Thanks for asking. I appreciate that, because, you know, I don’t like any of that old “fine, thanks,” b.s. In truth, I’m feeling…many feelings. I’m a bit of a worrier by nature, so anxiety tends to follow me around most of the time. But it’s pretty manageable these days. I’m pretty excited that my memoir, Drinking With Men, is finally out there in the world, and that people are reading it. I’m feeling a little run down, what with all the excitement. I’m napping more than usual. I should probably eat more vegetables. But I have little to kvetch about. I’m happy-ish. Full-on happy is mysterious to me, and it’s not necessarily something to which I aspire. I’m too superstitious to be totally happy; it could attract the evil eye, as my grandma could have told you.
Why is your memoir called Drinking With Men? Don’t you drink with women, too?
Yes, I do. Some of my all-time favorite drinking companions have been women. But as regulars—people who go to the same bar at least a few times a week—men outnumber women substantially. So, as that somewhat anomalous entity—the woman regular—I’ve largely found community in bars in the company of men, and in many ways that has forced me to assimilate into a male culture. At some point, I perceived this as problem—both in the “something must be very, very wrong with me” sense of the word and in the “here’s an interesting puzzle to put together” sense of the word. I think starting a book with a problem, a puzzle, is a pretty good way to begin.
Some people seem to think that bar regulars are just a bunch of layabouts who drink too much. In your book, you write that bars are actually really valuable, reliable sources of community. Got any recent anecdotes to back this up?
Just last night, I went to a fundraiser at a little bar in Manhattan’s East Village. One of the barbacks there was recently diagnosed with cancer. I’m not a regular there, but it’s a place I like, and I wanted to show my support. You could really feel the love. I could tell that his coworkers and regulars really care about him, and they’ve got his back. In my experience, bar folks really do look out for each other. After Hurricane Sandy, it seemed like every bar I know in New York was doing something to help—from canned food drives to benefit events to rallying people to do serious manual labor in parts of the city hit hardest. Bar people are some of the most generous and bighearted people I know.
But surely some scary shit happens in bars, too, and not every regular is a model citizen. Are you glossing over that?
I certainly hope not. I strove to be frank in Drinking With Men, and I tell some pretty sad stories among all the happy ones. I’ve seen plenty of bad behavior in bars—from everyday transgressions and failures of courtesy (the innumerable customers who don’t bother saying “please” and “thank you” to bartenders—I’ll never understand that), to bartenders who’ve dangerously over-served people (myself included), to very rare encounters with downright menacing characters. But the great majority of my experience in bars has been joyful and comforting—I’ve made many of my closest friends, and learned as much, if not more, than I did in college.
Okay, this is kind of mean but, what with your book and “Drink”—your monthly column in The New York Times Magazine—you sound a little like a one-trick-pony. What do you care about other than bars and booze? Any hobbies?
Oof. That is kind of harsh. But I can see why you might wonder about that. Well, I care about people (I spent about four years working for anti-poverty nonprofits). And poetry (I read some every day). And soccer (Tottenham ‘til I die). And art. And food. And faith. And traveling. Of course, all of these things come up in bars, because we bring to bars the stuff we love.
Oh, I’ve had many hobbies, but lately I haven’t had much time for them, which bums me out. One of my favorites is letterpress printing, and I’m gonna try to make more time for that this year. Years ago, I went to the opera a lot more often than I do now. I miss that. And I don’t know if this counts as a hobby, but I have a crazy tableware fetish. I have a very nice bakelite fish service, and a terribly handsome toast rack, but I am still trying to find the perfect pair of grape shears.
What are you really bad at?
Many things. Bowling. Billiards. Math. But most vexing to me: I can’t seem to master any foreign languages. I just have no inherent affinity in this department. I’m okay with vocabulary, but get really lazy and easily frustrated with grammar. I’m good at faking accents though, which gets me into trouble as soon as people figure out I have no idea what I’m saying.
Anything about you that might surprise people?
Yes. For all my love of bars, I’m not a night owl. I’m a morning person. Sort of a freakish morning person. It’s when my neighborhood is quietest and most beautiful, so I love a good early-morning walk.
Have you heard any good jokes lately?
No. People used to tell jokes in bars more often. I miss that. My dentist also used to tell me jokes, too, but I haven’t seen him in ages. Way overdue for a cleaning. This is a helpful reminder.
Rosie Schaap has been a bartender, a fortuneteller, a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, and a manager of homeless shelters. A contributor to This American Life and npr.org, she writes the “Drink” column for The New York Times Magazine. She was born in New York City and still lives there.