A memoir from This American Life contributor and New York Times Magazine “Drink” columnist Schaap.
The author extolls the pleasures of “bar regularhood,” focusing on those establishments with distinct atmospheres—sometimes evoking European cafe societies, other times fondly portraying out-of-the-way places with colorful owners—to demonstrate how they can serve as “relief from isolation,” a “refuge from the too-deep and too-personal,” and a means for broadening one’s ability to listen and empathize with others. Schaap briefly acknowledges the negative aspects, especially for women who frequent bars alone, but she paints a mostly romantic portrait of discovering friendship and conviviality that is gradually tempered over time. Each chapter recounts her experiences in a particular bar—often in New York, with excursions to Dublin as well as Montreal—as touchstones that allow her to explore major turning points, from being a teenager who dropped out of high school and became a Deadhead to becoming a student at Bennington College, finding love, working as a chaplain in the aftermath of 9/11, as well as her father’s death, separation and bartending in the present. Schaap suggests that early trials served as catalysts for seeking company away from home, though she admits that the need for regularhood lessened with age. The author only briefly touches on alcoholism, one possible explanation for the hundreds of hours spent in bars; what remains is a brisk, lucid account of finding a tenuous peace after a period of escapism.
The conclusions reached are familiar, but Schaap’s talent for balancing self-revelation with humor, melancholy and wisdom turn an otherwise niche topic into one with greater appeal.