Since I came of legal drinking age, I've been bringing books to bars. I pair literature with libations at home (whisky, usually, with or without the “e”), so why not do the same at my local watering hole? Trust in some shrill Yelpers to question the practice: “Why are people sitting at bars reading books??? It's not a library...I know Bukowski is cool, but I'm sure he had no part of this kind of debauchery.” Love it or hate it, the recently opened Molasses Books in Bushwick is bringing these two hobbies/passions/addictions closer than ever, offering tipples and tomes under one roof.
Its liquor license is still in the works, but Molasses and fellow newcomer Human Relations (a short trek up Knickerbocker Ave) have advantageous locales. Bars and art pair well in Bushwick, and I think books will, too.
Now, I understand this goes against the grain of bar dynamics. Inhibitions drop as intoxication increases, people start chatting and—sometimes—stuff happens. I engage my mingle-mode at gallery openings, and I'm not totally aloof at bars, either. This is why my preferred joints for focused reading are dives.
Take the now-shuttered Mars Bar. Despite its sticky surfaces and dodgy characters, everyone kept to themselves, hunched over their spirits of choice. While Mars Bar didn't boast a wall of whiskeys, if you ordered a shot of Jack Daniels, you received an overflowing tumbler of it. Since I was going to be there awhile, I could make major progress in brick-sized books, like Neal Stephenson's historical sci-fi behemoth The Baroque Cycle.
I take a cue from Haruki Murakami's everymen (sometimes only dubbedboku, i.e. “I/me” in the masculine sense) who hemorrhage hours in bars. Often, they arrive with an armload of Kinokuniya purchases, like Tengo in1Q84 or the sleuthy narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Nobody questions why they read in bars; it's just second nature. So when I meet friends for dinner in the East Village, I typically hit basement sake saloon Decibel first, ducking into the narrow bar with whatever novel I scored from St. Marks Bookshop down the block. Nursing chilled shochu, I'd study my grammar handouts from the Japan Society and, on occasion, try impressing the female barstaff with just-learned vocabulary.
This is why I avoid reading in Tokyo bars: chatting with barmates affords excellent Japanese conversation practice. Plus my abilities improve after I've had a few. My preference for ultra-tiny Golden Gai dives and immersive fetish bars sorta distract from the prose, anyway.
Lorin Stein, The Paris Review's editor, proudly brings books to bars, though his hangouts have changed after favorites faced renovations. My book-friendly biker bar Lovejoys in Austin, TX, recently tapped its final draft. Lovejoys also attracted tattooed, Bettie Page lookalikes, so I admittedly didmingle there.
While I search for my next haunt, paperback in hand, I ask you: are you a bar reader? Does a particular book entice you toward a bit of boozing? All experiences and inspirations welcome, and the first round's on me.
Image: The Gents Place