The golden age of drinking has returned with retro vengeance, and though men have warming bar stools since the dawn of humankind, there's still a stigma associated with women who dare to go to bars unaccompanied. In a series of essays about her personal experience both in front and behind the bar, author Rosie Schaap in her new book "Drinking with Men," argues that there's much to be gained in becoming a 'regular,' whatever your gender. In your local bar, you can find a place to relax, be yourself, and foster close friendships - all of course, with the help of a little alcohol.
I have always wanted to be brave enough to walk into a bar alone and have a drink alone, but I've only done it once or twice. What's the secret?
It's understandable that you feel uncomfortable going to a bar alone. We all have social anxiety, but there are really terrible stereotypes connected to women in particular drinking alone, that they want to get their drinks paid for or that they're there to hook up. That's actually why I wrote this book, to counter those stereotypes.
I think the first step is to engage your bartender. Bartenders are very easy to talk to - they work in a bar because they like to meet new people. I always find it wonderful when a new patron comes in and asks me how my day is going. Of course, it's better to do this on a weekday night or an off time when the bar isn't so crowded.
If you want to be left alone the best way to signal that is with a book. Just put a book in front of you!
Why did you call the book 'Drinking with Men'?
As much as I love drinking with women, the truth is most bar regulars are male. I'd love to see more women in bar culture but the great majority of my steady drinking companions have been men. That made me wonder if I was an anomaly in some way - it made me wonder why being a regular in a bar appealed to me so much.
What has working in bars taught you about men?
Two very important things - the friendliest guy in a group is never the most interesting one. Though he might seem so initially, it's really the cranky guys who end up being fantastic to talk to and develop friendships with. So being in bars has taught me not to judge men as quickly.
Also, men want to share just as much as women do, if they've had a hard day at work, or there's something really weighing on their mind, they feel comfortable talking at the bar. Bar culture relaxes everyone. I've had some incredible moments where a regular made a toast to a deceased parent or shared something very personal with me. Working at a bar has taught me that men need to talk and ruminate as much as women do.
You write about being "one of the guys." I think all women, at some point or another, have been referred to that way.
You become a sister figure in some ways. This can be great comfort because a bar can provide a proxy family and that's comforting. Most of the time that's how I want to be treated: I want to be regarded as part of the family.
At the same time, you want men to remember that you are a woman. I tell that story in the book about developing a crush on one of the regulars. It really did upset the balance of my life in that bar. It's like having a crush on one of your co-workers.
Would you say that most of your boyfriends were men you met in a bar?
The most serious relationships I've formed have been with men I met outside of bars. I met my husband in graduate school - we were together for 14 years. [Ed note: Schaap's husband died in 2010.]
There's one story where you take your future husband to the bar to meet your bar friends, and it's kind of an awkward scene.
They were very protective of me, and he was a really shy guy - not rude but shy - and they were not shy, so it was awkward! It was a combination of touching and infuriating because they weren't friendly to him but eventually that changed and they loved him.
What did your husband think of your hanging out in bars without him when you lived apart?
He was an academic and he got a job in Pennsylvania and I was still working full time in Manhattan and so, for many nights, I was alone here in New York. It was interesting to me that I reverted to habits I had before I had married.
I thought my going to bars wouldn't bother him but it turned out it did. It wasn't just the bars. There was this real tension because he was out in rural Pennsylvania where there wasn't a whole lot of fun and here I was, in his eyes, "living it up" - I've never thought about bars that way, but he was uncomfortable with it.
Did he like to drink?
He loved to drink cocktails. He was a big Manhattan guy. When we first met, he impressed me by having that very sophisticated cocktail order.
Could you be serious about someone who didn't like to drink?
Well, my husband loved to drink and he loved bars. But there was a wonderful essay by Elissa Schappell, about how one day her husband decided to stop drinking without any fanfare and it brought up this question. I think it really varies from couple to couple. If the relationship is happy it can work - it's hard for me to imagine.
There's part of me that loves being in bar on my own, however. There's a lot to be said for having separate bars as a couple - sometimes you need to get away from your home life.
When you're home with friends, what's your go-to drink?
Personally, I've never really been interested in drinking alone - the pleasure is always wrapped up in the people I'm drinking with. I feel a duty to make my friends a really good cocktail. I set up my bar like a boozy sundae bar - I ask them what they're in the mood for and then I make these impromptu bespoke cocktails.
Schaap also writes a 'Drink' column for The New York Times Magazine. Her 'Bitter Darling' cocktail with rye, bitters, ginger syrup and clementine juice was just what the doctor ordered on a blustery evening last week!