1:54 pm Jan. 30, 2013
There were a lot of regulars at last night's party celebrating Rosie Schaap's just-released memoir, Drinking With Men.
Not so much regulars from Word Bookstore in Greenpoint, where the event—which featured some remarks, some reading and some audience questions—was held, but regulars from Schaap's large circle of friends, extended over the years by the 13,000 hours she estimates she has spent in her decades-long life as both a bar regular and a bartender, and dedicated enough to spill over into an afterparty at a nearby bar (owned by friends of Schaap's!) to continue the evening.
Drinking With Men is an idiosyncratic memoir coming from a woman in 2012, though it revives an old standby (paging Pete Hamill!): a compendium of sharply observed drinking stories that revolve around the usually male communities that form among bar regulars.
It's getting some rave reviews. NPR’s Michael Schaub: “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.” The Boston Globe’s Alice Gregory: “a book whose best parts are also its most fun to read parts, an unexpectedly rare virtue in a memoir.”
Part of the fascination with Schaap's perspective, which readers have gotten some familiarity with via her "Drink" column in The New York Times Magazine, is that a woman in a bar alone has long been regarded as “an abject kind of figure,” as Schaap put it last night.
The question raised by Drinking with Men concerns the concept female regular, both one of the guys and not (for Schaap this is the “central problem of the book") is, obviously, one that resonates. As Drinking With Men acknowledges, “there are so many ... women who just love to hang out and talk and just want a place to breathe, and bars give us that.”
And, as marketing departments should note, the memoir of a bartender comes with a built-in constituency of friends and acquaintances developed over years of serving drinks.
“She knows everyone,” fellow Brooklyn author Jami Attenberg, who has been close with Schaap for several years and introduced her last night, told med. “Everywhere we go she knows everyone.”
At Word, there had been treats by Kimberly Wetherell; her bakery, Spirited, which is currently in search of a brick and mortar home, features baked pastries infused with varying amounts of alcohol. There were brown butter—cherry Lambic—hazelnut blondies in honor of the cherry Lambics Schaap consumes at the small upstate bar Man of Kent in the book; chocolate Guinness cupcakes with Jameson frosting and butter-beer caramel topping, a nod to Schaap’s standby, a pint of Guinness and a shot of Jameson; beer-battered spicy peanuts and bacon, an homage to bar snacks in general. But when Attenberg asked from the stage whether the bite sized goodies would get anyone drunk, Wetherell had to confess they would not.
So the the event seemed to really get down to business when the crowd moved on to the bar, Shayz Lounge.
At Shayz, Schaap was eager to put me at ease despite the fact that I was not one of her regulars, encouraging me not to return so quickly to the office to write up the evening's events, confessing to being a morning person herself, while waiting for a toddy. Earlier she'd described it as the "chicken soup" of drinks to the crowd at Word.
That genuine, leveling warmth stands her in good stead as a bartender and also as a writer. It's astonishing to watch, if you are looking for it.
The proprietors of Shayz Lounge are Jimmy and his father Shay Connelly, whom Schaap met a few years ago in Dublin during a visit to a whiskey shop where Dara Connelly, Jimmy's brother, works, she explained.
“Six months later,” Schaap had told the crowd during the Q & A, “he and his brother and father wound up at South, the bar where I work in South Slope, during one of my day shifts, and it was kind of like having a little Dublin in South Slope for a few very happy hours.”
As Attenberg had put it in her simple, heartfelt introduction, “If you know Rosie, you love Rosie. She’s come into your life, she’s assuredly bonded with you, made you laugh, helped you, fed you in some way, or perhaps made you a cocktail.”
Attenberg later admitted to me that it had been tough to get through her brief remarks without tearing up. For Attenberg, the charm has much to do with the author herself. She’s a woman who, Attenberg said, “loves to pour people in a cab” and one who “has not strived for perfection. Has just strived for happiness. And it’s a relief to see somebody who’s just kind of seeking joy.”
As she signed a few last books before heading out to Shayz, she told a story about running into a (female) regular at a bar in her neighborhood earlier that day. The woman had just started reading the book and told Schaap she was planning on photocopying the intro and sending it to her mother, because, in Schaap’s paraphrase, “my mom knows I love bars and I know she worries about it and I want her to see that it’s not about all this bad stuff that she associates a bar with.”
Schaap’s memoir is not without its share of the sad stuff—it wouldn’t be an honest account without the tragedy of, for example, the undeniably negative tarot reading a 15 year-old Schaap does for a blustery man who has been heckling her in the bar car of the Metro North’s New Haven line. But after all, that’s not the fault of the bars; that’s the fault of life.
It's around that time that Schaap, a confessed fourth-generation New Yorker whose mom and dad, longtime sports columnist Dick Schaap, were introduced by the actor Peter Falk, dropped out of high school and started following the Grateful Dead. Negotiations with her mother got her a G.E.D., and a life of bar tending, fortune-telling, a stint as a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, and a manager of homeless shelters that connected her to a heterogeneous network of New York writers and literary types who would encourage her nascent storytelling gifts.
It was the novelist Kate Christensen, invited to try out for the New York Times Magazine column, that put Schaap up for the job, and for a reason that fits the impression you get of Schaap when you meet her.
"Rosie cared about drinking, as opposed to mixology," Christensen told The New York Observer's Molly Fischer in a profile earlier this month.
And after all the appeal of the bartender and the appeal of the storyteller are pretty closely linked.
After spending part of an evening with Schaap, it’s clear that her overwhelming charisma and refusal to judge, in a barstool or on the page, is not only a part of her appeal but a way of getting to know people, and characters, more deeply.
“There’s room in her life for everybody," Attenberg had said, and that's the key to the book’s success.
More by this author:
- The youthful fantasy worlds of writer Karen Russell are growing up
- For film and television writers, an awards show awash in liquor, raunch and self-loathing brilliance