiction poetry and essays. Then you MIGHT be able to APPROXIMATE the answer to your question. What you don't ask is whether you want to know this for every period of his life. The amount of drinking obviously changed, depending on what period you want to know about. Following his stomach rupturing, he clearly drank minimal amounts at the beginning and then began to return to larger amounts. But did he every drink as much on a daily basis AFTER his near-death crisis?
One thing we know for sure is that he didn't drink every day because he would periodically take to his bed, disconnect the telephone, pull down the shades and stay in bed for several days.


"So fuck Doubleday Doran"
I believe Buk somewhere said that he sometimes skipped
drinking a day and Jane wasn't able to.
And according to Buk that killed her.

When he stayed in bed for a few days he occasionally
drank a beer and went to bed again. But that's not drinking.
The more you read of Bukowski you will see he did drugs occasionally. He would try anything once. His drug of choice was booze tho'.
David, I thought he didn't like drugs.
You're right, he didn't. I would guess the experiments with dexaml, LSD and yage took place just during the mid-Sixties when he would hang out with John Thomas after a day at the post office. And there was a period during the Seventies when he lived near Brad and Tina Darby when he was sniffing cocaine periodically. Otherwise, I don't think there was any steady or conspicuous drug use.
"Heavy drinking is a substitute for companionship and it's a substitute for suicide. It's a secondary way of life." I just thought I would reiterate this because it was so damn awesome. David, thanks for that piece.
I wouldn't doubt what buk said he drank.After a any significant length of time on the gargle it loses some of its effect, ie. the first six to ten get you straightened out, 10 to 15 your still lucid enough to operate (especially if you had a mind like Buk) after that.......... well, we all know how the days usually end up
I do agree with Erik. We'll never know for sure, so what's the point in asking? Buk drank his ass off, we know that for certain. But it doesn't mean we can find a recipe for his ability to function through the post office or handle Linda King. We can only say this man prospered through a few wine bottles and a typewriter at hand. As a depressed novelist myself, I feel a connection.
Don't you think Buk got a kick out of getting Martin's cheque for writing poetry - and then using a teetotaller's money to buy booze? I mean, Buk would have drunk anyway, but does he ever mention that aspect in the letters? I guess the thought must have occurred to him.
I wonder if his choice of beer or wine helped his creativity, verses drinking hard booze just to get wasted the fastest. I know he drank whatever was around but in his interviews he mostly nurses a beer or wine. My drink of choice is Scotch on the rocks and drinking that gives a very small window of creative functioning. It mostly just leads to cranking up the music and bouncing around mindlessly. Bukowski seemed to be able to make being drunk an all day state of mind whereas I find that from the moment I take the first the first sip the clock is ticking and there is only a couple of hours before I'm facedown in bed. I always want to be instantly drunk and have no endurance so maybe pacing oneself with a lower-alcohol content drink is better for writing? It's all about hitting a window of creative opportunity. Hmmm, maybe a carefully calibrated IV drip of Dewars White Label to maintain just a slight buzz would be ideal...

the only good poet

One retreat after another without peace.
i think you'll find he spoke on that very subject in an interview (the bukowski tapes?) he said something like, "whiskey doesn't work. hour and ten minutes and you're finished. your writing gets over-dramatic, gets shitty. wine is best. with wine you can go on for hours." something along those lines.
he spoke on that very subject a lot of times through his whole life and the one thing you'll get out of all theses remarks is, that his view of these things changed a bit. Sometimes he preferred hard booze, sometimes wine, sometimes beer, sometimes he took what was around, sometimes he recommended to avoid hard booze. There were times (late 60s/early 70s), when he would smoke pot or take pills when a certain sort of people were around and there were times, when he striktly warned anyone from taking drugs other than alcohol. When he had tuberculosis he drank nothing, when he was giving readings, he drank heavily. etc, etc.

The only thing that's fix through that life that lasted over 70 years is, that he wasn't fixed.

the only good poet

One retreat after another without peace.
I can't recall him ever saying wine or beer were detrimental to his writing (which isn't saying much), but he did say that about whiskey.