Belmont Lounge with Scout

27 08 2009

From another trail-blazing soul who gave it a shot, here are Scout’s thoughts:

City: New York
Bar: Belmont Lounge (
Book: Manuscript

Disclaimer: I take the blame for the failure of my first read, but hope that from my lessons, you might learn ways NOT to read in bars with boys.

Mistake numero uno: even though I woke up with every intention of staking out a stool and a glass of wine after work (the book goes without saying), I did not dress the part. After a succession of alarm snoozes, suffice it to say I was not looking my finest. By 6 PM, I wanted nothing more than to run home for a touch of mascara and a change of shoes — the thought of drinking/reading by myself was making me feel slightly insecure, and the fact that I rolled out of bed was hardly ego-boosting. Of course, this is a personal preference; I happen to feel more confident when I look put together, not like a freshman scouring the cereal bar before a final exam. (Lesson: if you would dress up for a date, why not dress up for yourself?)

Mistake numero dos: I waited until fifteen minutes before reading time to choose a location. I got the input of coworkers and miscellaneous suggestions from, but settled on a bar that I had never been to, nor heard of, before. (Lesson: get recommendations from friends, or pop your head into random bars for ideas on an off-night). Bar on A was a complete flop. Aside from being empty, it was much too dark to read in. Taking advantage of being in Alphabet City, I walked around with the hopes of finding something more promising; however, the humidity and the time constraints if I wanted to catch a happy hour deal were weighing me down, so I ventured back to Union Square. At first, Belmont Lounge (Irving and 15th St.) looked perfect. The lights were only partially dimmed, so it was fine light for reading. All of the seats were taken save one, next to a guy who was good looking from afar. Perfect, right? But I was duped. Other than the fact that my neighbor quickly switched from beer to hard liquor (suspicious choice, particularly when drinking alone), the lights were significantly dimmed minutes after I’d ordered my drink.

Feeling locked in, not only because of the glass of wine I had already invested in, but my desire to see what would happen, I quietly sat and read — rather, squinted and occasionally scanned the room. Sadly, nothing to report. There was a business meeting between two young entrepreneurs to my right, a girl waiting for a bartending interview, and a group offering happy hour deals until 10 PM for donations to cancer research. The incoming text messages and phone calls were only further distractions, and I could not help but imagine my escape every time the ringtone sounded: okay, I’ll just take one massive gulp and make a run for it! Luckily, I resisted; but the temptation was there.

The music was great, the crowd mediocre (and sparse), and the reading overshadowed by my general “harumph.”

Surprisingly, I am still hopeful. Had I taken this more seriously, like I might a date, for example, I would have been more prepared beforehand. Treat your read like a date with yourself, because that’s exactly what it is. Know where you’re going, be comfortable in what you’re wearing and, most importantly, silence your phone. You wouldn’t answer a call if you were out with a guy, would you? Focus on the task at hand: a great book and a much needed drink.


I appreciate everybody’s willingness to help me work out the kinks! Research beforehand is helpful. As is being in an independent mood, though that can’t always be helped. It takes great courage to give this a try, and the more comfortable we get reading with a drink on our own, I think the better the chances are a conversation will happen and the less we’ll care if it does. Ironic, no?


Reading in Parks

24 08 2009

Okay, so summer is a slow time in the city. I’ve been polling bartenders — are there usually only two people here on a Thursday night or does it pick up? — and they agree that business is down. So I moved my project outside for a bit. Yes, it kind of defeats the purpose, because what’s so eye-catching about a girl reading in the grass? Even if she were to wear a polka-dot bikini, it’s a pretty standard sight for parks in the summer. But there were two interesting results, on two separate occasions.

Interesting 1
When I got up from the bench I was reading on (I’d had enough of hearing an aged and deceptively dignified-looking man make cooing noises at passing girls) a man stopped me to ask about my electronic reader. He had a thick accent, perhaps eastern European, and asked if I my device was a Kindle. I explained that it wasn’t, but was very similar, and he nodded in slight confusion. Another man interrupted to ask him for directions, and I used that opportunity to escape further awkward interaction. I meandered up 5th Avenue, trying to decide where to get a coffee. Five blocks later, I heard a quiet voice from very close behind me — “Can I ask you to coffee?” I turn around. Lo’ and behold! Timid eastern European (who, I’ll add, must have been twenty years older than me) had followed me silently, doggedly, for several blocks. And that not even to catch my eye, but to sneak up on me from behind. Perhaps a surprise ambush had proven successful for him in the past, as the look in his eyes when I said “no, thank you” was one of wounded dejection. Fortunately he faded into the background as I continued on my way

