The best books that will make you rethink the way we drink and why

Christine Sismondo Author Of America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops
By Christine Sismondo

Who am I?

I became interested in bar culture in my 20s when I worked at a neighborhood "local" in Toronto and was struck by how close people could become when sharing drinks and stories across a bar. Since then, I’ve spent most of my life researching the history of cocktails and bars—both as an academic topic and as a columnist for magazines and newspapers, including the Toronto Star. I’ve written a podcast on Prohibition for Wondery Media, as well as four books, Mondo Cocktail, America Walks Into a Bar, Canadian Spirits (with Stephen Beaumont), and the forthcoming Cocktails: A Still Life (Running Press), with James Waller and still-life artist Todd M. Casey.   


I wrote...

America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops

By Christine Sismondo,

Book cover of America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops

What is my book about?

Some people dismiss taverns as trivial. Others might argue that saloons are a bad influence. This book re-frames bars as valuable community spaces by exploring the role they’ve played in American history—from the Salem Witch Trials to Stonewall. Even though the United States has an ambivalent relationship with its bars and alcohol—a substance that has been and still can be a destructive force—taverns and saloons have also been key players in many social, cultural and political movements. And, since our local dives are an increasingly endangered species, now is a good moment to consider exactly what we are losing.   

The books I picked & why

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The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World

By Stephen Mansfield,

Book cover of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World

Why this book?

One thing I love about this book is that Mansfield fleshes out a beautiful history of a business whose founder genuinely cared for his workers and the community, which is both a refreshing change, as well as a beacon of hope that we can build a more compassionate model. If you’ve ever wondered why people are so loyal to this particular brand of stout and why Guinness is such an important part of Dublin’s history, this will help you understand why. When I read it, I’d never been to Ireland, despite its being high on my bucket list. I finally got there last year and, thanks to this book, I enjoyed sitting in a pub with a pint so much more than I might have, knowing the beer’s amazing back-story.   


The Tender Bar: A Memoir

By J.R. Moehringer,

Book cover of The Tender Bar: A Memoir

Why this book?

Although I loved the city of New York more than ever after 9/11, it was sometimes hard to feel optimism and hope about the bigger picture and humanity as a whole in the first several years of the new millennium. This book was one of several things that helped restore my faith, since Moehringer so lovingly portrays the community where he grew up in Long Island—an area profoundly impacted by the attack on the World Trade Center. While I was fact-checking the title, et cetera, I discovered there’s a movie version coming out in early 2022. Obviously I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m really looking forward to it.  


Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol

By Mallory O'Meara,

Book cover of Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol

Why this book?

I became aware of this book shortly before it was published because Mallory and I were on a radio show together in 2021 to discuss alcohol in the age of COVID. She was bold, radical, funny, and obviously super-smart. So is her book.

I also love that she saw that women had largely been written out of alcohol histories, then went ahead and decided to fix that. Throughout the years, we’ve heard bits and pieces about women being early brewers, distillers, tavern-keepers, and bartenders but, until now, nobody ever dealt with it comprehensively. It was about time.


A History of the World in 6 Glasses

By Tom Standage,

Book cover of A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Why this book?

I’d already read The Victorian Internet by Standage by the time A History of the World in Six Glasses was released, so I had a feeling I would like it before I even cracked it open. Most of my favorite history books are similar to these two—written by a generalist, who has a keen ability to tell a big story and clearly articulate insight into when, how, and why humans changed the way they lived in the past. In this book, he divides up the history of the world according to what people drank and tells us what it means about that era. Great read.   


Notes On A Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

By Nicholas Pashley,

Book cover of Notes On A Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

Why this book?

You know how, when you read a book that’s so clever, funny, and perfectly written you want to actually get to know the author? That’s what happened to me when I read this book. Even though I didn’t know him, I knew he’d be the kind of person that you hoped to run into at the bar—a generous man with a great sense of humor, a bright outlook, and plenty of great stories.  

We did eventually come to be friends in real life, too. It turned out that we’re practically neighbors and both enjoy the occasional glass of gin. True story.


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