Jim:

The six Times News subscribers, who regularly read my late, great "Attorney at Large" column a few years ago, may recall my advocacy of cheap red wine. I come by my prejudice for inexpensive vintages honestly. My Old Man used to keep a gallon of Gallo under the sink. After retiring, he nipped at that jug from around noon until bedtime.

College in the sixties meant Saturday night keg-parties at my fraternity. Never an affluent bunch, we brothers bought the cheapest brands available. The names may conjure memories for you, as they do for me: Iron City, Sunshine, Kaiers, Pabst. What we didn't drink up on Saturday night, we had for breakfast on Sunday morning. Nobody ever got very drunk. Your stomach rebelled before you could glug down enough to get really wrecked.

As I've aged, I've followed in my father's footsteps. I make a weekly pilgrimage to the neighborhood State Store to see what's on sale in the wine section for $4.99 a bottle. And I'm not alone. Those five-dollar bottles disappear from the shelves almost as fast as the clerks can put them out there.

Not for me those fancy drinks the younger bar crowd seems to crave: Appleteenies, micro-brews, beers mixed with booze and christened Car Bombs. Who actually orders "Electric Lemonade"? ("Absolut citron, triple sec, sour mix, sierra mist and freshly muddled lemons chilled in a tall pint glass and tinted with Blue Curacao." I'm sure the mind is soon as muddled as the lemons, after a couple of these.) Let it be noted I've bought whole cases of beer for less than what any one of these drinks costs.

During my college days, the Kingston Trio recorded my theme song, "Bottle of Wine." Here's my favorite verse; perhaps it's a prediction of where, if the economy doesn't improve, I'll end my days:

A pain in my head

There's bugs in my bed

My pants are so old that they shine

Out on the street, I beg the people I meet

To buy me a bottle of wine

I think an old man could do worse. Will you drink with me to that?

Claire:

It is true that if you walk into almost any trendy bar in Philadelphia, you'll find at least 75 percent of the women (and probably a good 40 percent of the men) ordering something that comes with either an umbrella or a sugar rim. (And, for the record, a friend of mine, a guy no less, did buy an Electric Lemonade while we were out just the other night.) These fancy, sickly sweet, twelve-dollar confections have become the norm in many circles. They're delicious, they get you drunk, and most importantly, they taste nothing like alcohol. Yippee.

On the other end of the spectrum - well, not much has changed there. Frat boys and college kids in general still gleefully take part in the age-old tradition of buying 32-packs of Natty Light in their quest for the ultra cheap blackout.

In other words, drinking in America is in a sorry state, and seems to be heading in all the wrong directions. Luckily, some ghosts of drinking past manage to live on no matter what.

For example, growing up around my old man has turned me into a bit of an old-timey drinker myself. Like any surly old guy, I like my drinks strong and pure - rich black coffee, a dry glass of dark red wine, or a nice shot of whiskey with just the slightest hint of ginger. Occasionally I'll even indulge in a pint of Guinness - a drink that most of my supposedly macho male friends have dubbed "battery acid" and are afraid to touch with a ten-foot pole.

Of course, I have to credit my Irish grandmother for instilling in me a deep love and appreciation for plain ol' beer (at a scandalously young age, I might add). But I'm talking about real beer, because my grandmother wouldn't be caught dead drinking that Natty Light crap.

So while the tastes of the younger generations may be skewing sitowardntly toward the fruity and sugary or the bland and cheap, the wise ways of the older folks are still being passed down through some of us. And let's face it, the party doesn't really start until all the Nectarini- and Lemon Drop-swilling lightweights have long passed out or gone home. Am I right?