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

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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

I've always loved a good cocktail. My mom was pretty devoted to a whiskey sour, a classic drink that remains a favorite of mine, so that was the first cocktail I ever made. But for me, bars -- and I try to make this clear in the book -- they're places where we drink, of course, but mostly they're places where we engage with other people.

So I think people who scan my book hoping for a great corpse reviver recipe or something like that will probably be surprised to discover that most of what I'm drinking throughout the book is Guinness and Jameson and wine and very simple stuff like that. Mostly, I've learned through tasting and experimenting. I love making cocktails for friends. 

Q: You've done so many things with your life, including bartending and teaching English. How did you originally get into writing about cocktails and bars? Did you set out to be a writer?

A: I always wrote. But what I wrote when I was very young, starting in elementary school and going through college, was poetry. And poetry remains deeply important to me. I don't write very much of it anymore, but I still read a lot of it. I read at least a poem a day. But I did have the common sense to realize at a certain point that poetry isn't much of a way to make a living.

In college, I came to really enjoy writing essays. For me, getting to write a column, which is a very compressed, essayistic form, is perfect. Mostly I write about drink, but I still occasionally write about poetry and occasionally write about soccer, one of my other great loves. But to be honest, I always hoped that maybe I would write a book.

I worked in publishing for a bunch of years, and I worked on a lot of other people's books, and there was a point in my 30s I thought, maybe the window was closing. I just didn't have an idea for a book that I felt I had to write. It wasn't until I was 36, 37, that I really started thinking seriously about writing "Drinking with Men." It occurred to me that I had something to say about bar culture, and particularly about being a woman in bar culture.

I remember very clearly this sort of "a-ha moment" when I had become a regular at a bar on the Lower East Side, Good World, and I just fell in love with the place. It was after a period in which I hadn't really been a regular for a couple of years, which was unusual for me. I started going to Good World, and I just loved it.

One of the first things I always do when I really fall for a bar is invite my closest women friends to come have a drink. And I noticed that they always loved it and had a good time and understood what I saw in the place, but they didn't have any burning desire to come back the next night and the next night and the next night.

And I realized then that, even in New York, where all things seem possible in terms of establishing one's identity, a woman regular, even here, was kind of an anomaly. And that's when I felt I really had a story to tell. 

Q: I know you believe that a martini should always be made with gin and not vodka. What are some of the other "mistakes" people make when ordering a drink?

A: This is always an interesting conversation for me, because I never want to be too orthodox. I certainly don't want to be one of those imperious, "I know better than you" bartenders. It's funny, because my next column, which will be in the magazine (Sunday), is about gin. And I think gin, really more than any other spirit, has this extremely ominous folklore attached to it. Like, "Gin makes me depressed."

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