Next time you can’t find the right words, grab a drink at one of these literary haunts and find inspiration with the world’s greatest writers.
From London to New York, St Petersburg to Paris, the world’s greatest cities all have serious literary heritage. Whether making appearances in popular novels, hosting writers as they soak up inspiration for their next masterpiece, or building storied literary circles, these cities are inseparable from the written word. But writers are also known for liking a drink—or five—to get the creative juices flowing, so it’s no surprise that these cities also have bars where literary greats gathered to talk shop (and imbibe).
You probably already know about Floredita’s in Havana, where Hemingway downed daiquiris with aplomb. And, you’ve probably popped into Les Deux Magots in Paris, where Hemingway (again), James Joyce, and other writers smoked and drank—the café even awards an annual Deux Magots literary prize. As for New York, the Big Apple hosts more than its fair share of watering holes with literary history, from the bar at The Algonquin hotel—which hosted a “Round Table” of writers and journalists like Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, and Alexander Woolcott—to White Horse Tavern, a favourite of Dylan Thomas, Hunter S. Thompson, and Norman Mailer.
But there are plenty of other bars with equally illustrious literary history scattered around the world. Next time you’re in these cities, grab a paperback and stop in at these bars to drink like a writer.
Inspired by the illustrious writers who’ve stayed at Singapore’s grande dame hotel—think Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad—the Writer’s Bar at Raffles Singapore is a sophisticated homage to literature. Amid the solid brass, textured walls and marble tables are literary mementoes that guests can peruse while sipping on craft cocktails. The bar also hosts a Writer’s Residency whose alums include travel journalist Pico Iyer. Kiwi writer Vicki Virtue currently holds the mantle, and the bar serves up cocktails inspired by the characters of her upcoming murder mystery novel “The Raffles Affair,” which is set at the hotel.
French writer Maurice Leblanc once visited Bar Lupin, which is perhaps why the gentleman thief of his classic 1905 thriller lent his name to this Tokyo watering hole. Incidentally, it’s been in existence since 1928, long before the hit Netflix show of the same name. The Ginza hotspot has long been popular with Japanese writers and playwrights, including Satomi Ton, Osamu Dazai, Kawabata Yasunari, and Furukawa Roppa, and has even cameoed in “Bartender” and Bungo Stray Dogs,” two famous manga comics. The bar also specialises in beautifully made old-world cocktails—the Moscow Mule is its signature.
CAROUSEL BAR & LOUNGE
At New Orleans’ ritzy Hotel Monteleone, the Carousel Bar is a whimsical spot that gets its claim to fame from literature. The who’s who of America’s literary giants have imbibed here, including William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Eudora Welty, but a few have taken it further. Tennessee Williams name-checked the bar in two plays—“Orpheus Descending” and “The Rose Tattoo”—and it made appearances in Ernest Hemingway’s “Night Before the Battle” and Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers.” Had a few too many of the famous Vieux Carrés which were invented here? Sleep it off in one of the hotel’s Literary Suites.
ANTICO CAFFÈ GRECO
As the name suggests, Antico Caffè Greco is an ancient Roman hotspot. Established in 1760, it’s the city’s oldest bar and a historic landmark, and that’s probably why every writer who’s ever visited Rome has spent time honing their manuscripts at this famous spot on fashionable Via Condotti. Visitors today sip espressos amidst the ghosts of literary greats like Charles Dickens, Henrik Ibsen, Lord Byron, Hans Christian Andersen, and Goethe. Fellow patrons Mary and Percy Shelley lived nearby—with Romantic poet John Keats—in a house by the Spanish Steps.
KETTLE OF FISH
A West Village legend, Kettle of Fish was a favourite for New York’s Beat Generation writers, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Perhaps that’s why literary devotees still make the pilgrimage here clutching dog-eared copies of “On the Road.” But the bar is equally famous for its musical pedigree—Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Dick Waterman were all frequent fliers in the 1960s. These days, fans also come here to catch the Green Bay Packers game on the big screen, and the bar made a cameo in Amazon Prime’s hit show, “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.”
The “Literaturnoye Kafe,” began life as the Wolf and Baranger confectionery in the 19th century—and given the gravitas of Russian literature, you’d forgive the country’s literary figures for needing a sweet pick-me-up. The café served some of the best food in St Petersburg, so perhaps that’s why Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mikhail Lermontov, and Taras Shevchenko were all patrons of this old-world spot. Today, you’ll find a waxwork of Alexander Pushkin at a table staring through heavy drapes at Nevsky Avenue, as he did before leaving the café for the duel that would end his life.
Established in Buenos Aires in 1958, Café Tortoni holds the title of the oldest coffeehouse in Argentina. The crème de la crème of Latin American authors and poets have hunkered down at the polished wood tables at this grand café, from Alfonsina Storni and Jorge Luis Borges to José Ortega y Gasset and Roberto Arlt. Even today, there’s a library where the modern literary set talk shop and feast on coffee and churros, while the basement hosts tango shows and poetry recitals.
YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE
Although Ye Old Cheshire Cheese’s history stretches back to 1538—which means Shakespeare himself could’ve been a patron—the current iteration was built after the original burned down during the Great Fire of 1666. Since then, every English writer worth his salt has stopped in for a pint or two amidst the beaten wood furnishings and ancient oil portraits, from P.G. Wodehouse and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Alfred Tennyson and Charles Dickens. Agatha Christie, the doyenne of crime thrillers, even put it into one of her short stories.