First heard about Rosie Schnaap's Drinking with Men: a Memoir on NPR back in the spring and it's been on my "to buy" list for a great while, but somehow it slipped my mind and somehow I forgot to contact her publisher for a review copy so when I spotted its glimmering gold title glistening on its spine on a shelf at my library I plucked it off, checked it out and read it in two nights. Could have read it quicker, but I need me sleep.
A few Goodreads reviewers brutalized her. Called her an alkie, a sad case. None called her male-identified or talked about how maybe she sought the company of men because her parents divorced when she was a wee lass and she was looking for Daddy in all those bars. I don't think that was it. But what I'm saying is that those reviewers weren't too astute.
They didn't get the book. Or appreciate it or her insight into the meaning that public spaces like taverns and bars have offered people for centuries. How those spaces allow people to develop community, networks, and mutual aid. Spaces that unfortunately, most women were restricted from or currently eschew. Schaap doesn't delve into that dynamic much. Her focus is gimlet-eyed on the welcoming community she found at bars in Vermont, New York, California, Montreal, and Dublin.
Drinking with Men might not be your tumbler of Jameson. However, Schaap shares great insight into bar culture, human nature, her personal journey as a person, and the universal human condition. And we all can relate to that. For example, what you can find in a bar is "the light fluid back and forth of bar conversation where strangers reveal their secrets" and their sins can be "absolved by the proxy priesthood of the barman".
Her tips for behaving in a bar:
- First, Read the bar
Is it quiet and great for a tete-a-tete, or is it a loud jarring place where folks throw down shots and conversation is not a priority? And--here's the kicker--which is the place for you? Match the bar to your needs, your personality;
- Second, Treat the servers and bartender mindfully
Engage with the bartender and/or server, make eye contact, say please and thank you, and remember that bartenders experience inflation as well $1 a drink tip is not de riguer;
- Third, Make magic happen
Schaap shares a story about a time that she wore a hideous hat into her favorite bar Man of Kent. Just so happened a group of serious bikers were there as well. One of the gnarly old bikers approached and told her how much his friend liked her colorful, crocheted hat, could he buy it from her for, say $100? She politely declined. Then he returned. She felt she couldn't say no, because there of the possiblity of menace in the air, but then she gave up the hat if the biker promised to buy a round of drinks for her friends. She tells the story better than I do, undoubtedly I got details wrong.
So, take a chance, find a regular bar, or drop into a random bar. You might be surpsied and find that like Schaap
A chance visit to a bar I seldom drank in had been so strangely meaningful, so rewarding.