Cocktail columnist, bartender, and sometime fortuneteller Rosie Schaap's memoir 'Drinking With Men' is out today (here's a short, excellent excerpt), and I emailed with her about bars and books and oysters.
Edith Zimmerman: Do you remember your first drink?
Rosie Schaap: Yes, I certainly do. It was amaretto. My parents had thrown a party on Christmas Eve when I was five or so, and didn’t bother cleaning up the coffee table afterward. I woke up early on Christmas morning, and there were some snifters with a few sips left of a pretty, amber liquid. I sniffed it, and it smelled like candy, so I drank it. And my parents found me splayed under the Christmas tree, snoring. I have to say, I still have a soft spot for the stuff.
Do you think people need to quit drinking to publicly tell their darkest drinking stories? Because it seems tricky to implicitly endorse drinking to excess, but then sometimes the stories are just really interesting. Or maybe they aren't, actually, without the self-awareness that sobriety provides? I don't know. Do you??
I tell some pretty dark drinking stories in Drinking With Men, but I tell some really happy ones, too. My focus is much more on bars than on drinking — and though they work as a team, they’re not the same. A bar gives you community, at least when you’re a regular. Drinking alone doesn’t give you that, and that’s why it never interested me. I never quit drinking, so I can’t speak from the perspective of someone who has. But my drinking habits have changed so much since I started when I was a teenager. My tolerance isn’t what it used to be. I need a few alcohol-free days a week to get work done; hangovers are much harder for me to get over in my 40s than they were in my 20s. I drink less now, but I think I drink much better. And I think self-awareness comes with maturity, not just sobriety. I hope it does.
What did you drink on New Years? Christmas?
I worked a short shift at [the Brooklyn bar] South on Christmas night, so I only had a little eggnog at brunch with my family earlier in the day. After my shift, I drank some whiskey. But the next day, I had some friends over for a Boxing Day dinner and made a huge pot of wassail, the delicious mulled cider-and-ale concoction that I wrote about for dining section of The New York Times. I rarely go out on New Year’s Eve. A friend came over and we ate and drank decadently — caviar, steak, Champagne, a couple of bottles of good red wine.
Have you ever tried Qream? It seems like the brand is winding down, but it seemed to perfectly embody the ridiculousness of the booze-aimed-at-women thing.
No, I haven’t. And I won’t. First off, if I can’t even deal with a product’s name, I can’t drink it. Second, I’m with you: Whenever a liquor or beer or wine seems to be marketed exclusively to a specific group of people, I’m turned off. A good whiskey, or gin, or beer will appeal to anyone who likes a good drink.
How pissed would you be if someone came out of nowhere with a book called 'Drinking With Women'?
It takes more than that to piss me off, so I think I’d be kind of flattered. But I should probably say right now that I love drinking with women as much as I do drinking with men. The fact is, the great majority of bar regulars are men, so, as a much rarer woman regular, I’ve more often found myself in their company at bars.
... And told you about it via a Q&A about 'Drinking With Men'?
Well, then I’d think she’s a comic genius and offer her a blurb (though she’d be well within her rights to decline the offer).
What city would you like to visit for its bars alone?
First three that come to mind: New Orleans. Milwaukee. Belfast.
Best bar in New York?
The best bar is any bar with a mixed, lively crowd of interesting people, where I’m having a great conversation (and the music is low enough to make that possible), and enjoying a patiently poured pint of Guinness or a cocktail made with a little love and finesse. (I also appreciate it when there’s some vigilance about keeping restrooms stocked with toilet paper.) But some favorite go-to’s include great neighborhood places like The Brooklyn Inn and Walkers and South (I know, I work there, but I was a patron before I was a bartender), and places with terrific cocktails and none of the sanctimonious attitude that sometimes accompanies them, like Ward III and Amor y Amargo. I don’t go there often anymore, but among dives, I have eternal affection for Milano’s. And I’ll always love beautiful, classic hotel bars like the Bemelmans at the Carlyle, the Blue Bar at The Algonquin, and The King Cole at the St Regis — mostly for special occasions and when friends are visiting from afar.
And where would you live if you didn't live in New York? (Or, off the record: please tell me how to get out of here!)
Don’t leave! This is a great place. But I hear you. And I often fantasize about dividing my time between New York and Ireland.
What goes well with oysters?
Oh, God. OYSTERS. How I wish I had a giant pile of them in front of me RIGHT NOW. I guess I’m pretty traditional in this respect, and like Chablis with oysters best of all. But Champagne works, too. And Muscadet. And so do martinis. And even certain whiskies. And many kinds of beer. So how about you just bring me the oysters already and I’ll sort it out?
[Okay! Seriously.] What was your first favorite cocktail?
A whiskey sour, because that was my ma’s drink.
And what's the most recent drink you had?
Some very cheap, everyday, perfectly satisfying Malbec. That I opened a week ago. In a juice glass. Can you stand the glamour?
(And Rosie Schaap is also on Twitter.)