Women In Bars

I just finished Rosie Schaap’s, Drinking With Men, her insightful, delightful memoir of a life spent in bars. And I do mean “life”. For each local pub she claimed as her own at various stages of her life going back to her teens, soon became more of a home than her own, its patrons more of a family than who she grew up with. And where some might say she drank too much or flirted too often with what you might call a “drinking problem”… while glorifying what to many is a horrifying pastime, especially for a woman… when you read her heartfelt take on that world along with her endless quest to belong somewhere, anywhere, you see why the warmth of an amber-lit bar… a mini cathedral of oak and mirrors sprinkled with interesting characters… became such a magnet. And great education.

With poets, painters, architects and teachers (the clientele she sought) sitting around her with her all alone at first, not to mention bartenders who took on the role of big brother (many of whom were artists as well as most of her bars were downtown), saloons to her were less party rooms than classrooms. Or as she put it, social centers where people happen to drink. But each new bar into which she gained entry had its step-by-step process… listen and learn, speak and be listened to slowly over time, matriculating though the system as though it were a college… til she reached what to her was that coveted status called “regular”. An unofficial member of a grown-up fraternity, she its only sister, where someone once told her (and which she cherished), “I love you because you’re one of the guys. But you’re not!”

Now do I recommend that life for a woman? No. Do I condemn it? Bigger no. It’s just a path this woman has taken in a quest to find herself, where each new bar marked a new beginning (the next in an evolution), and where each one she walked away from left her the wiser. Wise enough to not just survive but, just like the ring that’s etched in a bar left from a cocktail glass, she’s left behind this wonderful memoir as proof. She also writes the “Drink” column for the New York Times Magazine, and one night a week tends bar somewhere in Brooklyn. So “Cheers!” to you, Ms. Schaap, you’ve not only done yourself proud but the world I know well.

I often thought when reading this book how different it is for a woman to do what she did. To become a “regular”. To walk in a bar all by yourself, decide you like the place fine, then go about making that place your brand new haunt. Because a woman alone to the opposite sex can often send out the wrong message, innocently of course and even in this day and age, and some guys never fail to take it that way. If she’s reading a book or going over papers (which Ms. Schaap did in her teaching days), she’s pretty much sent out the vibe “I vant to be alone! But if she’s just there having a glass of wine or God forbid something stronger, the alley cats sooner or later will move in to scratch. And the bartender, if he’s alert, then has to de-claw them. All it takes is a glance from the woman without a word being said, and the bartender knows she’s not there to find Mr. Right. Or worse, Mr. Wrong. She just wants a drink like any other patron to simply pass the time, and to let the tension of the day wash away with each sip. But it’s not always easy.

And for her to move to the next level, to frequent a bar as a solo woman and then become one of it’s regulars… “one of the guys”… it’s never easy. But I’ve seen it happen over the years and it takes a special kind of woman, a woman who’s not afraid of the bullshit and bluster. And just like our memoirist did many times, the key is to ease yourself in and not barge in. Because once “getting laid” is out of the equation men can be very protective of their sacred turf. Their trust must be earned. And earned it is by the woman with smarts who backs it up with conviction, but also practices the intricate art of give and take. It’s almost like being in a relationship, sans the commitment. Which reminds me of probably the bravest of all when it comes to bar conversation, or at least the wittiest woman who “drank with men”… the great Dorothy Parker.

Ensconced in a booth in The Algonquin Hotel back in the 1920′s, surrounded by mostly male luminaries… Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun and George S. Kaufman, to name just an awesome few… Ms. Parker spat out her pearls of wisdom as easily as if they were pits spat out from martini olives.

To wit, (all you yungins’ who never heard of her):

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look who he gave it to.”

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

“I don’t know much about being a millionaire, but I’ll bet I’d be darling at it.”

“Tell him I was too fucking busy…. or vice versa!”

“The woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say, ‘No,’ in any of them.”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force!”

“Wit has truth in it. Wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

“Take care of luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.”

“I don’t care what’s written about me as long as it isn’t true.”

“It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard!

“A hangover is ‘The Wrath Of Grapes”.

And her most famous of all… “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her drink.”

(Ms. Parker wasn’t “one of the guys”, she was The Man!)

So to all you women who frequent a bar in which you’re thought of as a “regular”, may the company be good, the conversation rich, the bartender kind and attentive, and the drink made just to your liking because you’re a regular. You’ve earned it!

See you next time, dear reader, have a good week…

15 Responses to “Women In Bars”


  1. 1 Pharm Sci Grad March 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Oh Scrib, you made me smile. I hadn’t thought of “my bar” in a while… I had to move a while back, new job and all, so I’m starting fresh in a new place. I never quite got the whole “Cheers” thing until I had it.

