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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Bars Rescued Her

Spike TV has a reality program called Bar Rescue wherein nightlife consultant John Taffer revives a troubled establishment’s fortunes with a combination of tough love and managerial expertise.

Before shooting his next segment, Taffer should read Rosie Schaap’s just-released memoir, the highly entertaining Drinking with Men (Riverhead Books).  The book examines not only the author’s life as seen through the friends she made while enjoying adult beverages, but also the intangibles that make a bar one you’d like to visit regularly.  

“A bar gives you more than drink alone,” Schaap, who currently resides in Brooklyn, writes. “It gives you the presence of others; it gives you relief from isolation.  When you are a regular, it gives you community, too.”  

Schaap’s book has won favorable reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Observer and, given the subject matter, her promotional tour is— not surprisingly—taking her to South Pub, 629 5th Ave., South Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. for a reading, question-and-answer session, and book signing.

Drinking with Men’s chapters are built around bars that played key roles in the 40-something-year-old Schaap’s life, from the taverns she frequented while an undergraduate at Vermont’s Bennington College to the ones she inhabited in New York City, where Schaap taught English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College while a graduate student.  There are even odes to watering holes in Dublin, where she spent a semester abroad, and Montreal, site of a memorable long weekend.  Today, Schaap writes the Drink column for The New York Times’ magazine, and is a contributor to public radio’s This American Life and

The most surprising thing about Schaap, daughter of the late sportswriter Dick Schaap, who grew up in Freeport, and brother of ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap, is that she dropped out of high school to travel with The Grateful Dead, the late Jerry Garcia’s band, an odd decision even for a teenaged wild child.  Her parents’ marriage broke up when she was seven, Schaap writes, so her migration from a broken family to a dysfunctional one—the nomadic tribe known as Dead Heads—may not have been illogical at the time.  The author eventually secured a high school equivalency diploma and headed off to Bennington College, from which she graduated.    

I enjoyed her keen observations about bar culture even though I do not buy into one of the book’s running themes.  Schaap leaves readers with the impression that a tavern’s most loyal customers, and I’m talking about the ones who sit on the same stool Every Single Day, are by and large endlessly fascinating people.  Based on the examples cited in Drinking with Men, I daresay the personalities of individuals meeting this criterion are more tedious than charming when compared to the population at-large.  

Still, Schaap’s winning personality shines throughout the text.  There’s a great anecdote near the end of the book, for instance, about how a fellow bar patron successfully recruited her in 2006 to become a fan of the English Premier League’s (EPL) Tottenham Hotspur, a London-based professional soccer team.

To close the loop here, I think Taffer’s Bar Rescue should recommend to some clients that they “adopt” an EPL team as a way to boost revenues.  If the live broadcast of a Tottenham game starts at 4 p.m. in England, New Yorkers wanting to catch all the action will need to be in their seats at 11 a.m.


Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: