Rosie Schaap talks Drinking with Men
The memoirist and bartender knows how to tell a story.
“If there is a bar that’s well-known as a ‘writer’s bar,’ I would love to check it out,” Rosie Schaap says. We’ve been talking about literary bars in Chicago—a market relatively, ahem, untapped for the bartender, New York Times Magazine “Drink” columnist and author of the new memoir Drinking with Men (Riverhead, $26.95). “At the same time,” she adds, “what I like best in a bar is a real mix of people. A bar that’s completely crawling with writers and no one else? It’s probably not a bar I’d stay in too long.” In recent years, the New York native has turned the bar crawl into something of a career. Right away it’s pretty clear Schaap is a gifted storyteller—a skill honed on both sides of the oak.
Schaap discovered the heady pleasures of adult conversation and beer in the bar car of a commuter train. Riding home to Westport, Connecticut, from Manhattan, the teenager bartered tarot readings for beverages. Not long after, she dropped out of high school to follow the Grateful Dead and, in one memorable episode, drank enough Jack Daniel’s to turn her off to the stuff for good. She looks on this period in her life with fondness, grateful to have learned from her freewheeling years.
Each essay in Drinking with Men is devoted to a different haunt. There’s an authentic English pub/biker bar in upstate New York; dark, cozy spaces in Lower Manhattan frequented by the poets and artists who helped form her cultural education; and the ideal Irish pub she discovered as a student in Dublin. There, she indulged a love of Irish socialist writer James Connolly, discovered Jameson and engaged in plenty of good craic (Irish slang for conversation). It might seem as if Schaap doesn’t linger long in one bar, but her relationship with a place and its regulars borders on a love affair. “It’s more than a place to have a few pints or shots or cocktails,” she writes. “It’s more like a community center, for people—men and women—who happen to drink.”
It’s easy to get Schaap talking about drinking in literature, whether it’s W.H. Auden’s martini recipe, which she investigated for the Poetry Foundation (an icy-cold blend of gin and vermouth), or Leopold Bloom’s intense afternoon at Barney Kiernan’s pub in Ulysses. She enthuses over Moira Egan’s Bar Napkin Sonnets: “Many, for good reason, think of a bar napkin as a throwaway, disposable thing, and a sonnet is such a formal thing. And she manages this incredible balance of informal, almost improvisational feeling with a very formal kind of poem.” And there’s the Dean of Drink, Kingsley Amis: “Both Lucky Jim and The Old Devils”—newly reissued by New York Review of Books Classics—“are full of outrageous scenes of drinking and drunkenness, and in Lucky Jim, an unforgettable hangover.”
How does she find her favorite spots? Schaap, who admits she’s pretty good at “reading a bar,” trusts her instincts. “I found my favorite bar in Montreal about seven, eight years ago, completely by accident. I was just walking from my hotel to a restaurant and saw this place on my route, and it’s beautiful on the outside. It’s painted this sort of wonderful royal blue color and there were geraniums in the window boxes. I could see a cluster of regulars smoking outside, and they seemed to be having a really good time. Once I find a place I really love, I’m a little more hesitant to explore further. But I should do that.”