“Write drunk, edit sober.” —Ernest Hemingway
For many writers, their biggest critics aren’t their mentors, their peers, or even literal critics. That dubious honor belongs solely to the writer themselves. Every sentence is put through a grueling mental crucible. This is passive voice. You’re telling when you need to be showing. If you love adverbs so much why don’t you marry ‘em! By the time a paragraph’s been completed the day has come and gone. But a shot of whiskey, a pint of beer, or a glass of wine all possess the uncanny ability to silence the voice of that critic. Or at least long enough to get some actual work done. So it’s no wonder that some of literature’s foremost icons were also some of the world’s foremost drinkers. If you’re looking to follow in the footsteps (and drink orders) of your favorite authors here’s where you should raise a glass.
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WHERE: Florida Keys, Florida
Of Key West, Ernest Hemingway once wrote to a friend, “It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere. Flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms … Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks.” Okay, that last bit is a little more jarring but is any quote from Hemingway truly complete without a reference to alcohol or hyper-masculine pastimes? Perhaps the site of this display of liquor-fueled, blade-based escapades was Sloppy Joe’s, a favorite haunt of the author of such classic novels as The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea. It’s said that it was Hemingway himself encouraged the owner, Joe Russel, to change the name. If your beard game is strong, consider planning your trip so that it coincides with the bar’s Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, which is held every July as the island celebrates the birthday of one its most iconic residents.
The Eagle and Child
WHERE: Oxford, England
There’s something magical about this bar. There must be as it was, after all, the meeting place of the Inklings. The informal gathering of literary luminaries famously included two of some of the most lauded fantasy writers to ever spin tales of epic adventures in enchanted lands. C.S. Lewis (author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series) and J.R.R. Tolkien (author of “The Lord of the Rings”) would gather at The Eagle and Child with their fellow academics to workshop each other’s writing. In fact, “The Lord of the Rings” was among the works that were discussed at this cozy pub. The Inklings gathered in The Rabbit Room, in particular, which now features memorabilia honoring the pub’s most famous patrons. Fans can settle in with a nice cold pint in hand (and perhaps an order of fish and chips to munch on) and imagine what it must’ve been like to hear the very first time someone asked, “Why don’t the eagles just fly the Ring to Mount Doom?”
White Horse Tavern
WHERE: New York City, New York
As the second oldest consistently operating bar in New York City, having opened its doors in 1880, the White Horse Tavern had already earned its status as a landmark. But the bar, initially popular with longshoremen, would become a notorious fixture among the city’s mid-century literary and music scene. James Baldwin, Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac were among the great writers that frequented this Greenwich Village establishment. Kerouac is said to have spent so much time there that someone scrawled “JACK GO HOME” on the bathroom wall.
But it’s perhaps most notorious for being the place where Welsh poet Dylan Thomas had his last drink. After downing 18 shots, Thomas collapsed outside the tavern and later died at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Thomas is believed to have taken making the bar his local “haunt” to the next level–people have reported seeing the poet’s ghost sitting in his favorite corner. Even if you don’t come face to face with Thomas’ spirit, his visage can still be found, as his portrait and a plaque commemorating his final visit preside over the bar.
The Carousel Bar
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s one thing for a bar to become a hangout for writers, it’s another thing for that bar to then make a cameo in the work of an all-time great. And then it’s another thing for that same locale to appear in the work of multiple all-time greats. This distinguished distinction belongs to the Hotel Monteleone, which provides luxury accommodations in New Orleans’ French Quarter and a place where one can assure themselves that if the room is spinning, it’s not because you’ve had one too many Vieux Carré cocktails–it’s because you’ve secured a coveted spot at the hotel’s rotating Carousel Bar. Tennessee Williams included the hotel in his plays Orpheus Descending and The Rose Tattoo, and Ernest Hemingway referenced it in his short story “Night Before the Battle.” Truman Capote was such a fan of the landmark hotel that he claimed it as his birthplace. (This anecdote, appropriately for Capote, is more “creative non-fiction” than dry fact. His mother was living at the hotel at the time and the hotel staff assisted with transporting her to the hospital.) Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Anne Rice are also among the writers who have also spent time at this landmark hotel.
