Where to Drink Like Hemingway: A Tour of the World's Best Literary Bars
From Dorothy Parker and her ‘vicious circle’ to the bar where Hunter S. Thompson sank tequila, take a seat at the bar of these writerly booze palaces.
There is no class of creatives known quite so much for their prodigious drinking abilities as the masters of the pen.
“Writers are outlaws. Outlawing liquor gave it a delicious cachet,” she writes. Based on the number of establishments that still lay claim to literary fame, this rebel aura seems to have spread across the pond and around the world.
From the Beats to the Gonzos to the creator of a beloved spy, these writers took to their favorite bars—and their cocktails of choice—to channel their artistic inspiration. From sultry Havana to merry ol’ Paris, imbibe in the footsteps of the literary greats at these 15 bars.
Liguanea Club, Jamaica: Ian Fleming
The man who created James Bond found respite from 1940s England in Jamaica, a location that starred in several of his novels.
For 18 years, Fleming spent two months each year living in his island retreat, Goldeneye.
One of the favorite haunts of the rich, white expats luxuriating in the area was the Liguanea Club, a fashionable, members-only hub of colonialism. Fleming used the popular establishment as the model for the ‘Prince’s Club’ in Octopussy and ‘Queen’s Club’ in Dr. No, the latter of which filmed on location, even using locals like the club’s manager in some scenes, according to Matthew Parker in Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born.
The Barley Mow, Dorset, England: Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh, distinguished author and godfather of this publication (which takes its name from his novel Scoop), was a master carouser.
While living in this boarding house-cum-pub, Waugh wrote part of his first novel Decline and Fall.
When he wasn’t writing, he spent plenty of time imbibing in the pub downstairs with visiting friends and his future wife, conveniently of the same name, Evelyn Gardner.
Carousel Bar, New Orleans: Tennessee Williams
The South’s preeminent playwright once said, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
Williams adopted the latter of the trio as his sometime home and the inspiration for much of his work.
While in The Big Easy, Williams frequented the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. He was so inspired by its rotating bar and charming circus animal-inspired chairs, that he mentioned the establishment in two of his famous plays—The Rose Tattoo and Orpheus Descending.
Williams was in good company in his fondness for the Carousel Bar. Other notable literary figures known to sip spirits here when passing through New Orleans included Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Truman Capote, whose mother stayed at the hotel while pregnant with him.
Sloppy Joe’s Saloon, Havana, Cuba: Graham Greene
In 2013, Sloppy Joe’s got a new life when it was reopened after being shuttered for almost 50 years following the Communist takeover of Cuba.
But the new incarnation has maintained an eye to the past; according to The Independent, the owners went so far as to interview former patrons in an attempt to re-create the bar exactly as it was during its heyday.
Today, photos of its famous patrons line the walls. One of these was prolific author, Graham Greene, who included Sloppy Joe’s in a scene in his novel Our Man in Havana, published in 1958. When the movie version was filmed the following year, that scene was shot in the actual bar.
While Greene may have memorialized the Havana saloon in his work, the watering hole was a popular spot for other creatively-minded folk, as well. Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, and Ava Gardner are just a few of the international tourists who enjoyed a tipple here while hanging in Havana.
The Eagle and Child, Oxford, England: J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis
Talk about having a squad—in the 1930s and ’40s, a group of friends calling themselves The Inklings met at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford every Tuesday (although they often referred to it as the “Bird and Baby”).
At the center of the literary group stood none other than J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
They met in the Rabbit Room at the back of the pub, where a plaque still commemorates their crew, and discussed all manner of things, including their current writing projects.
Tolkien once described the gatherings as a “feast of reason and flow of soul,” and the group was the first to see such momentous works as Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings over lunchtime pints.
The White Horse Tavern, New York: Dylan Thomas
This unassuming pub in New York City’s West Village, which has been serving up brews for over 135 years, has been the favorite watering hole of several generations of scribes.
Poet Dylan Thomas allegedly spent his last night at The White Horse, a night that eventually did him in after he consumed 18 shots and died of complications three days later. (He is memorialized in portraits throughout the tavern).
Several of The Beats, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, spent evenings throwing drinks back at the historic tavern, Kerouac apparently getting himself kicked out on several occasions after having one too many.
For decades, literary masters have been joining the White Horse fan club—Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Frank O’Hara—and there are no signs of stopping.
Cervecería Alemana, Madrid—Ernest Hemingway
If you know anything about Hemingway, you know the real question is, where didn’t Papa drink?
