Shot glass storytelling a tradition at Sheffield's

It is Wednesday night at Sheffield's and a crowd has gathered to celebrate a three-year-old tradition that pairs two kinds of oral traditions; drinking and story telling.

The event, held in the bar's back room, features published writers reading from their work and drinking from a shot glass.

In honor of the third anniversary of the event, known as Reading Under the Influence, the bar has arrayed a selection of complimentary appetizers. I follow the scent of seasoned fries to this Lakeview pub's back room.

Greeted by exposed brick, ductwork and the tattooed arm of a smiling girl asking for $3, I look for an empty spot at the bar and can't find one.

What began as a fundraiser for a different reading has turned into themed event, meeting on the first Wednesday of every month for three literature, liquor and trivia filled hours.

The crowd of about 70 is a laid-back, academic looking group in their 20's and 30's.

After squeezing past people clustered around the tall tavern tables, I find an open bench against a wall opposite the bar and next to a glowing fireplace. 

At 7 p.m., one of RUI's "regulars" passes around an empty beer pitcher for participants to enter their name for the chance to win a $20 gift certificate to local bookstores like Quimby's and Myopic.

Tonight's theme is "Best of" and readers will take turns reading their favorite original work from past Reading under the Influence evenings. They will also read excerpts from their favorite books.

Before each reading, the readers orders two shots, drinking one before and one after.

Afteward, audience participation is encouraged with a trivia contest. Drinking is encouraged. 

The reading begins, after an introduction of the event's regulars, Amanda Snyder, Rob Duffer, Julia Borcherts, Jesse Jordan and Carly Hueglemann.

Like liquor, literature brings out a range of human emotions. 

It's difficult to pick standouts, but I won't forget Julia Borcherts's original piece detailing the absurd complexities of being a young pregnant woman stuck in Miami in the 1980's with nothing to rely on but an unpredictable coke-addict boyfriend and the nauseating repetition of Bob Marley's Redemption Song.

The irony is that while the participants were reading, the drinking seemed to stop. The audience leaned forward on their stools and the bartenders leaned back on their elbows,  captivated by the power of a great story.

The trivia is an adventure of its own, linking John Steinbeck to Tom Petty and Anton Chekhov to Orville Reddenbacher. And don't assume liquor has slowed the wit of this lit-savvy crowd. The answers come loud and fast.

The event is held the first Wednesday of every month from 7 to 10 p.m. Arrive early if you hope to get a seat.

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