If you do ever find that you need a place to recover from too many turns on the adult beverage merry-go-round, you can check in to one of the hotel’s Literary Suites, which celebrate its most iconic patrons.
The Algonquin Hotel
WHERE: New York City, New York
We all love our brunch crew, but the group that regularly gathered at the Algonquin Hotel from (roughly) 1919 to 1929 is unlikely to ever be matched. The Algonquin Round Table was a group of New York City writers, critics, actors, and all-around wits who’s membership included (but was by no means limited to) Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward, George S. Kaufman, and Harpo Marx. And on a practically daily basis, would hold luncheons where they’d exchange witticisms, tell jokes, and drink (natch). Visitors can dine in the Round Table Room, which features a painting of the Vicious Circle (as they called themselves), and do their best to imagine what it might be like to have the honor of Dorothy Parker slinging a delightfully devastating barb your way as you clink coupe style cocktail glasses brimming with champagne.
WHERE: San Francisco, California
Jack Kerouac once received a letter from Henry Miller, saying how much he liked “The Dharma Bums” and invited Kerouac to meet him in Big Sur. But instead of making the drive down the California coast, Kerouac instead chose to spend the night drinking at Vesuvio Café. And who can blame him? Vesuvio Café is more than a bar – though, rest assured, it’s still very much a bar — it’s a place for art, poetry, music, and conversation. If you were a Beatnik in the 1950s and 60s in San Francisco, then there is a high probability (verging on certainty) that you patronized Vesuvio Café. Located in the neighborhood of North Beach, this bar was frequented by some of the most famous faces of the Beat Movement, including Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. Other famous visitors include Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, and Francis Ford Coppola.
Vesuvio Café comes with the added bonus of being directly across the alley from City Lights Bookstore, which famously published Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956.
Antico Caffe Greco
WHERE: Rome, Italy
It seems there’s a writer of every genre that’s visited Antico Caffe Greco since it’s opened its doors in 1760. Romantic poetry? John Keats and Lord Byron. Science fiction? Mary Shelley. Children’s literature? Hans Christian Andersen. You have Henrik Ibsen representing playwrights. If you’re a color theory fan (and who isn’t?) you’ve got Goethe. Even the—ahem—romantic arts had coffee at this Roman café. Find your way to the fashionable Via Condotti and have a cappuccino standing at the bar like an honest-to-goodness local or, in the spirit of the innumerable writers and artists before you, enjoy your espresso at a table and perhaps compose a work of your own.
Kettle of Fish
WHERE: New York City, New York
This West Village neighborhood bar made its name as a hotspot for the bohemian set in the 1950s. Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan are among those who’ve visited this cozy bar. One of the things that makes Kettle of Fish an enduring favorite is that despite its literary pedigree, you by no means will find yourself facing down a crowd of snobby types. Bookish? Perhaps. But Kettle of Fish attracts a whole range of people, not just those who’ve arrived with their heavily dog-eared copies of On the Road in tow so that they might pose in front of the same gigantic neon “BAR” sign that Kerouac famously posed in front of. Here, you’ll find people who’ve come to cheer on their favorite sports team, play darts, or try their hand at their cabinet arcade games.
WHERE: Dublin, Ireland
Long before he penned The Importance of Being Ernest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, a young Oscar Wilde would earn money stocking groceries in the building that would come to house Kennedys, a classic Irish pub just a short walk from Trinity College. And ever since this association with one of Ireland’s foremost literary icons was a known thing, the pub has been a draw for readers and writers alike. Indeed, Wilde isn’t the only Irish writer to be associated with Kennedys–James Joyce and Samuel Beckett are known to have also stopped by for a drink. If you’re interested in discovering this bar, consider arranging your visit on a Saturday night, when Kennedy hosts live music and craic (an Irish word for entertainment, particularly conversation and company). After all, what could be a better tribute to the great Wilde than a lively night of good, gossipy fun?
