Drinking With Men

By Rosie Schaap

(Riverside, $26.95, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

If you read the “Drink” column in The New York Times, then you already know Rosie Schaap. If not, this book is a fine introduction to her work. Schaap, a born-and-bred New Yorker, contributes to “This American Life” and npr.org. She has also worked as a bartender (no surprise there) and asan English teacher and an editor (also unsurprising). But, as they say on TV infomercials, “That’s not all!” Schaap has also been a fortuneteller, a librarian at a paranormal society, a preacher/chaplain in response to 9/11 (not typical for a Jewish girl), a community organizer and a manager of homeless shelters. She comes from a family of writers: her late father, Dick, was the famous sportswriter, ESPN host and author; as is her brother Jeremy; her cousin, Phil Schaap, is a jazz historian and DJ.

What is this book about?

A girl walks into a bar…and into a lifelong love of the kind of watering hole where everybody does indeed know your name and is very glad you came. A high-school dropout who left to be a Deadhead, later a student at Bennington College and occasionally employed as a tender of bars, she came to love the peculiar intimacy of small, local drinking joints and the people who form a kind of family there. In her book, she chronicles bars she has known and loved in the U.S., Canada and Ireland and as she talks about these places, which include the Metro North bar car, she tells the story of her life.

Why you’ll like it:

Just as you can meet a total stranger in a bar and find yourself telling him or her your life story over a pint or martini or two, Schaap draws you in with her warmth and vividly descriptive writing. To give you an idea of her voice, here is what she told a Barnes & Noble interviewer:

“A bar is a funny kind of affinity group. If we fall in love with a bar, we don’t instantly know everybody else who loves it. We come together because of this place, so we’re not family, we’re not friends of longstanding, we’re not necessarily friends from any other part of our lives, but there’s something in all of us that responds to whatever that bar had to give us and we stay there and we come to love each other. There is this kind of real closeness, but a distance at the same time that can feel safe.…. You know, a bar is a strange kind of sanctified space where certain things don’t have to be let in. But you can make friends with someone at a bar and be surprised by how that friendship deepens.”

What others are saying:

“[Schaap] describes the unusual camaraderie among bar ‘regulars’ with poignant specificity. It’s a cozy, intimate pleasure to go belly-to-bar with her,” says Entertainment Weekly.

“With focused premise and expansive feeling… [and] very smart assessments of a mode of being that’s not given the credit it deserves. ‘Drinking With Men’ would pair very well this time of year with a well-aged whiskey and a handful of peanuts,” says The Boston Globe.

“A wonderfully funny and openhearted book from a generous, charismatic writer… [Schaap is] a born storyteller… There’s no substitute for the kind of community you can find in a good tavern. And no American writer can explain it better than Rosie Schaap,” says NPR.org.

“Witty…a vivid study of both Schaap’s life in bars, often as one of the few women regulars, and a gimlet-eyed exploration of modern bar culture,” says the Chicago Tribune.

Publishers Weekly says:  “Schaap … sought out an early kinship with adult company and alcohol, a lifelong pursuit she fondly chronicles as she recounts the homes and families she’s made in bars around the world. With an absentee father and a complicated relationship with her mother, she gets satisfaction from the interest other adults took in her, utilizing that dynamic when she briefly becomes a tarot card reader as a teen in the bar car of the Metro North commuter train, trading readings for beers. Feeling out of place at home and at school, she drops out at 16 to follow the Grateful Dead full-time, ending up on the West Coast. In college at 19, she goes to Dublin for a summer study abroad and it’s there, at a cozy, smoky bar frequented by writers and storytellers, that Schaap feels the sense of belonging and community she’s been thirsting for. Back in the U.S., she discovers bars near school in Vermont and later in New York that offer a “safe haven, my breathing space… where I figured out how to be myself.” Feeling like a regular matters to her, providing her with an anchor and a code of kindness and decency to live by learned from how patrons and bartenders treats one other. Schaap estimates she’s passed 13,000 hours in bars, and judging by the warmth and camaraderie she evokes, it clearly has been time well spent.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: The author extolls the pleasures of “bar regularhood,” focusing on those establishments with distinct atmospheres–sometimes evoking European cafe societies, other times fondly portraying out-of-the-way places with colorful owners–to demonstrate how they can serve as “relief from isolation,” a “refuge from the too-deep and too-personal,” and a means for broadening one’s ability to listen and empathize with others. Schaap briefly acknowledges the negative aspects, especially for women who frequent bars alone, but she paints a mostly romantic portrait of discovering friendship and conviviality that is gradually tempered over time. …The author only briefly touches on alcoholism, one possible explanation for the hundreds of hours spent in bars; what remains is a brisk, lucid account of finding a tenuous peace after a period of escapism. The conclusions reached are familiar, but Schaap’s talent for balancing self-revelation with humor, melancholy and wisdom turn an otherwise niche topic
into one with greater appeal.”

When is it available?

Cheers! “Drinking With Men” is on tap at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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