12 Bars Where You Can Drink Your Way to Literary Greatness
Get smashed in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkein, Yukio Mishima, and Dorothy Parker
What’s the secret to becoming a successful author? Ask 100 people and you’ll get 100 different suggestions; there’s a whole cottage industry devoted to craft advice. You should write a little every day! You should write only when you’re inspired! You should meditate! You should go on a retreat! But there’s one piece of writing advice that nearly everyone agrees on: It really helps if you’re a little drunk.
And what better place to get writing-drunk than in the footsteps (and barstool butt-prints) of some of the greatest authors in history? We’ve found a cool dozen bars around the world with top-shelf literary pedigrees. Put together an international bar-hopping spree and make your favorite writers—from Simone de Beauvoir to James Baldwin to Roberto Bolaño—into your drinking buddies.
1. White Horse Tavern, New York City
In a past life, the White Horse Tavern in New York City’s West Village was a hot spot for dock workers and longshoremen. Then, in the early 1950s, writers including Dylan Thomas began frequenting it and building up the locale’s reputation. Soon, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac (who was turned away many a time) started turning up. These days not too many artists are skulking around the West Village or pulling up at the bar at White Horse, but in its day, it was among the most raucous, welcoming, beer-splattered centers of downtown intellectual life. And if you can get a window spot on a crisp fall day, it’s still pretty damn good.
2. The Algonquin Blue Bar, New York City
During the 1920s, the Algonquin Hotel played host to a group of authors, actors, journalists, and self-styled wits who dubbed themselves the “Algonquin Roundtable.” They met almost daily in the bar to engage in some lively literary discussions. Dorothy Parker, Heywood Broun, and The New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross made appearances. Nowadays, the Algonquin welcomes literary lovers who don’t mind dropping close to $20 for a drink to (hopefully) absorb any creative greatness still lingering within the building.
3. El Quijote, New York City
There was a time — much romanticized now, possibly apocryphal — when art could be traded for rent at the Chelsea Hotel. Those were the days of Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane. It was a different New York, and a different Chelsea Hotel. Through it all, El Quijote has persisted. It’s more of a tapas scene now, but in it’s day, the bar and restaurant attached to the hotel lobby was a happening place and home to many a lively artistic debate.
4. West End Bar, New York City
Are you surprised there are so many literary bars in New York City? The West End Bar was located in Morningside Heights, just a few blocks away from Columbia. A favorite among students and faculty, it soon became a popular meeting spot for the Beat Generation. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lucien Carr spent hours there discussing their studies and futures. It also featured prominently in the infamous incident that supposedly unified and haunted the Beats — the killing of David Kammerer.
5. Spec’s, Vesuvio, and Tosca, San Francisco
The Beat Generation writers were also alive and well on the other side of the country, in San Francisco and drinking in three main watering holes: Spec’s, Vesuvio, and Tosca. Vesuvio was the haunt of the Beats: Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Neal Cassady. Spec’s also has a fair share of literary history; the city’s poet laureate Jack Hirschman met there every Wednesday evening with fellow poets.
6. La Closerie des Lilas, Paris
This cafe/restaurant/bar is famed for being the spot where literary giants wrote, drank, and hung out with each other. Ernest Hemingway was a regular here in the 1920s and even gives the establishment a warm salute in his memoir, A Moveable Feast. Situated between Latin Quarter and Montparnasse, a secluded-enough place that explains why writers preferred to hole away there.
7. Les Deux Magots, Paris
This famous cafe has garnered a reputation for being the assembly place of Paris’ intellectual elite. Common patrons of the establishment were Surrealist artists, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, and a fair share of visiting American writers. It’s literary fame was so powerful that a prize was named after the cafe; the Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded to a French novel annually since 1933.
8. The Eagle and Child, Oxford
The Eagle and Child (nicknamed The Bird and Baby) has some pretty impressive literary associations. Namely, it is often linked to the Inklings writers group, which included the dynamic duo that is J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Starting in 1933, the Inklings met on Thursday evenings in Lewis’s college rooms to read and discuss manuscripts and materials. While the formal get-togethers ended in 1949, the writers’ group continued to hang out at the pub.
9. Cafe La Poesia, Buenos Aires
Cafe La Poesia in Buenos Aires continues to pay homage to the literary giants that graced the venue with their presence. It was founded in 1982 by journalist and poet Rubén Derlis and thereafter became a place for artists and thinkers of San Telmo to get together, discuss, and create. After being closed in 1988 and the businesses occupying it later having failed, Cafe La Poesia opened again on 2008, fully recognizing its important history.
10. Cafe La Habana, Mexico City
This renowned Mexican cafe has hosted a number of history’s most important figures, such as el Ché and Fidel Castro. It was also the meeting place for Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño and the poetic infrarrealismo movement. In his famous novel The Savage Detectives, Cafe La Habana is disguised under the name Cafe Quito.
11. Est!, Tokyo
This veteran in the Tokyo bar scene has been active for over 80 years. Est! has served a number of fine literary figures such as Yukio Mishima.
12. McDaid’s, Dublin
Dublin is a literary city and a drinking city. So it’s not surprising that a number of watering holes have laid claim to writers and books they have influenced. Among the people who have quenched their thirsts at McDaids’s are Brendan Behan, Paddy Kavanagh, J.P. Donleavy and Liam O’Flaherty. A number of portraits hang on the wall in commemoration of the bar’s impressive clientele.