I had the pleasure Tuesday of attending a Litquake event at the legendary Tosca Cafe featuring Rosie Schaap, author of the memoir Drinking With Men, in conversation with the brilliant local poet Robin Ekiss. Having never heard of Rosie’s book before the event, I was intrigued after reading its description to find out more about her relationship with drinking and bars, and how her love affair with the bar scene began. I am a huge fan of both alcohol and bars, so I left for Tosca, eager to gather around a crowd of fellow minded liquor lovers and hear the stories that Schaap had to share.
Tosca was a perfect place to hold the event, with its spacious seating area and a beautiful dark wood bar. I was enchanted by the liquor bottles glowing under the dimmed yellow lights and the rich, red leather upholstered bar stools. I ordered a Sierra Nevada from the friendly bartender, and found a seat all the way in the front, directly next to Rosie herself. The show started off with the authors introducing themselves. Robin is a poet, teacher, and mother (and more!), and Rosie, an author, bartender, drink columnist for the New York Times, and, strangely enough, an ordained chaplain. Once the introductions were over, we got to know more about Rosie and her old job as a librarian in a paranormal society, received a history lesson on Muggletonians (a small Protestant sect in the 1600’s that worshiped in bars), and her connection between faith, building communities, and bar culture.
Rosie grew up in New York and began drinking as a teenager at the bar cart on the Metro New Haven Line, where she would read tarot cards for the other passengers in exchange for booze (where was this bar cart when I was growing up?!). She loved the culture and people surrounding these alcoholic adventures, and as she grew older she branched out and looked for other bars that she could call home, and became attached to many surrounding her neighborhood.
Soon enough, Rosie became a regular at these bars, the kind of person that goes to the bar almost daily, and that every bartender and the regulars know by name.
I was impressed by the voracity with which Rosie attends bars, and Robin echoed my thoughts when she asked: “Becoming a regular at a bar seems so daunting to me. How do you do it?” Rosie explained how everyone has a place away from work and home that they need to go to in order to release the pressures from everyday life, and that these bars were her relaxing space. She told us how “regularhood” is becoming part of a community and gives you a sense of belonging, and Robin then asked how her experiences were as a woman: entering what many men view as a strictly “male space”. Rosie explained that becoming a regular for a woman was taking a feminist position by invading an overwhelmingly male space, and assimilating yourself with the men you drink with. Such a thought had never crossed my mind, but it makes sense, as the point of feminism is to be an equalizer of all genders. This was an incredibly poignant moment, and I will carry this thought with me the next time I go to the bars.
So when did literature get mixed into this Litquake martini? Rosie talked about how she learned so much from the different types of people she has met at bars, from soccer fanatics to artists, and she has met countless amounts of writers on her boozy journeys. One of my favorite things she said was how she has met great poets on both sides of the bar, and then she proceeded to tell us how after a few drinks she sometimes likes to “bust out a Shakespeare sonnet” for everyone to enjoy (which shows you just how incredibly intelligent she is). Rosie read a couple pages from her book, but mostly just chatted with Robin and the rest of the audience and answered our questions. I believe that Drinking With Men encompasses many of the stories that she told throughout the show, and is meant to be read like a story someone is telling you in a bar, making for a feeling of shared experiences between Rosie and the reader.
Here’s some Q & A from the audience:
Can you be a regular at more than one bar?
When I was younger, I was very loyal to only one bar at a time. Now that I’m older, I go to different bars for different reasons (i.e. different music, sports channels, drinks, etc.).
What are some of your favorite pieces of fiction that reference drinking/ bars?
Lucky Jim and The Old Devils (Kingsley Amis), anything by Kate Christensen, and I tried to find all of the different ales and liquors in Ulysses. There’s a lot.
What is your #1 favorite drink and backup?
A pint of Guinness and good Irish whiskey to back it up.
What is your favorite bar of all time?
It’s a tie between The Liquor Store (which is now a J. Crew) and Grogans in Dublin.
And my favorite:
What is the etiquette on buying someone a drink at the bar?
Ask the bartender to ask that person if they would like you to buy them a drink. That way they don’t feel uncomfortable.
Stay classy, Rosie!
Michelle Greenberg is a Litseen intern and Creative Writing student at SFSU. She likes to play drums and write poetry in her free time, and is obsessed with Charles Bukowski, Mexican food, and cats. She wants to publish at least one book of her original poetry and/ or own a guinea pig farm when she grows up.