How one woman found happiness at the bar

Writer Rosie Schaap explains how the local watering hole has helped her build a sense of community.

Woman drinking wine in a cafe

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Much of Rosie Schaap‘s life has been spent in bars. But it’s not what you think. Schaap’s new memoir, Drinking with Men, offers insight into how she’s been able to develop a sense of community from her network of bars, their respective regulars and why she’s happier for it.

Q: A lot of memoirs about drinking are tinged with regret, but yours seems to have a lot of levity and inspiration. Has your experience with drinking been mostly positive?
A: I would say that. On one hand, I’ve had such a good experience – and not because of drinking but because of bar culture – but I also don’t want to be cavalier about the the situations people can find themselves in when they drink a lot. I had my moments when I was younger, but I find that I no longer want to drink that way. A hangover at 41 feels very different than a hangover at 21. But I hope this story is inspiring. For those of us who find community in a bar, it’s a great comfort to find interesting people whose lives become important to us. I don’t know that I could have met this range of people anywhere else.

Q: What makes for a great bar?
A: I look for a mix of people. One hears great stories of these journalist bars back in the 1960s, but I have no interest in drinking with just journalists, or just artists or just doctors. I love a place that has a really good mix. When I think about bars I love, there have been artists, taxi drivers, craftspeople, students, and mysterious people of independent means. I think that’s part of what makes bars interesting as a third space, different from other third spaces like the gym or a coffeehouse. At its best, you get an interesting collection of people, of all different ages.

I also think scale matters. I’ve never been attracted to bars that are big – they make it hard to create community. I like a small, cozy neighbourhood bar. I love great cocktails but that’s not why I go to bars. I want a place to be intimate and conducive to talking to other people. At my little neighbourhood bar, when I’ve had a bad day I don’t have to put on a brave face – they know me, and if I’m sad then I’m sad. It’s a place I go to relax, and to drink in company. It creates an openness. And it’s also a place to be my most relaxed self.

Q: Why drinking with men and not drinking with women?
A: I like drinking with people across the board – and I’ve had a lot of great female drinking companions. But what I’ve learned over the years that being “a regular” is really a male thing. That’s part of why I wrote the book. Bars close down, management changes, and then just as you’ve gotten comfortable in a bar, you have to shuffle along to something else. The first thing I want to do when I find a new bar is to invite all of my great women friends. And they come, and they have a great time. But, unlike me, they haven’t wanted to return the next night and the next night. I realized that I’m a bit of an anomaly in a largely male world. Remember Cheers? The men were the regulars; the women were the staff. Part of me wants to normalize it and encourage women to join a regular bar community. I leave an extra pair of house keys at my local. They sometimes collect UPS packages for me.

Q: Do you think drinking in bars has anything to do with the secret to happiness?
A: I don’t know if I’ve found happiness in bars – but I have found community and people who often make me very happy. If having interesting, engaging, available people to talk to can make you happy, then I’ve gotten bars. And there are little smaller pleasures – the things I’ve learned about music and books in bars, the personal stories I’ve heard. It’s not always happy, but it’s a means of engagement. It’s about being connected to other people. And being with other people, meeting each other exactly where we are, is one of the reasons for living.