SEEKING CAMARADERIE Author Rosie Schaap.
Every few years, the bar cars on Metro-North Railroad's New Haven line (which leads from New York City's Grand Central Station into Connecticut) become endangered by modern-day Puritans who believe commuter trains are inappropriate venues for after-work cocktails. Can you imagine?!
It was one of these priggish salvos that led New York Times Magazine beverage correspondent Rosie Schaap, who credits those very bar cars with fostering her love affair with booze, to start compiling her own drinking stories. The result is Drinking with Men (Riverhead), Schaap's recently published memoir, which begins with a teenage Schaap telling fortunes in the bar car (in exchange for beer) and goes on to detail several coming-of-age milestones through a liquor-soaked lens.
That's not to say these are narratives about alcoholism or binge drinking; they're not. Despite Schaap's 13,000 hours spent in bars ("a rough estimate, scratched out on the cocktail napkin in front of me") she barely comes off as a lush. Rather, for anyone who's spent any time nursing a Jameson while mulling over life's mysteries, Schaap — who reads this Friday at SPACE Gallery, followed by an after- party at LFK — is a relatable drinking companion, one whose spirited prose flows freely and naturally.
As she delved into her drinking past and present, Schaap identified a curious truth: While her female friends were usually willing to join her for a drink or two at the neighborhood bar, those same friends were quite unlikely to go again the next night, and the night after that. In other words, women were less likely to become bar regulars — a status Schaap has enjoyed at many drinking establishments over the years.
"I think it's been hard for a lot of women not to internalize ideas that are transmitted to us by pop culture, that somehow being a woman at a bar sends out a bad message," she said in a phone interview with the Phoenix. Contrary to what one might believe, a solo female bar-goer is not necessarily "looking to get picked up or looking to get her drinks paid for," Schaap says.
What such women, women like Schaap, do seek is camaraderie — to be part of a tribe. And in Drinking With Men, Schaap tells of how she found such connections over pints and pours in Dublin, New York City, and Montreal. She reveres these places, as well as their patrons; her flowery descriptions underscore how central a role these establishments have played in her life.
"Puffy's was beautiful," she writes of Puffy's Tavern, a dive in TriBeCa. "In its way. Like an old weather-beaten chanteuse with running mascara who still manages to break your heart as soon as she starts singing." (Hardly the "not pricey, not douchey" description you'll find on Yelp.com.)
It's refreshing to read Schaap's pro-booze reflections. There is no guilt in these pages (at least none about alcohol consumption) — Drinking with Men is decidedly celebratory and not even slightly interested in tsk-tsk-ing.
As is the case for many drinking stories, however, some of these fall short. Schaap's second chapter, about her youthful stint as a Deadhead, feels incongruous with the rest of the collection; her relative silence on the subject of her husband's death, a tragedy surely wrestled with over more than a few drinks, is notable and unfortunate. Given Schaap's honest and self-aware style, this reader would have liked an even deeper glimpse into her emotional life.