WHERE: New York City, New York
There is a famous thought experiment supposing that supposes that if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room with infinite typewriters for an infinite amount of time, said monkeys will eventually hammer out the works of William Shakespeare. Thinking along those lines, if you put (seemingly) infinite bars in New York City among (seemingly) infinite number of writers, than it is merely a matter of time before a bar can claim a literary pedigree. William Sydney Porter—more famously known by his penname O. Henry—lived down the street from this bar, and is believed to have penned one of his most famous stories, “The Gift of the Magi,” in a booth– back when the bar went by the name of Healy’s. It’s also said that Pete’s Tavern is the place Ludwig Bemelman wrote the first words (“In an old house in Paris, That was covered in vines, Lived twelve little girls, In two straight lines”) that would become the opening of his children’s classic Madeline.
WHERE: St. Petersburg, Russia
If you visit the Literary Café (or Literaturnoye Kafe), you can still find one of Russia’s most revered 19th-century writers sitting at a small table, quill in hand, gazing out the window in contemplation. This waxwork of Alexander Pushkin, who stopped by this café en route to the duel that would end his life, is just one of the many tributes to the writers that have visited this café and contributed to Russia’s rich literary tradition. Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Mikhail Lermontov were among those who gathered at this spot back when it was a confectionery (if you wrote Crime and Punishment you’d also probably require a regular sweet treat to cheer yourself up).
INSIDER TIPIf you visit during one of the evening poetry evenings you may even have the good fortune of finding yourself in the company of the next great figure of Russian literature.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
WHERE: London, England
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is exactly the sort of thing you want to end up on a cold, rainy day in London—a cozy place where you can enjoy a pint of stout and a hearty meal in front of a roaring fire. It’s a quintessentially English establishment which makes a certain amount of sense because if there’s a beloved figure of English literature, they’ve probably made a visit to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. P.G. Wodehouse, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Alfred Tennyson have all paid this cozy pub off Fleet Street a visit. Charles Dickens was known to be a regular and even made an allusion to it in A Tale of Two Cities. Agatha Christie mentions it in one of her Hercule Poirot short stories. And while William Shakespeare doesn’t come up in the pub’s history he certainly could have paid a visit as this pub’s roots go as far back as 1538. (The pub is it stands today was rebuilt after the original structure was burned down during the Great Fire of 1666.)
WHERE: La Habana, Cuba
El Floridita was, hands down, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar during his time in Cuba. But you don’t order whiskey or beer at El Floriditaeven if you’re Ernest Hemingway. Because the man behind El Floridita’s bar during the author’s time was none other than Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, who was widely known as “El Rey de los Coteleros” (“The King of Cocktails”). Though he didn’t invent it, Ribalaigua is widely thought to have perfected the daiquiri (he was the first to add chipped ice)—of which Hemingway couldn’t get enough.
El Floridita pays homage to Hemingway with a life-size brass statue in his likeness permanently seated at the end of the bar.
Hemingway wasn’t the only (though he was the most frequent) writer to become a customer of this Havana institution. Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, and Graham Greene are all know to have visited El Floridita.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re feeling a little bold, order the Papa Doble, a variation that Ribalaigua named after Hemingway (who liked less sugar and more rum in his daiquiri).
The Ritz Bar
WHERE: Paris, France
Hemingway loved the Ritz Bar in Paris so much that he once said, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.” There’s a famous story about Hemingway, who was embedded in France as a war correspondent, sought to liberate his beloved bar from German occupation. Whether or not there were any Germans there to liberate the Ritz from once he got there isn’t known for sure, but what does seem pretty certain is that Hemingway “liberated” 51 dry martinis that night. Regardless, the Ritz renamed its Little Bar—which F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter also frequented—The Hemingway Bar, which continues the carry on the Ritz’s tradition of serving its guests the finest of cocktail creations.