    We were a fun, rowdy bunch at an outdoor bar, so from April to October I had my bar, my people. It took one season to get to that point, then two years of everything you mentioned – good company, good conversation, great bartenders, and drinks just how I liked ‘em. I miss it, miss it in ways I can’t quite put into words. It was as if it wasn’t just a place, it was also a time, and I fear I may never recapture that magic.

    To be a woman in men’s spaces has never been easy. At times it was almost impossible. That needs to change.

  2. 2 scribbler50 March 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Pharm Sci Grad: First off, how nice it is to hear from you, you made me smile as well because it’s been a while. And second, you put it into words extremely well. I really get what you’re feeling… missing that nostalgic “Cheers” zone… and once it’s gone it’s hard to find a replacement. That’s what the woman in the book went through, but when one shut down she set out and found herself a new one. And finally, yeah you’re definitely right about men, men have to one day grow up and grow with the times. It’s obviously better than it was years ago and better than the days this woman wrote about, but it’s still not what it should be as you can attest.

    Hey, I hope your new job is working out well and I hope you find a new bar to call your own.

    All the best, Sci Grad!

  3. 3 Comradde PhysioProffe March 10, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Great book review! I am gonna pick this one up!

  4. 4 Thomas Fitzsimmons March 10, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Scribbler. Great subject. I wonder if you will ever write about our very own Oracle here in Yorkville, Rosie? Take it from me, she has many tales to tell. Just sayin’ . . ..

  5. 5 scribbler50 March 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Comrade: You’ll like it, Dude, especially the part where she drinks your favorite whiskey. She’s a jameson girl!

    Thomas Fitzsimmons: Hey, man, I’m always looking for stories, bring her on.
    And thanks.

  6. 6 Alex Gregg March 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Great as always….

  7. 7 scribbler50 March 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Alex: Thanks, as always.

  8. 8 everythinginbetween March 12, 2013 at 10:29 am

    What a fun review! I used to have a “bar of my own,” even though I didn’t frequent it daily…maybe twice a week? And mostly with my husband or brother, I’ll admit? My life is very different now but I really miss the way the bartender made my drinks – just the way I like them! Oddly, a precipitous (over 60 point) drop in my cholesterol has coincided with no bar food or drinks in ov er a year…

  9. 9 scribbler50 March 12, 2013 at 11:33 am

    everythinginbetween: Thanks, Courtney, glad you had “fun” reading this. And congrats on your drop in cholesterol. Being a mom with different concerns and priorities now, burgers, fries and chicken wings (the typical barroom fare) are NOT the way to go. (Damn it! Right?)

    Good for you and good luck, thanks for stopping by.

  10. 10 MikeQ March 13, 2013 at 6:11 am

    “The warmth of an amber-lit bar… a mini cathedral of oak and mirrors sprinkled with interesting characters.” Very nicely written, Scrib. You may be warming up to finish that book. Your posts are always great … this one even more so. Damn this is good.

  11. 11 scribbler50 March 13, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Mike Q: In a way those were her words, so vivid were the pictures she painted and the mood she created. She treated these places with such a reverence you felt like you were in a church not a bar.

    (Geez, I guess that makes us priests there, Padre Mike. Pass the tip basket!)

    Thanks, Bud.

  12. 12 Hornet March 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Brrrilliant! My watering hole, a dear place known as McCarthy’s in SLO, CA, has a trove of female regulars. And what a place ’tis! Miss Rosie owes you a debt of gratitude Scrib, because you just sold a book. I jotted down name and author on a post-in and stuck it in my wallet ‘fore I was halfway through. I would imagine it might fit nicely up on the shelf next to The Tender Bar.

  13. 13 scribbler50 March 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Hornet: I loved “The Tender Bar” too, needless to say more so, mainly because it’s a guy’s story whose childhood particulars paralleled mine to a tee. You read the book so you know what the particulars were. I thought it was brilliant!
    This obviously is a woman’s memoir with a whole different set of experiences, emotions and awakenings, but it’s a human story as well and no less well written. The second two thirds (more bar oriented) I think you’ll like better.

    Enjoy and cheers!

  14. 14 Anonymoustache April 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Superb post, bro! Sounds like a book I need to read. Also, loved the Parker quotes….I hadn’t heard of (and, doubtless, will greatly tempted to use soon) the “Tell him I was too f-in busy, or vice-versa” one….

  15. 15 scribbler50 April 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Anonymoustache: The Parker-isms are priceless but her short stories are really who she is. Meaning she’s far more than the celebrated quipster everyone still quotes, her stories are filled with heart, intelligence and pathos. Pick up the collection, it’s worth it.

    “or vice-versa is my favorite too. Brilliant!


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