Drinking with Men
A Memoir
Rosie Schaap
(Riverhead Books)
Rosie Schaap is all for women going into bars, alone, day or night, to drink ... and for companionship. Or just to knit, read or write: whatever they want to do in a benign environment.

The prejudice against this is the usual sexist stuff, a prejudice against women having the freedom to do what they want, even if they want to hang out in what, up to now, has been the man's special home away from home. She believes in her freedom to go where she wants, when she wants: so much so that she has written a whole book about bar-hopping ... one that is full of drinking stories, full of reminiscences.

It is also a count-down of her favorite bars. Some of them are so enticing that I almost packed up and flew off to Albany, Bennington, New York City, Dublin, or Montreal to try them on for size.

What constitutes a proper bar for her? First: once she finds one, she's loyal. "Yes, here was a place where a lone woman might stop by, sit herself down at the bar, and quietly read, reasonably confident that no drunks would menace her (though one might buy her a drink), where the prices were right, where the bartenders knew what they were doing." Those are the key criteria. And, o yes, that the men she will be hanging out with must be worth it: not just incoherent boozers, but pals; not just booze pals, but buddies.

On most of Rosie's free nights she can be found there at her bar, surrounded by her friends, Will and Ed and Jimmy and Theo and Cory and Paul. Over the years, there's been Puffy's Tavern in TriBeCa, or Else's in Montreal, or The Fish Bar, Liquor Store Bar, Good World Bar & Grill in New York City, or the Pig in Vermont, the Man of Kent in Hoosick Falls, New York, and Grogan's Castle Lounge in Dublin.

What do they have in common? The alpha is much like the omega. In the final pages of Drinking with Men, the author has discovered (yet again) the perfect hang-out, in Brooklyn, and, along with it, the perfect job. She works there as a barkeep where she can observe the occasional woman, like herself, who has no fears of coming in alone, to sit in a corner, or best of all, to hang out with her pals.

"Like me, the women are the regulars at my bar love to drink. At a bar. In the company of men." That's the title, and this really is about drinking with men. The number of her women friends who turn up as regular drinking companions is practically zilch. Which might lead us to the thought that perhaps she too has some mild prejudice about women alone in bars, fretting about their safety.

"There are moments when I want to protect them if it looks like they're about to make a familiar misstep." Translation: when they are about to do something they will regret, things that Schaap has done which she lived to regret, like

    go home with someone not quite worthy of their affection, confide in someone who might not be trustworthy, drink one too many.

The price of being alone, in a bar, with mostly men in attendance presents a fine dance: a woman alone in a bar invites speculation. Why is she doing it? She wants to be picked up, right?

Well, according to Schaap: no, no and no. "Being a woman at home in bar culture is a way of figuring out who you are, and of getting comfortable with her. It's an assertion of independence." Not a come on.

§   §   §

After spending a couple of days with Schaap and her many bars, some readers will have a few questions. Is she an alcoholic? One of her roommates thought so, wrote it in her journal, left it out, open at that page, so she could read it. Schaap pulls a list from the AA book to prove that she is not, and --- being an old booze-hound myself --- I think she probably isn't. Alcoholics don't seem, as a rule, to have much fun. Rosie and I drink to drink ... not to get snockered. And Rosie, like me, seems to have a good time ... most of the time. Except when she is trying to be married (that one didn't work out --- for either of us); or when she's doing counseling, after 9/11 (volunteer job --- definitely fraying).

I buy into her regime, which is to go and spend an evening ... perhaps three or four times a week ... at her favorite watering hole. To be with her buddies who will take care of her, at Fish Bar, or Good World, or Puffy's --- pals who will give her what she calls "regularhood."

Once, in college, when she got very very sick, she stayed home from the Pig, her college hangout. At home, alone, "One night, about a week into this affliction, I started to drift into sleep. But before my eyes fully closed, I heard a voice speaking softly. 'Don't. Lie. Down,' it said calmly but gravely."

    I turned to see who was speaking to me, and there, by my bedside, was a small fuzzy lamb with the face of William Blake. Naturally, I relaxed.

She did what she was told, did not lie down, propped herself upright so she could sleep sitting up. A friend from the Pig came by next day, took her to the hospital. It was advanced pneumonia, and "that William Blake lamb-apparition-hallucination may have saved my life."

§   §    §

Schaap is at her best when she is telling real-life tales like this one; she gets a bit fuzzy when she lapses into philosophy, her religion, or soccer. She can always capture a drunken evening better than Malcolm Lowery, with a great deal less self-castigation. Once, she decides she has to give up on one of her favorite drinking-holes, the Good World. It is like giving up on an old love (most of the turning points in her life come, naturally in bars). She admits to being drunk, but she escapes the way all good drinkers escape : she takes a taxi. The taxi driver, it turns out, "is an angel sent from heaven by God himself."

    "Miss, what have you been doing this night?" he asks. Good question, what have I been doing?

    "I have been drinking with men."

    There is a long pause. I can tell that he is not sure what to do with this information.

    "And I think I'm tired of it," I add. I am not certain that I mean it, but I cannot stand the silence. I want to hear him speak. I want to talk.

    "You'll be okay, miss," he says soothingly.

    "Yeah, I'll be fine." I laugh a little.

    "See?! You're laughing! That means you'll be okay."

--- Pamela Wylie
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