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.