Writers often have strong feelings about where to write. The environment has to be “just so.”
I knew one girl who couldn’t write unless it was perfectly silent. Another writer I knew used carefully-selected music to set the mood for his novel.
Some writers have home offices, with books spilling off shelves and coffee stains on their desks. They’re the lucky ones. Others make do with a bedroom, but at least they’ve got a room of their own.
Then there are the homeless writers.
This breed frequents coffee shops. They curl up in corners with books, notepads, laptops. They sip designer coffees as they study, think and write. Coffee shops are the poor writer’s studio, where writers can go to escape their house and pen words surrounded by the cacophony of the city and intoxicating smell of roasted beans.
For me, writing is something I can do anywhere, any time. I write on buses, on airplanes, sitting in a parked car. I write in coffee shops, at restaurants during solitary meals, and even in bars.
That’s right: bars.
I’ve never understood why bars never became havens for writers. After all, I’ve always found a pint to be a more loquacious companion than a latte. Most bars have dark corners where you can lurk for hours without getting thrown out. And for people watching, there’s nowhere better.
I first began writing in bars in December 2005.
At the time, I was writing dating and relationship advice, and I read with eager interest the tales of researchers who sat in singles bars for months on end, recording their observations of courtship rituals.
If they could do it, why couldn’t I? Even if I didn’t observe anything of interest, the environment would certainly stimulate plenty of ideas.
I was inexperienced when it came to the local watering holes, so I asked around for a suitable location. My flatmate recommended The Tap Room, a bar for businessmen at the end of the Strip. He’d been a bouncer there and assured me that the clientele were mature.
I decided to try Friday evenings, hoping to catch people coming out for drinks with co-workers and avoid the weekend party scene.
I arrived in that transition time between the dinner crowd and those out for a good time. There were ample choice of seats with people coming and going. I picked a small table in a corner, where I had a good view of the bar and the street.
Over the next month, I went out every Friday, chose my same table, sat, observed, and wrote. Often couples dining would notice me, stare, then point me out to their friends. The barstaff simply seemed amused. I was a pioneer in the field of bar writing. I’m sure that the earliest writers who frequented coffee shops were treated the same.
Invariably, once a night, some young man would come up to me and ask what I was writing about. I’d take the advantage to interview him, and, if his friends were keen, them as well.
Often they’d want me to evaluate them on how they came across. They’d ask me questions about what I thought about New Zealand dating habits. I offered them all my professional opinion, which usually boiled down to:
Don’t dress like everyone else. All of the men looked the same: styled hair, cologne, a button-up shirt, nice jeans, and loafers. Probably bought from Hallenstein’s or Barker’s.
Identical clothes is a danger in a city as small as Christchurch. There are few places for men to shop to find anything different. The true fashionistas travel abroad to Australia, where Melbourne has edgy clubbing clothes. But 99% of the men I saw, night after night, bought what their mates bought, what their mothers had bought them as boys. Boring, blah, thoughtless fashion.
Most of the men who came up to me were a bit awkward and unsure about how to carry a conversation with a “relationship expert.” My American accent distinguished me from the average Kiwi girl. My bluntness did as well. They were used to doing the observing, not being the observed.
Once I met a pair of men who immediately took a liking to me, invited me to their table, and spent the rest of the night helping me further my research. They were from out of town, married men, pilots from Hamilton on a stopover. They were eager to see my “expertise” in action. As a game, they would solicit my opinion of an interesting-looking character at the bar, go up to that person, and get their story to see if it jibed.
That night was my favorite writing night out ever. It reinforced my belief that married men make the best company. They are relaxed in themselves, confident, and comfortable. They’re not on the hunt, so they can sit back, take in the scenery, and enjoy conversation with no expectations.
Single men of whatever age often have an edginess about them, as if they’re uncertain about whether they should be pursuing you or not. As they’re talking, they’re trying to read your signals to figure out whether you’d be receptive to a come-on. Due to the simple act of making effort, they come across as lacking in self-confidence.
I didn’t get picked up during my weekly excursions to The Tap Room, but I picked up plenty of ideas. Sitting in a bar on my own—an uncomfortable feeling at first, until I got used to it—stimulated my creative juices. I liked it.
I strongly encourage other writers out there to take over bars and make them their own. If it suits your writing, imbibe the energy of the night, of alcohol-fueled inspiration, of sweaty bodies and stale pickup lines.
I stopped in the end. I got bored. Every Friday was like a re-run of the same tired show, with the same laugh tracks, the same people endlessly hooking up.
But every writer should try it once. Break the mold. See how it affects your work. Eavesdrop and write down the conversations you hear. Write a short story about an interesting person you see.
Bars are the new coffee shops.