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

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  150 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
When George Washington bade farewell to his officers, he did so in New York's Fraunces Tavern. When Andrew Jackson planned his defense of New Orleans against the British in 1815, he met Jean Lafitte in a grog shop. And when John Wilkes Booth plotted with his accomplices to carry out an assassination, they gathered in Surratt Tavern.
In America Walks into a Bar, Christine S
Hardcover, 314 pages
Published June 21st 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published May 31st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aug 15, 2011 Tom rated it really liked it
While this is a great subject, this is not a great book. Too dry, too academic (says a former academic)for the subject. Try David Wondrich's books for a better read with good historical background.
Sep 17, 2011 Camper rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly researched piece on the role bars, taverns, and saloons played in American history, from the beginning days of the Colonies through Prohibition, Stonewall, and even the babies-in-bars controversy in Brooklyn. Can be dry when it covers periods in history that may not be of interest, but Sismondo makes up for it in that she doesn't repeat much information reported in other recently-written drink history books. Most of the book focuses on the distant past and references sources like He ...more
Jan 19, 2012 Scout rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative about the history of America and its foundation in bars. It talks about the political evolution of taverns, saloons, grog-shops, and speakeasies. Simondo's writing style is bland which made the book slow and at times difficult to get through. Very-well researched. Great topic.
Aug 17, 2011 Tim rated it it was amazing
An excellent book that is a good social history of bars in the United States and the role these places played. It looks at both the positive and the negative sides. It was an interesting quick read.
Aug 26, 2011 Kim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This slowed my normally fast reading fat rear end down. It is funny and the history you wish they had taught in school! You don't have to be a history buff or major to read and enjoy this book.
Sep 12, 2011 J. rated it liked it
A pretty good, but not great, book. It does a good job of describing the importance of the saloon, tavern, or bar as a meeting place(often the only meeting place available) for people throughout American history. Other reviews have pointed out a couple of minor errors and the breezy pace of the book is entertaining but doesn't allow in depth analysis. Which was fine for the most part, but occasionally frustrating. The last chapter seemed a bit odd in tone (at least to me) as it moved from the hi ...more
Dec 12, 2011 Tom rated it it was ok
Two of my favorite subjects--bars and history--combine to create one of my LEAST favorite books in a long time. I still like the point of it--that a lot of important American history took place in bars, taverns, etc--but this book never clicked for me.
Nov 23, 2011 Meaghan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-review
A fantastic look at American history, reflected in the back bar mirror. Full review here:
Dec 06, 2011 Stephany rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Keith Parrish
Dec 10, 2011 Keith Parrish rated it really liked it
Interesting survey history of the history of the tavern, pub, grog shop, speakeasy, saloon, bar in America. And yes there is a difference between all of those. Sismondo points out how much history was made, or at least concocted, in bars and how public drinking has shaped and been shaped by societal forces. And told with the occasional snarky side comment. Overall, a fun trip through American history.
Margaret Sankey
Dec 19, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Billed as a pub crawl through American History, with scholarly endnotes, this is a study of the role taverns and bars have played in American life--as frontier centers, Revolutionary cells, ethnic enclaves, Political Machine HQ, targets of reformers, Anarchist hideouts, centers of Female and Gay liberation and current battleground over yuppie moms drinking with strollers. Sismondo has an eye for telling anecdotes, but a reliable habit of citing where they came from.
Feb 03, 2013 Nicole rated it really liked it
This was a fabulous read for anyone who likes bars/drinks/drinking and history. Very fun, light and well-written. Traces the history of the bar through American history and what rolls bars have played in our history. I found the first part to be a bit awkward in its pacing, but the last 2/3rds smoothed out considerably and it was quite a fun read.

Ron Davidson
Apr 28, 2012 Ron Davidson rated it really liked it
A decent overview of the role of drinking and drinking establishments in American culture and politics. The author does a good job in illustrating the social function of the saloon/tavern/bar/etc., particularly as it affected the working classes. The frequent conflict between classes and ethnicities, and how these conflicts have been reflected in drinking (and drug) culture is an interesting story.
Jul 19, 2012 Mairi rated it liked it
I enjoyed it but did not love it. If you, like me, are a resident of the US of a certain age and/or went to public schools and/or took certain series of history and government classes you may have experienced said classes in such a way that the same material seemed to be covered over and over again with chronologically-later stuff crammed into the last few weeks of school because you just don't have time. (World War I? Great Depression? World War II? Korea? Red Scare? Civil Rights? Vietnam? Cold ...more
Michelle Ash
(To be fair, I didn't actually finish, so review might change when I do.)

