The art of drinking, and drinking in public, is all about codes — knowing your environment and knowing the art of conversation. If liquor loosens tongues, it also drags you out of the corner and into the culture of the bar itself. This is all beautifully captured in Rosie Schaap’s witty, compassionate memoir, Drinking with Men (Riverhead, $26.95), a meditation on learning how to drink well, wisely, and with eyes wide open. If you’re seeking a story of drinking gone wrong, you’re better off with Augusten Burroughs’ Dry or Mary Karr’s Lit, but if you want an elegy to good bars and a stiff drink, Schaap has you covered.
She writes about grown-up drinking, and each drinking story she shares marks a significant shift or conflict in her life. As a teenager, she’d dress like a Gypsy and offer tarot card readings on the Metro-North New Haven line for free beers; as an adult uncovering her latent spirituality, she’d find refuge in bars between stints as a volunteer chaplain at the foot of ground zero; as a married woman, it took a special bar in Montreal to feel her relationship coming apart. To be a bar regular, she says, is all about “adapting—and about enjoying people’s company not only on one’s own terms, but on others.” We go to bars to find ourselves in other people’s habits, and in finding other people, find ourselves. Three martinis or more, you’ll always find yourself under the sway of your host, and that’s the best part of bar culture. […]