As an introverted, book-loving, vaguely anxious twenty-something, it should come as no shock that I'm not a fan of going out of a Saturday evening. Generally speaking, my Saturday evenings consist of homework or, if I'm feeling adventurous, some Netflix. All that said, there are several exceptions to my dislike of rubbing shoulders with strangers and socializing; I'm a fan of bookstores, farmer's markets, Washington Square Park and literary bars.
Now by the literary bar, I am also referring to establishments with a literary slant, but mostly I'm talking about bars famous authors and literary personalities used to frequent. I'm not a big drinker, but I am a big reader, and getting to spend time in the very same place a favorite author did is an opportunity too great to pass up. New York City happens to be packed wall to wall with old haunts of authors, so it's a great place to undertake the ambitious literary pub crawl.
Start your evening at Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village.
The basement bar gives off a definite Eric Forman's basement vibe, with cozy couches and vintage arcade games like pinball and Ms. Pac-Man. Today an enclave for Packers fans, it was once the favorite hideaway of Jack Kerouac. Late one night, he had his arm and nose broken in a knockdown fight on the pavement outside the establishment. Bring your battered and annotated copy of "On The Road" with you, or your own notebook to jot down thoughts in. You'll want to look the part of a Beatnik, so invest in a black turtleneck or a striped shirt and adopt a bored expression. If you're particularly brave, try out a black beret.
Order: A margarita, Kerouac's personal favorite.
From Kettle of Fish, head over to White Horse Tavern, also in the Village.
Literary patrons of this bar are too numerous to list in completion--a veritable who's who of bookish genius. Norman Mailer, Jim Morrison (yes, I know he was in The Doors, but he was also a poet), Hunter S. Thompson, Anais Nin, and Allen Ginsberg all spent time at the bar, as did Kerouac--who apparently got thrown out so many times that someone scribbled, "Jack, go home," on the wall of the men's bathroom. The most famous patron though, is Dylan Thomas, the Welsh author and poet who wrote "Do not go gently into that good night," among others. Thomas and the pub passed into legend when, on November 3, 1953, he drank 18 straight shots of whiskey at the bar, staggered back to his hotel, and died several days later, albeit from unrelated causes. Thomas favored flamboyant neck-wear, so rock a bow tie and a pipe--one of his other vices--while perusing your copy of "Under Milk Wood" at the bar.
Order: What else? Thomas' poison of choice: a whiskey, neat.
Now, on to the Flatiron District and Old Town Bar.
This bar is a New York City fixture, operating in the same spot since 1892. Prohibition, which sounded the death knell for many other establishments, didn't affect Old Town--it simply renamed itself Craig's Restaurant and began to function as a speakeasy, providing alcohol for the thirsty city dwellers under the noses of the cops. The bar also has a literary connection, as the favorite watering hole of Nick Hornby, Seamus Heaney, and Frank McCourt. A signed copy of "Angela's Ashes" even hangs above one of the booths. Rock a button down like Mr. McCourt while re-reading your own copy of "Angela's Ashes" and trying not to cry in public.
Order: A pint of Guinness.
Next up is the East Village and McSorley's Old Ale House.
This bar has a somewhat checkered history, as a "Men's Only" institution since its founding, only admitting women from 1970 and on--and then only due to a court order. That aside, the bar has hosted many influential figures, serving Presidents Lincoln, Grant and Roosevelt. Hunter S. Thompson and e. e. cummings were also frequent patrons here, and cummings wrote "I was sitting in McSorley's" in 1923 about the bar, in which he spoke of "the ale which never lets you grow old." Grab your collapsible top hat and Harris tweed jacket and your copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" for this outing to make for the perfect Cummings-Thompson hybrid.
Order: The house-brewed ale, which comes in pairs, one brew light and one dark.
Your final stop is the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel in Midtown West.
Home to the famed Algonquin Round Table--which started as a practical joke!--which was made up of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, George Kaufman, Robert Benchley, and Robert Sherwood, among others. These literary minds met at the hotel for lunch each day from 1919 until around 1929, playing poker there in the evenings as well. Later, they would incorporate new members like Tallulah Bankhead, Noel Coward, and even Harpo Marx. His brother Groucho didn't think much of the gang--he said that "the price of admission is a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto." It's certainly true that biting witticisms were thrown around often--the group even called themselves "The Vicious Circle," and loved to play practical jokes on each other. However, they were no slouches, and four of them would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes for their writing. For this location, pull out all the stops--break out your finest Roaring Twenties inspired attire and grab your copy of "The Portable Dorothy Parker." Best to keep a witty rejoinder or two in the bank as well.
Order: A whiskey sour, Dorothy's favorite.
Just to be clear, I am not advocating getting smashed--even though many of these authors did. The more responsibly you drink, the more brain cells you'll have left to write the next great American novel.