From France to Cuba to Spain and the U.S., Hemingway staked out his favorite local watering holes wherever he traveled.
But, of all of his well-trodden spots, Cervecería Alemana in Madrid was one of his favorites.
While in the country watching bullfights and wooing women, Hemingway frequented the beer hall so often that he had his own table, which still sits in the right-hand corner overlooking a window.
The bar tends to be rather touristy these days, but it’s stayed true to its 1904 origins and is an essential stop for all Hemingway addicts.
The Algonquin Round Table, New York: Dorothy Parker
What started as a joke turned into an often-daily lunch meeting where members of “The Vicious Circle,” as they also dubbed themselves (a film about the group was released in 1994), would share stories, trade quips, and sometimes dream up creative collaborations.
The hotel still takes pride in its esteemed past serving the wittiest members of the New York literati, and current patrons will find the walls decked with New Yorker cartoons and Vanity Fair covers.
Davy Byrnes Pub, Dublin: James Joyce
James Joyce enjoyed his time at this pub so much that he immortalized the establishment (and its proprietor) in two of his famous tomes: Dubliners and Ulysses.
True Bloomsday fans will follow in Leopold Bloom’s footsteps and enjoy a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and glass of wine while hanging at Davy Byrnes. The pub is so tied to the literary history of Ireland, in fact, that it has even sponsored a short-story competition for up-and-comers.
Ritz-Carlton, Boston: Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton
Oh, to be the basket of free chips at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton where Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, two powerfully ingenious poets and troubled souls, would meet after class at Boston University to down martinis and discuss their lives, lessons, and craft.
While Sexton reportedly said “three martinis” apiece was par for the course, their meetings weren’t all tipsy hijinks.
The two allegedly discussed their infatuation with death and thoughts on suicide, which would ultimately claim both of their lives.
The Woody Creek Tavern, Aspen: Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson was a regular at this rustic bar, which was near his home, Owl Farm. While he did his fair share of hell-raising at the establishment—often involving copious amounts of alcohol and guns—the bar has become something of a shrine to his memory, with the walls plastered in Thompson paraphernalia, locals who remember him fondly still taking up their old seats, and fans coming to pay their respects.
According to the Los Angeles Times, while Thompson had a fondness for tequila, he would drink just about anything.
The Literary Cafe, Saint Petersburg: Alexander Pushkin
Many Russian literary greats used to spend their time at Saint Petersburg’s historical Literary Café, or Kotomin House.
The most famous of these was the poet Alexander Pushkin, who allegedly enjoyed his final meal here before heading out into the dark of night to a duel in which he would be fatally wounded. But Pushkin didn’t go far: a statue of the doomed poet now stands watch over the cafe’s diners.
Les Deux Magots, Paris: Albert Camus
During a certain period of the mid-20th century, Paris was almost synonymous with drunk authors whiling away their days and nights over wine and cocktails at the city’s many outdoor cafes.
While the cafe culture in the City of Light was like a mecca for writers and artists to share their genius and exchange new ideas, one in particular hosted an impressive number of lit luminaries.
Les Deux Magots may have lost some of its splendor to the tourist invasion, but, back in its heyday, it saw the likes of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Satre, Simone de Beauvoir, Picasso, and—who else?—Ernest Hemingway.
Bemelmans Bar, New York: Ludwig Bemelmans
What to do when you and your family want to take up lodging at one of the chicest hotels in the city? Offer to paint murals on the bar!
At least, that’s what author Ludwig Bemelmans did. After writing and illustrating the beloved Madeline children’s books, Bemelmans exchanged his services painting murals on the Carlyle Hotels barroom walls for a year and a half of accommodations in the hotel.
The resulting artwork is a delightful display of scenes from around New York in his distinctive, charming style. The commission won him the honors of having the bar named after him, and today, the chichi clientele visit Bemelmans Bar for a dash of artistic inspiration with their cocktails.
Vesuvio Cafe, San Francisco: Jack Kerouac
In the 1950s, members of the Beat Generation began arriving in San Francisco and making their bohemian mark on the city. On the aptly named Jack Kerouac Alley, modern-day beatniks can follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and throw one back at Vesuvio Café, a popular spot where the writers came to socialize and put pen to paper.
Still a laidback hub of art and stiff drinks, the bar is renowned for one concoction, the Bohemian Coffee, a drink that packs a rather alcoholic punch.