Tim Haus had time to take a phone call Thursday afternoon - one sure sign that this won't be a typical Preakness weekend.
The days leading up to the race are typically crazy for Haus and other workers at Wells Discount Liquors on York Road in Anneslie. On race day, they'd usually open at 7 a.m. just so people headed to Pimlico's infield could load cars with beer, beer and more beer.
That's over. Track officials have prohibited spectators from bringing in any beverages, including malty, hoppy, alcoholic ones - those that fueled the antics that earned the race the nickname "The Freakness" and quenched Baltimore's annual thirst for debauchery.
"Normally for the Preakness, I would triple everything I'd order," says Haus, Wells' beer manager, noting that meant $50,000 in beer sales alone. "That's lost. We've lost a lot."
Loss. That comes up a lot when talking to young people about the Preakness this year. At area colleges, the BYO ban is considered near-tragic.
Preakness officials have tried their best to turn those frowns upside down - and turn a profit - by changing the infield experience into more of a concert with ZZ Top and Buckcherry, and allowing people to purchase drinks at the track. But infield devotees are inconsolable.
Ticket sales are down 10 percent to 12 percent. Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas declined to say how much of that decline is for $50 infield tickets.
"I can appreciate a party as much as anyone," Chuckas says. "The idea that this won't be a party anymore is a fallacy. It's just a different kind of party."
If it's not a hedonistic show of immature excess - some falling-down drunk by lunchtime, others throwing full beer cans at strangers, a few running the portable-toilet races, exposing themselves, urinating in public and fighting - well, to many, it's not Preakness.
An opinion piece in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter headlined "Sober Preakness is Bad Preakness" calls the no-booze policy "the worst news ever." This in the same year that the economy bottomed out, planes crashed and wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
College News, an online magazine, lamented, "Anyone familiar with the Preakness infield knows that getting hammered there mid-May was one of the big traditions in the Mid-Atlantic region. The fun police have struck again."
"My father attended Preakness from the age of 16-24. It's sad that my kids won't be able to experience the great Baltimore tradition that my father and I were able to," said Baltimore native Henry Deford, 22, who has been attending the race since 2004.
Yesterday, Preakness workers hauled tables and chairs onto the grassy infield, working to build what will be a beer garden where attendees can buy brews for $3.50 - except for a special from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., when the price drops to $1.
Preakness officials are trying to preserve the festively bawdy atmosphere. Along with the morning's dollar drinks, there will be a Hooter's swimsuit contest, sumo wrestling, NASCAR and Guitar Hero simulation games, and beach volleyball.
But Baltimore's partying set has largely greeted the new infield attractions with a yawn.
"I don't know one person going," says Jordan Weitzman, a 24-year-old who lives in Federal Hill and says he's been to nine consecutive Preakness celebrations. "As soon as we found out beer wasn't allowed, it was never talked about again."
Weitzman figures that when he'd settle in for a day of infield partying, he'd bring a 30-pack of beer to satisfy two or three people.
Chuckas says, perhaps diplomatically, that in recent years it was clear that "the infield needed some modifications." Modifications in the name of "the guest experience."
"The shenanigans had to stop," he said.
He points out that Churchill Downs doesn't allow spectators to bring in drinks. Neither does NASCAR or any other professional sport. "This is not the exception, this is the rule."
To make sure people don't violate the rule, Preakness security workers will be at the gates checking for beverage smugglers. Though people can bring in coolers with food, beverages - including soft drinks and water - will be confiscated.
Sensing opportunity in the local drinking world this weekend, the Inner Harbor's Power Plant Live has stepped in with a party, hoping to claim some Preakness refugees.
Marketing director Chris Furst says Power Plant Live will open at 10 a.m. and charge $10 to hear some local music, watch the horses on a large monitor and, of course, do a bit of imbibing. Miller Lites will go for $2. The drinking games are on the house.
Earlier this year, while his colleagues fought to make sure the Preakness did not leave Maryland because of its parent company's bankruptcy, Del. Todd L. Schuler made an attempt to save the BYO infield, too. The Baltimore County Democrat tried to amend the General Assembly's horse racing preservation bill. His measure didn't go anywhere.
"It wasn't just about the drunken revelry that I know went on. It was about regular people who can't otherwise afford the exorbitant prices at Ravens Stadium or Camden Yards," says the 32-year-old delegate, who's an attorney.
"My amendment was there to point out the bygone era."
Schuler won't be attending Preakness this year, though he used to go on a regular basis.
Unlike Chuckas, Schuler doesn't want Preakness to imitate Churchill Downs, Ravens Stadium or anything else. Particularly if that means being clean-cut and sober.
"We're not the genteel Kentucky Derby, and I don't think we should aspire to be," he says. "We're a blue-collar town. We're a fun-loving town. We're something different."
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
The Preakness on Saturday could be the last one under its current owner. PG 14