Bartender Schaap Dishes on Cocktails, Tarot: Interview

Rosie Schaap loves bar culture. For her, pleasurable drinking is social drinking; she’s not interested in getting liquored up alone.

The serial regular writes a boozy column for the New York Times Magazine and has recently published a memoir about the tipplers and tap houses she has loved called “Drinking With Men” (Riverhead, $26.95). She also slings drinks herself one night a week.

We spoke over a couple of whiskies at Puffy’s Tavern in Tribeca, a place where she exhibited “pathological bar behavior” for a year in the ’90s.

Smith: What makes a good regular?

Schaap: The best bar people are those who are actively interested in others. If you really like bar life it’s because you like listening to people as much as you like talking. And common courtesy to your bartender: Would it kill you to say please?

Smith: I used to be a bartender, too. Where do you work?

Schaap: I work at South in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I love my poky little Tuesday shift but every now and then it turns out to be busy. This year both Christmas and New Year’s days fell on Tuesday.

The busiest by far was the day after Hurricane Sandy. No one in the neighborhood could get into work and I was five deep all day.

Subway Inn

Smith: Did the bars in your book have clean bathrooms?

Schaap: I really appreciate a clean bathroom. Though there have been filthy bars that I’ve loved, I’ve never been a regular. Like Mars Bar.

Smith: Or Subway Inn.

Schaap: I kind of love the Subway. One of the great dissident experiences of my life this past summer was going to dinner at Le Cirque, which was underwhelming, and then going to the Subway, which was kind of like a breath of fresh air, even if it doesn’t smell like one.

Smith: Your dad was the famous sports writer Dick Schaap. Did you know early on that you wanted to be a writer? You seemed to put it off and put it off.

Schaap: I always wrote. My father worked very hard -- I think of him sitting there writing. I think of myself spending half a day thinking about stuff.

Reading List

Smith: Who are you reading these days?

Schaap: I will read anything by Hilary Mantel, Alice Munro, William Trevor, Jami Attenberg -- who has new book out called “The Middlesteins” that’s fantastic. And Kate Christensen, whose books are always full of drinking.

I still read poetry every day. I have a small circle of friends and we have an e-mail poetry exchange. Ciaran Carson, Simon Armitage, Don Paterson are some of my favorite living poets.

Smith: Do you still read tarot cards?

Schaap: Very rarely. When I was writing the story I thought I should take the cards out and do it again. Have you ever?

Smith: I like to read them on January first. Last year Miss Ruby did a reading for me in Biloxi, Mississippi; it was really very funny.

Schaap: Wow, a tarot card reading in the Deep South -- that sounds like a story right there. I think they are fun and they share with bartending the idea of how important it is to read a person.

Current Favorites

Smith: So where do you drink now?

Schaap: I drink at South where I work but I’m not the kind of regular I used to be.

I’m a big soccer fan and there’s a great soccer bar where I watch on the weekend, that’s the Black Horse.

I like Walker’s in Tribeca, especially late at night. There’s a bar on Reade Street called Ward III; they make great cocktails and don’t have any attitude about it. I love a great cocktail, but it’s not my everyday go-to.

Smith: I like simple drinks myself.

Schaap: I still love for a special occasion going to Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle; they have fantastic martinis. But most of the time, I want a neighborhood bar where people are talking and not talking about cocktails.

(Catherine Smith writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include Craig Seligman and Greg Evans on movies and Zinta Lundborg’s NYC weekend.

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