Today we present to you an excerpt from Rosie Schaap’s fantastic memoir, Drinking With Men. In it, she turns everything you think you know about “drinking” books on its head. This is not a memoir of euphoria followed by the inevitable despair and then repair. No—this is a celebration of the joys of a hearty and healthy drinking life. She’s in it for the long run.
Part of our mission at Drinking Diaries is to give our readers a glimpse into other drinking lives, other families, other worlds. So even if you don’t share Rosie Schaap’s love of drinking and bars, you can’t help but be drawn in by her stories.
For someone like me, who grew up in a home where alcohol was loaded with shame and who developed an ambivalent relationship to booze, this book is a revelation. She highlights an important side of drinking–drinking as social glue and community-builder rather than as something you use to self-medicate or retreat from your own feelings or world.
From Drinking With Men:
“But my attraction to bars is less governed by the laws of physics than it is by the rules of romance: I prefer one bar at a time. When it comes to where I drink, I’m a serial monogamist. Still, although loyalty is upheld as a virtue, bar regularhood—the practice of drinking in a particular establishment so often that you become known by, and bond with, both the bartenders and your fellow patrons—is often looked down upon in a culture obsessed with health and work. But despite what we are often told, being a regular isn’t synonymous with being a drunk; regularhood is much more about the camaraderie than the alcohol. Sharing the joys of drink and conversation with friends old and new, in a comfortable and familiar setting, is one of life’s most unheralded pleasures.
And yes, that goes for women, too. Or it should, anyway. If regularhood is considered suspect behavior, then female regularhood is doubly so. In many parts of the world, women just don’t go into bars alone. Even in comparatively less patriarchal societies, such as our own, a solitary woman at a bar is a curiosity, a wonderment to be puzzled over. And even in New York, where all things seem possible, as a bar regular who happens to be female, I am something of an anomaly. Regularhood is still predominantly the province of men.
I’ve been going into bars since the age of fifteen. Certainly in my youth I knew that patronizing bars was unusual behavior—but I figured that was due to my age, not my gender. There was the excitement of getting one over and getting served, of trying to fit in, unquestioned, with grown-ups in their natural habitat. But as I got older and that thrill abated, what I discovered in bars was much richer. As a regular, I have found friendship, comfort, and community. Mostly, I’ve found that fellowship in the company of men. Relations between the sexes at bars are often perceived as predatory and dangerous. But I did not look to bars for a place to hook up; I looked to bars for a place to belong.
In 1936, Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis counseled readers of her single-girl guide Live Alone and Like It. “It is not incorrect for a woman to go alone into any bar she can get into,” she wrote, “but we don’t advise it . . . if you must have your drink, you can have it in a lounge or restaurant, where you won’t look forlorn or conspicuous.” I find it remarkable— and a little depressing—that nearly eighty years later, ideas identical to hers still seem deeply internalized by many women. “I just don’t feel comfortable walking into a bar alone,” a friend once told me. “Like everyone’s looking at me and feeling sorry for me. Like there’s something wrong with girls who go drinking by themselves.”
For better or worse, I’ve seldom worried about who’s looking at me or not looking at me, or about what they might or might not be thinking. But I have noticed a pattern: Every time I’ve fallen hard for a bar, I’ve invited my best girlfriends to join me there for a drink, meet my fellow regulars, soak up the ambience that I found so appealing. Invariably, they like it. They have a good time. But, unlike me, they have no particular interest in returning the next night, or the next, or the ones that follow. Not only does the idea of becoming a regular at a bar hold no allure for them, they are also often puzzled by my enduring bar-love. But they have come to admire my ability to integrate, to talk to anyone, to be one of the guys.
In his very funny 1935 tract Her Foot Is on the Brass Rail, the humorist and newspaperman Don Marquis laments the post-Prohibition presence of women in bars. For men, there was “no longer any escape, no harbor or refuge . . . where the hounded male may seek his fellow and strut his stuff, safe from the atmosphere and presence of femininity.” In my experience these concerns have been beside the point; if anything, my chronic regularhood has made me assimilate into a largely male culture, not change it—except by the fact that I am part of it.
Regardless of my gender, a bar is my safe haven, my breathing space. Knowing how to read a bar helps. My favorites have never been big, rowdy sports bars teeming with testosterone or trendy spots featuring cutting-edge cocktails, but intimate, friendly neighborhood places where relationships with other regulars—and bartenders—have the right conditions to take hold, and where my instincts tell me it’s a safe space to be a woman in a bar.”
Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from DRINKING WITH MEN by Rosie Schaap Copyright (c) 2013 by Rosie Schaap