Good Robot Brewing Company is conducting a social experiment at its taproom on Robie Street. Once a month, beer drinkers must abide by a few simple rules: no cell phones, no talking—just reading. Co-owner Joshua Counsil, who wanted to create a social spot for even the shyest Haligonians, orchestrates it.
“Because who says that beer lovers aren’t introverts? Not everyone is slamming Bud Light and dancing on a table,” says Counsil, seated in a corner booth on a recent Tuesday when pints are $5 and “Big in Japan” spills from the speakers.
Counsil worked as an engineer in Seattle for two years, and borrowed the idea from newspaper editor Christopher Frizzelle, who started silent reading nights at the Sorrento Hotel. When Counsil reunited with his college roommates Angus Campbell and Doug Kehoe in Halifax to open Good Robot Brewing in May 2015, he brought the idea with him. He made a Facebook event on a Tuesday morning in January, and the Wednesday night event was standing room only.
“Silent Reading at The Imbibrary” ran for a third time on March 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The bar is often full well before the event starts. Once Counsil calls for quiet there’s only the sound of whispered beer orders over “soft but lively jazz.” Most coffeeshops are a din of over-caffeinated conversation, and even Halifax Central Library has a gaming centre; Counsil says his is one of the last truly “zen” non-religious spaces.
Kira Ogilvie, a Dalhousie student and Good Robot employee, attended the first event in January with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch in hand. “It’s nice to do solitary activities but kind of with someone. It feels more like you’re a part of something,” she says. But the real joy comes when the two hours of silence is up and people are a few beers in.
“This is a really cool event for people who are a bit more anxious or shy or introverted to come out, and once the time’s up, you’ve been sitting next to a stranger for a while, you have a reason to talk to them because there’s a book in front of them,” says Ogilvie.
When Good Robot’s taproom opened in December, Counsil says they were desperate to attract customers and pay off debt. Silent reading is the brewery’s most popular event, even though it’s up against a New York-themed night (where servers speak in Brooklyn accents and yell obscenities at customers), and Sex Machine: Good Robot’s to-the-point Valentine’s Day event.
Silent reading was designed for the winter months, but Counsil promises it will be back next year. In the meantime, its success has prompted bigger, stranger plans, including hosting a night for dads to commiserate about fatherhood. “The fact that this worked so well means the other 72 ideas we wrote down while drunk, at least one of them is going to stick,” says Counsil.