Sam Ollinger has her "Don't bother me" face down pat. It's a look that lots of people have in their arsenal to intimidate any potential chatterbox that seems hell-bent on ruining a perfectly lovely evening drinking alone at a bar. Ollinger's is especially good—a furrow of the brow, a delicate pierce from the eyes, a slight raise of the chin.
"That's exactly the look I want to convey at a bar," she says with a wry smile as we sit on stools at City Heights' Black Cat Bar, one of her favorite neighborhood haunts. "It says, 'Go bother all the other ladies in town.'"
Why is Ollinger, a bicycle advocate whose work for the group BikeSD leads her to speak to countless people to promote bike-use, so intent on keeping windbags at bay?
"I actually really enjoy drinking by myself. It's my favorite thing to do. No one bothers you because you're the weirdo at the bar reading," the beer lover explains as she takes a sip from her pint of AleSmith Nut Brown Ale, a dark, rich beer with a touch of malty, chocolatey goodness.
"I don't have the most sophisticated palate when it comes to beer," she admits. To that, I clink my can of Tecate to her pint glass.
Ollinger wasn't armed with her frequent bar companion, Games Primates Play by Dario Maestripieri, a book about how human behavior—even the weird, random stuff we do—can be explained by studying primate behavior.
"I read highly boring books where everyone groans when I tell them what I'm reading," she jokes.
Still, the combination of a fascinating read and a pint of dark beer—preferably with top notes of vanilla, chocolate or coffee—that she sips slowly over the course of an hour in blissful silence is something she calls "one of my great pleasures in life."
Even when she's tucked in a booth or sitting quietly on a stool with a book, however, Ollinger will remove the "Do not disturb" sign that her body language hangs if someone brings an interesting story to the table. She recalls one in particular that led her to close her book and forget all about it. She was sitting at the bar of North Parkís Waypoint Public when an elderly man came up and sat right next to her.
"I was kind of annoyed because there were other stools open away from me," she says, voicing a pet peeve held by bar flies the world over.
The man began telling her about his life, particularly about his penchant for picking up homeless men off the streets and taking them home for sex. He claimed that one of his pick-ups lived with him for months.
"He was willing to admit this to someone he has never met before," she marvels.
Makes you wonder if primates are sitting under a tree somewhere, sharing TMI stories with each other over bamboo shoots.
Being a bike advocate, Ollinger is a huge proponent of the local neighborhood bar. She walks or rides to her favorite watering holes regularly, and encourages others to do the same. That's a reason why Black Cat is one of her go-to drinking spots.
"It just oozes class to me," she says, pointing out the gorgeous vintage chandeliers and gold crown molding. "It's a neighborhood bar, and so you get a steady stream of people. Most of the people that show up are from the area, and it's not always crowded. I like the fact that it's here and I can walk or bike to it."
Ollinger truly believes that the best way to explore a city and its friendly neighborhood bars is by bike. If you bring along a book, even better.