Image: White Horse Tavern
One of the oldest bars in New York City, The White Horse Tavern has played host to generations of writers — from Anais Nin to Norman Mailer. However, its most famous patron might be Dylan Thomas, who reportedly drank himself to death after imbibing 18 straight whiskies in one sitting.
updated 3/30/2007 8:04:24 PM ET 2007-03-31T00:04:24

The writer’s life is often a lonely one — perhaps that’s why so many famous (and infamous) novelists have frequented the crooked tables and dingy booths of bars the world over.

Of course, some authors do prefer polished mahogany over crackly plastic-covered metal stools. But regardless of whether their favorite watering holes emanate old school elegance (like The Vicious Circle’s favorite spot, Midtown Manhattan’s Algonquin) or dark solemnity (like the Rabbit Room at the Eagle and Child, a favorite gathering place for Oxford scholars C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) writers have taken to the drink since there was a drink to be taken.

Kelly Boler, author of “A Drinking Companion: Alcohol and Writers’ Lives,” says that many of the famous writers so closely identified with alcohol were often celebrities in their heyday. But in comparison to modern starlets and personalities, these celebrities were never lauded enough to truly satiate their egos.

“These are geniuses who perform by creating literary work, but because of the nature of the page, they will never, ever hear the applause,” said Boler. “This leaves their egos searching, unassuaged, and as a writer myself, I suspect that this may be where the destructive drinking comes into play and becomes a lifestyle.”

Ernest Hemingway, for example, makes the most appearances for an author on our list, although his old comrade F. Scott Fitzgerald follows closely behind. Both are nearly as well known for their imbibing habits as they are for their great literary works. In Paris, the duo frequented The Ritz Bar in Paris (which has fittingly been renamed The Hemingway Bar) as well as Harry’s New York Bar. Both were — and still are — favored expat destinations. Although, if Hemingway’s financial situation were as dire today as it was when he was living in Paris in the ’20s, a time which was loosely documented in his posthumously published memoir “A Moveable Feast,” he certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford specialty cocktails from the Ritz without a little help from his more moneyed friend Fitzgerald. The Picasso Martini, which combines gin served at 18.4 degrees Celsius and a frozen cube of Noilly Pratt vermouth, will set you back 23 euros ($31).

Years after Hemingway said goodbye to Paris, he made Havana — and the bar El Floridita — his local hangout. Hemingway, who lived on the outskirts of the city the villa Finca Vigia, was such a frequent guest the bar assigned him his very own stool — which remains empty today, more than a half century after his death. There's even a life-size statue of him leaning on the bar. The reputed originator of the daiquiri, El Floridita still serves up the party cocktail, as well as a plentiful seafood menu.

While Hemingway was nursing sunstroke with daiquiris, his contemporaries up north were slamming shots of whiskey at the White Horse Inn in Manhattan’s West Village. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas met his unfortunate end after downing 18 glasses while perched on a White Horse stool. Norman Mailer, Anais Nin and a slew of other writers, from the proprietors of new journalism to beatnik poets, spent time there. The White Horse is still popular among locals, as well as New York University students and literature buffs. In fact, Eric Chase, director of the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl, says that those who pay the $15 fee to visit haunts like the White Horse are often looking for a few sordid scandals.

Image: Eagle and Child
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien spent many an hour in deep discussion in the Rabbit Room at the Eagle and Child. Every Tuesday morning, these two luminaries held meetings of the Inklings, a literary group consisting of fellow writers in the Oxford community.
“The early 20th century was a unique period in American history that will never be repeated in terms of social movements and economic situations,” said Chase. It was certainly the last time that artists could live cheaply without holding down another job, before the days of renting a $1,000-per-month box that passes for an apartment. “It’s more about going back in time and remembering the heyday of American culture,” said Chase.

Across the pond, London and Oxford are brimming with literary history and a wealth of writer-friendly gin joints to match. Oxford, in particular, is home to the aforementioned Eagle and Child, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien held Tuesday morning Inklings meetings. The literary group, which met weekly for nearly 30 years, held court in the Rabbit Room of the pub. Although they eventually moved their meetings elsewhere, the room still draws literary types.

Far east, you find what might be the quintessential literary bar — Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club. Established after World War II as a haven for expat reporters and diplomats, the FCC is famed for its luncheons, welcoming guest speakers such as P.J. O’Rourke to discuss topical issues.

But more importantly, like every little nook on our list, it’s a great place to have a drink.


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