The first mixed drink I ever had was five glugs from five bottles in my parents’ liquor cupboard, mingled up in a tall plastic glass and topped off with a can of grape Shasta soda to make it downable. It was potent—I cranked Electric Light Orchestra and danced on my bed, sweaty, out of my mind with ecstasy, until I heard my parents’ car on the driveway. I scrambled under the covers I’d just destroyed with tube-sock feet and told my mom, when she stuck her head ’round the door, that I was sick. She touched my forehead and yes: She felt the fever in me.

Mixing is the simplest act of transformation, but being simple does not make a thing less miraculous. This is as true of a Jack and Coke as it is of a 5 Deep Flush from The Violet Hour in Chicago, with all of its orange oil and Cynar and tweeded artistry. Mixology is the art of taking things that are literally toxic and making them both palatable and expressive. It’s an act of culture.

You can contemplate mixology’s power at a corner store in San Francisco’s Mission known as Thanasi’s. My friend and collaborator, photographer Chris Rochelle, lives nearby. Couple of Saturday nights ago Chris sent me a chain of texts about the cooler wall of mixed drinks kits, Ziploc bags with the ingredients for a party: mini bottles of booze with corresponding mixers. We both got excited. I went down to buy some.

They have names like spring break shots, slashed on in thick Sharpie. There’s Sexy Baby—a mini Patrón tequila with a Cîroc Snap Frost and a Cîroc Peach and a bottle of Smirnoff Ice.

You can get Candy: four mini Smirnoff Green Apples and a Monster Energy drink.

There’s Liquid Viagra, a 200-milliliter Jägermeister with a Red Bull.

There’s White Party (gay circuit shots!). No Panties. Horny.com (I love that one). There are explicitly anatomical ones I can’t name because I’m too scrupled (also, because my boss said no). You can get Painkiller. Kiss Me Slow. The more names you read the more poignant or self-destructive or hysterical they seem. They expose the fiery, lusting heart of alcohol.

You buy one, the guy behind the Thanasi’s counter tells you to grab an ice cup—a foam cup filled with cubes, topped with a beverage lid—from the ice cream cooler. Are you supposed to mix your poison out on the street? In your car? Slink back to your flat and get on Tinder? The lack of clear direction is thrilling. It’s your party, bro. Make the most of it.

Nothing I tried went down easy. Sexy Baby smelled like a new sneaker tainted with BO; Candy tasted like poisonous chemistry; Liquid Viagra went down like desperation. I don’t care though: I love these artifacts of takeaway mixology. Booze is dangerous, no matter how it’s dressed up in cocktails and the neo-lounge. It’s fever in a Ziploc bag.

Photos by Chris Rochelle

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