Interesting 2
I remembered to bring sunbathing supplies to my office to take advantage of the half day. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember a blanket to lay on, and had to contend with the itchy grass that always makes me think something is crawling on me. There was much huffing and puffing as I tried to get as much of my body onto a tshirt I’d spread on the ground, while still exposing maximum pale skin to the sunlight. It was hot, and only took a half hour for me to be thoroughly disgusting and uncomfortable. I sat up, debating leaving, and a gentleman who apparently wasn’t deterred by my look of disgruntlement asked what I was reading. He was about 10 feet away, rubbing tanning oil on his already very tan back. He was attractive, in the way 40-something ex-surfers-who-still-work-out-and-see-a-lot-of-sun are attractive. He had the long, floppy California hair, and the California smoker voice. We chatted for twenty minutes, then did that uncomfortable adjustment dance where we didn’t want to seem like we were cutting off the conversation, but were kind of done talking. He offered to share his paper with me, I thanked him but returned to my book, facing the opposite direction. When I finally gave up on the heat and folded up to leave, we did a casual salute and went our merry ways. I think our age difference became apparent during the conversation (as happens when one, me, talks about how cheap beer is at Habana Outpost), and that was enough to prevent any attempts at exchanging information. I didn’t even catch his name.

We’ll return to the bars when September hits, and hope to have more to report then.

Drier Run

11 08 2009

City: New York
Bar: KGB (
Book: My trusty eReader, with a sci-fi manuscript

The first group effort didn’t exactly go as planned. Two other ladies ventured out with me, but the timing may have been a little off. I think we now recommend you don’t wait till too late in the evening to go, especially after a long day at work. Because then the one or two glasses of whatever put you to sleep, and it’s a little hard to attract lively conversation if you find your left eye drooping. I went to KGB, a bar in the East Village I’ve gone to before; it tends to attract a literary-type crowd since it hosts various readings on a regular basis. But upon arrival, I was one of three people, the other two belonging to a couple engaged in awkwardly intimate conversation. When the couple left, another young female type showed up and sat down to read a magazine on the other side of the room. Then a young male type showed up and stormed to the bar at top speed to order a G&T. The three of us sat there, all facing different directions, not talking. Eventually friends arrived up to keep the girl company, commenting on how solemn it seemed in there. Like a library mayhaps? And the fellow rushed out at an awkward tilt (it was quite odd how aggressive he was about his drink, when he just sat there alone sipping it for twenty minutes). Perhaps he was late for a rabbit hole. I just stayed to finish my one drink, then met up with my lady friend. The other lady friend called it a night and went home before meeting up; she fell victim to wine’s soporific effects. We rendez-vous’ed at Donnybrook, a nice little place that I recommend for the post-Read debrief (aside: make sure to avoid kissing drunken Irishmen there because you’ll have to hole up in the bathroom for twenty minutes). Fortunately my friend’s bar had been much livelier than mine, but her report should be up soon, so I won’t go into details.

Parts of my problem for me were the bar (too dark library vibe), the season (summer, bartender said everybody’s gone), and the time (post happy-hour, pre-binge Thursday night). I won’t be venturing to KGB to read again, and may in fact revisit Revival next time to reinvigorate my conversing hopes. And because the men there seemed to walk at normal speeds.

Readability: 2
Beer on tap: 0
Conversation possibilities: 1
Cute bartender: not of my persuasion

Toronto with Chekhov

11 08 2009

Thanks to our first contributor and brave soul for giving this a try:

City: Toronto
Bar: Free Times Café (
Book: Chekhov, The Essential Plays, Translated by Michael Henry Heim

I have to admit, the thought of sitting alone in a bar with nothing but a book and a drink made me more than a little anxious. But I’ve been thinking lately about how I need to take more chances and open myself up a little. So, when I first heard about ribwb I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with. After all, who hasn’t tried to subtly crane their neck to get a peek at the cover of the book that cute boy on the subway is reading?  Any activity that was aimed at drawing in cute boys with books seemed like a great idea to this perpetually single girl. Nonetheless, my apprehension meant that I still had to drag myself out of the house on Thursday night.

The first challenge was finding the right bar. Because this was my first Bar Read, I wanted a place that was relaxed enough that I wouldn’t feel too self-conscious sitting alone. I chose Free Times Café on College. It’s a casual little café/bar with soft folk sounds usually drifting from the stage in the back room and a house red that tastes like a Manischewitz that’s been left on a radiator. (It’s not. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile — I asked.) The second challenge was choosing the right book. I didn’t want anything too ostentatious (e.g. Kafka); but I also didn’t want anything that made me seem unrefined (e.g. anything written by Stephenie Meyer — although, don’t get me wrong, I surprised even myself by enjoying the Twilight series as much as I did!). I settled on a collection of essential Chekhov plays translated by Michael Henry Heim. I hoped that would say “intelligent but not pretentious”.

