Tending Bar and Talking Faith With Jewish Drinking Columnist Rosie Schaap

Author Has Complicated Relationship With Religion and Booze

Here Comes A Regular: In addition to writing and bartending, Rosie Schaap is also the chaplain of Fish Bar.
Here Comes A Regular: In addition to writing and bartending, Rosie Schaap is also the chaplain of Fish Bar.

By Dylan Foley

Published February 28, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
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● Drinking With Men: A Memoir
By Rosie Schaap
Riverhead Books, 272 pages, $26.95

As Rosie Schaap remembers it, in 1987, at the age of 16, she took the advice of her guidance counselor and dropped out of high school to follow the Grateful Dead. She sold beads and tie-dyed T-shirts to support herself, went to Dead concerts around the country, smoked pot and drank alcohol.

In one dizzying and graphic scene from her witty new memoir, “Drinking With Men,” Schaap came to in a motel room after doing 21 shots of Jack Daniel’s at a bar in Los Angeles. “That was a real binge,” said Schaap — now the Drink columnist for The New York Times Magazine — tending bar at South near her home in Brooklyn. “It was by far the most I have ever drunk. The next day, when I woke up, it took me a while to realize that I was in Santa Cruz, 350 miles away from where I drank the shots. There were dangers, but youth makes you forget that. I am grateful I am not dead.”

Schaap’s precocious bourbon experience is part of her 25-year chronicle of her life in bars — often as one of the few women regulars — and a gimlet-eyed exploration of modern bar culture.

I met Schaap on a freezing winter day, but South, which is Schaap’s local, provides a warm and welcoming oasis in the gritty Polish and Mexican neighborhood of Greenwood Heights. “Becoming a regular at your local bar can just be the decision to engage,” the 42-year-old Schaap said over a pint of Guinness. “If you develop a quick rapport with the bartender, it is like having an endorsement or a referral. I also say things that bartenders rarely hear, like ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘How are you?’”

Schaap is the daughter of the late, great sportswriter and ESPN broadcaster Dick Schaap. She was raised in Manhattan until her parents’ divorce, when she was 7, and then grew up in Connecticut.

“My parents were very secular,” Schaap said. “If we made it to Yom Kippur services once every three years, we got a big pat on the back. I was always interested in religion, though.” She recounted memories of attending services at a hippie synagogue one summer on Fire Island by herself when she was 8. “I think we are just hard-wired for certain things,” Schaap noted.

Schaap bartends once a week. As the late-afternoon light faded, young regulars started coming in after work and greeting her, some reaching over and hugging her. In the background, Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd” played on the jukebox.

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