Sidle up to the bar, order a shot of your favorite whiskey, trade friendly greetings and engage in some warm chatter, then listen transfixed as Rosie Schaap, a kind of Irish bard, regales you with tales of the bars in her life, the regulars with whom she has hoisted a few or closed down the place, the moments of love and affection she’s experienced, and the enduring freedom to be herself that “being a woman at home in a bar culture” brings.
In Drinking With Men, Schaap, a cracking good storyteller, takes us along on her journey as she comes of age, follows her heart, falls in and out of love and discovers who she’s meant to be. From sitting on the bar car (at 15 years old) on the Metro-North train, where she discovers her kind of people—commuters drinking enough to get a little buzzed, telling dirty jokes and smoking—through her years as a Deadhead in search of freedom, and into her college and grad school years, when she finds a local bar that serves as more of a community than her college and where the regulars become like family to her, Schaap gets “another kind of education altogether” in the bars she frequents.
Some expand her horizons: Puffy’s is “a protracted, whiskey-soaked lesson in art history and New York culture, a repository of downtown lore and legend.” Some offer a lesson she’d rather not learn: At Else’s in Montreal, she begins to understand that “self-reinvention has a cost, and it is high, and it is terrible.” Each bar teaches her something about the world she loves to inhabit: “There are loud bars where conversation is not a priority. . . . There are quiet bars, lit low and engineered for tête-à-têtes. And at the Man of Kent, which was neither of these things, but a place both brightly festive and undeniably civilized . . . I started to understand, with greater clarity than ever, how to behave in a bar.”
Schaap delivers an affectionate and loving tribute to the bars she has known—with names as varied as Grogan’s Castle Lounge, The Pig, Good World and The Liquor Store—as well as to the many fellow regulars with whom she has become lifelong friends over a pint or a shot.