Due to my earlier reservations, there were more than a few butterflies in my stomach as I stepped off the Spadina streetcar. I went early in the evening to avoid running into a more rowdy crowd. I could see the bar’s neon sign a block away and began giving myself a pep talk. I’d just go in, pretend I was meeting someone and then leave in a half-hour.  I started strategizing — planning my entrance and where I would sit. I considered hiding myself away in one of the booths on the east side of the restaurant, but the point was to be visible and accessible so I decided I’d try the patio.

My nerves mostly evaporated when the bar came into view and I saw that the patio was littered with people sitting alone — some with books, some with laptops, others just enjoying their surroundings. I settled in, ordered a glass of wine and started into Three Sisters.

When I first sat down, there was a disappointing dearth of attractive young men. However, within a few minutes, one came in with his laptop and seated himself at a table directly across from me. It seemed too perfect for words on my first ribwb venture so I set my sights on trying to catch his eye. Unfortunately, at one point he raised his hand to take a drink and I caught sight of a wedding band!

Regrettably, no other viable options presented themselves so I focused on my book instead. Before I knew it, the clock tower of the fire hall down the street was chiming eight o’clock (12 minutes too late, mind you) and I realized I’d be there for almost an hour. I felt comfortable enough to stay around a little longer and finish up Act One.

Overall, it was a great experience (thanks ribwb!). While the ‘boy’ part didn’t really work out, it was at least a nice way to do some reading. Next time, I’ll try for a place a little more populated so I can work on striking up some conversations. But at least it felt like I’d accomplished something by overcoming my apprehension and following through. I realized it’s not that big of a deal to sit alone in a bar with nothing but a book and a drink! For, as Vershinin says in Act One of Three Sisters, “Things that appear serious, significant, so very important — the time will come when they’re forgotten or seem unimportant.”

Bar: 3 (comfortable, well-lit and great for reading)
Book: 4 (Chekhov never fails to break my heart)
Boys: 1 (some are good to look at, but don’t expect reciprocation)

Toronto Emissary

We applaud your courage! And appreciate your thoughts — I agree, the empowerment is as much about enjoying yourself in a risky new situation as it is about meeting people. Both will come, I’m confident. Despite the occasional wedding band hazards. Keep us posted on your next venture.

Dry Run

2 08 2009

Though the first official Bar Read is set for next week, I found myself with some time to kill and figured I should take this on a test drive. I’d feel a little guilty if I led troops to slaughter without realizing. I chose Revival, a casual bar with a pub-like atmosphere and an upstairs seating area that has decent lighting and lots of comfy couches. I grabbed a beer, slipped off my shoes, and curled up with my book. It was a little tricky, trying to pay attention to the book, meanwhile tracking every guy within twenty feet who wasn’t paired up with a girl. You really must turn down the guydar if you’re going to be satisfied with just reading. Otherwise you may find yourself quite verklempt if no attention is granted.

I did discover something helpful. Some guys don’t think to make that first move toward conversation unless you make yourself known to them. So should you ladies find yourself seated near a fellow who strikes your fancy and hasn’t made eye contact, ask him to watch your valuables while you go to the bathroom. Make sure to place your book prominently! If he’s at all sociable or interested, when you return it’ll go like this:

Girl – Thanks for watching my stuff.
Boy – No problem. What’re you reading?

Simple, no? If he doesn’t give a permutation of that response, he’s probably a little too self-absorbed or a little too distant, and not at all what you’re looking for. But attempted in the proper circumstances, this method has great potential. I found myself in a lovely tete-a-tetes with the Brothers Adorable. Admittedly, the one I felt a connection with (he teaches Greek and Latin to junior high kids, *sigh*) said something about a girlfriend at one point. And no contact info was exchanged when they headed out, though Bro 2 gave me a copy of the literary journal he works on (close but no cigar, son). Perhaps too awkward to ask for a number in front of your brother? Perhaps Bro 2 is attached, too? At any rate, Reminder To Self #1 — not every Read will end with a phone number and a date. Reminder #2 — you can offer your info, too. All things considered, a fairly successful foray.

Results, scale of 1-5:
Readability (lighting, noise level, seating): 5
Beer on tap: 4
Conversation possibilities: 4
Cute bartender: 5

*Note: results vary depending on day of the week and time of day.