May 12, 2013

Author Q&A: A woman walks into a bar and finds community and culture

Thousands of hours of research give columnist Rosie Schaap stories about being a woman who frequents bars.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Rosie Schaap has been writing about cocktails and bars in her "Drink" column for The New York Times Magazine since 2011.

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Rosie Schaap

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ROSIE SCHAAP will talk about her new memoir, then move on to LFK, a neighborhood bar at 188A State St. in Portland, for an after-party.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7) May 24

WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $5 to $10 suggested donation

INFO: Sponsored by LFK, 899-3277 or

Now she's written a new memoir, "Drinking with Men" (Riverhead Books, $26.95), about her love affair with bar culture and the neighborhood bars she has frequented over the years in her native New York City.

Schaap, 42, has a love of writing in her genes. Her father was award-winning sportswriter and author Dick Schaap, who died in 2001.

As a 15-year-old, Schaap told fortunes in exchange for beer. She has also been an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a manager of homeless shelters, a librarian at a paranormal society and, of course, a bartender. In addition to writing her "Drink" column, she is a contributor to the radio show "This American Life."

Schaap will be in Portland on May 24 to read from her memoir at Space Gallery, then she'll wander down Congress Street to LFK, where she'll lift a glass with anyone who wants to meet her.

Schaap has been to Portland twice to visit her friend, novelist Kate Christensen, and has a particular fondness for J's Oyster and its horseshoe bar. Horseshoe bars, she says, are hard to find in New York these days.

"A horsehoe bar, there's something so intimate about it, and it really does encourage conversation," Schaap said. "It seems like everyone at J's talks to everyone else, and it always seems humming and busy and happy and cheerful, and I get a kick out of all the waitresses I've met there.

"So when I think of Portland -- I mean, I know there are so many fantastic restaurants, and I can't wait to try more -- but I always think of just happily wiling away four hours at J's on a nice afternoon, eating oysters and drinking beer and whiskey." 

Q: Your father was a well-known sportswriter. Would he be happy to know you write a column for The New York Times Magazine?

A: I think he'd be pretty thrilled. My father was one of these people who really started writing professionally at an unusually early age. He started as a teenager as a stringer for his local Long Island paper. He always knew he wanted to be a journalist, but in a way he always was a journalist. And I tried a lot of different things before kind of backing into journalism.

I hadn't really thought of it. I think I resisted it in some ways because of my family. But it's turned out to be the best job in the world.

My mother died the same year I started writing for the Times magazine, and my father died in 2001. It was really thrilling to get the job, but I really wished that they had been there to see it happen. 

Q: At the beginning of your book, you calculate that you've spent 13,000 hours in bars.

A: Right, and to be honest, that was a conservative estimate. The only math I can do is what I call "bartender math." I can calculate your tab pretty quickly and accurately, but my editor and I sat down with a cocktail napkin and tried to sort of come up with a sort of conservative estimate of how many hours I'd actually spent in bars. 

Q: Have you learned all that you know about cocktails through sheer osmosis, or have you had to work at it?

A: I've had to work at it. I know this sounds a little bit funny to people, but my work as a person who writes about drink culture, and particularly about cocktails, is in some ways so different from my own experience in a bar.

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