Liked the concept of the book, but when there were some glaring historical inaccuracies about the tavern where I work, makes me question wether or not the rest is accurate. That said, I think most people forget how important taverns were in early American history.
Shawn Snow
Sep 29, 2012 Shawn Snow rated it liked it
Interesting book as it tells the history of America through bartenders and alcohol. The book was really dry and longwinded in some parts which made it hard to read. This book took me 8 months to read as it needed my full attention to understand all the minute details.
Marguerite Czajka
Dec 29, 2012 Marguerite Czajka rated it liked it
It was interesting but a bit too dry and academic. I think I subconsciously thought it would be a lighter read since the title mimics the beginning of a joke. Good history of how taverns have changed over time.
Jan 26, 2013 Will rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction-read
I found this to be an entertaining, informative read. It's a book I'll likely use as a resource when writing about beers.
Vickey Kall
Jun 29, 2013 Vickey Kall rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
This is an academic book. Yes, it's about fun stuff (drinkin' and boozin' and what-not) but it is still very much and academic book that combs data from centuries ago to draw conclusions about how taverns functioned at different times in our history.
If I were closer to my college years I might have enjoyed it more, but was just too much like an assignment to try and get through it. Sorry!
Mar 06, 2013 Beth rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-related
I love early American history but I wasn't expecting so much of it, mostly political, in the beginning of this book. I guess it had to be done to get the point across of how central drinking establishments were to the development of our country. Moving on to the prohibition time period and I had to stop often to do research on certain things mentioned. This book discusses gay bars, smoking in bars, jazz not allowed in bars, saxophones were too sexy an instrument (that was interesting) women in b ...more
Mar 02, 2013 Barina rated it really liked it
This spirited American history book is full of tales of the Puritans through Prohibition and much more. Details how in many areas of the country, taverns were the main gathering locations and many important decisions were discussed, planned and made. Not unlike many at home bars.
Jul 27, 2014 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology, history
I found Chrstine Sismondo's "America Walks into a Bar" a fascinating read. Books that tend to focus on a single item or single facet of life, I find, over-simplify the subject's role in world affairs to the point of absolution. Sismondo does not over-simplify, exaggerate, or fabricate theoretical concoctions in this book. I understood that the bar in its various forms held a role in American history, I was unaware though of just how central a part it played in the country's affairs.

While the eve
Aug 07, 2014 Justin rated it really liked it
Very good historical look at how American politics grew and transformed in to what we see them as today. Its an easy must read for any beer/bar enthusiast looking to see the political side of alcohol.
Oct 06, 2014 Jamie rated it it was amazing
In this booze-soaked, saloon-o-scopic dose of American history, Christine Sismondo tells a lot of the same stories we have heard so many times about American history, but brings the background into the foreground. The book is a revelation.
Stacy rated it really liked it
Feb 04, 2015
Alex Orr
May 04, 2015 Alex Orr rated it liked it
You'd think a book about the history of bars in America would be a bit more fun, but, alas, this is a pretty dry pun intended. It's written by an academic for an academic press, so, to some degree that's not surprising. That said, it's also full of some interesting historical observations and speculations. The degree to which bars functioned in urban elections in the late 1800s was interesting, as was the chapter on 20th century sexual politics in bars, particularly the history of "gay ...more
May 06, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
I wanted to give this a better rating because it was so well researched, but the manuscript could have benefitted from another draft, a more capable editor, or both. Content organization within chapters was messy in some areas (chapter 1 was particularly scattered), and there were several random question marks? thrown into the middle of sentences, perhaps editorial suggestions that weren't fully integrated into the text. There were also a couple sentences that didn't quite make sense. Gratuitous ...more
Lauren Harter
Oct 19, 2015 Lauren Harter rated it liked it
The book is a little heavy on the details so hard to get through at times, but the overall message is a really interesting one, and I came out knowing a lot more about some crazy moments in history!
Robert Hudder
Feb 18, 2016 Robert Hudder rated it really liked it
This was a fun history of bars/saloons as central to community and political life through America. I know, it sounds like a setup but it ain't. I am going to blog using some notes later but here are the notes.

"Drinke Drunke" legislation p16 - There is a difference from someone who drinks and is a drinke drunke. Love it.

Sober as a judge? That must be an ironic statement.

p20 on the note of drunken savages, reminds me of the essay in Lucky Peach about the couriers des bois.

Dylan Thomas quote on al
Edward Fenner
Excellent and fascinating history of the pivotal roles taverns had in American history (some notes on Canadian taverns, too). Highly recommended.
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