“As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude. There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” Dr Samuel Johnson.
Drinking dens around Britain and Ireland have been crawling with novelists, poets, playwrights, dreamers and schemers for centuries. Luckily for us, most retain an air of those halcyon days, so imaginative visitors can still catch a ghost of the famous imbibers. These are a few of our favourites.
The Eagle and Child, Oxford
Image source: Wikipedia
Famed as the meeting place for Oxford writers’ group, The Inklings, The Eagle and Child was fondly known as The Bird and Baby to its literary regulars, including JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.
From the late 30s to the 50s, the legendary duo met with their friends to hatch plots and discuss literature with friends and colleagues in a private lounge known as the Rabbit Room. English crime writer Colin Dexter – the man responsible for Inspector Morse – is a more recent drinker at the alehouse.
Duke’s Bar, Mayfair
Image source: dukeshotel.com
When Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale in 1953, martinis were served as only as an apéritif, two white spirits were never seen together and drinks were strictly stirred.
Then along came Bond. James Bond. Fleming himself was a heavy drinker – Dukes Bar was just one of his favoured haunts. Still famed for its excellent martinis, Dukes is a glimpse into the glamorous world that inspired a national treasure.
The Museum Tavern, Bloomsbury, London
Just opposite the British Museum, The Museum Tavern has served literary greats such as Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, novelist and playwright JB Priestley and political thinker Karl Marx.
The intimately elegant pub was expanded in 1855 and many of its features, including the carved wooden fittings and etched and cut glass windows, date from those times.
Davy Byrnes, Duke St, Dublin
Image source: davybyrnes.com
“He entered Davy Byrnes. Moral Pub. He doesn’t chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in a leap year one if four. Cashed a cheque for me once” (Joyce, Ulysses, 1922).
It’s no secret that James Joyce loved a drink. One of the most important authors of the 20th century, the Irish modernist was a Davy Byrnes regular. He immortalised the place by having Ulysses hero Leopold Bloom order a Gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy here.
Joyce’s beloved bar saw many other Irish literary greats through its doors, including Liam O’Flaherty, James Stephens, Pádraic Ó’Conaire and later, Brendan Behan, Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Anthony Cronin.
The Lamb & Flag, Covent Garden
Dickensian drinking dens are more common than Pret à Manger in London – the Victorian writer was quite the pub frequenter.
Most historic, perhaps, is The Lamb & Flag, one of the oldest pubs in London. Charles Dickens visited regularly while working on nearby Catherine Street, following in the footsteps of 17th century poet John Dryden, who was almost murdered in a nearby alleyway, thanks to his enemy the Earl of Rochester.
Albert Hotel, North Queensferry, Fife
Perched on rocks overlooking the Firth of Forth, the Albert Hotel was a weekly haunt for the late fiction writer Iain Banks.
He told the Guardian in 2003: “I usually go for a pint of McEwan’s 80/-. When I say a pint, I always go with the intention of having just one pint, but it rarely works out that way. They also have a good range of whiskies. I’ve spent a good deal of time here in my life unintentionally doing research for the whisky book that I’ve just written.
Toners, Baggot Street, Dublin
Image source: Toners
Leopold Bloom ruminates in Ulysses that to walk through Dublin without going into a pub would be like working a puzzle.
Which gives Toners quite a badge of honour for being the place Irish poet and playwright WB Yeats stopped for a sherry and said, “Now I’ve seen a pub”. Its award-winning snug was the only place in the world he’d deign to sip the occasional beverage.
A more routine drinker was Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic classic, Dracula, who was born and bred in Dublin.
The George Inn, Southwark
A real ale pub known as London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn, it’s thought that The George Inn was most likely Shakespeare’s watering hole – sitting just round the corner from The Globe.
Just off Borough High Street, the pub was also visited by Dr Johnson and, of course, Charles Dickens.
And what about today’s literary roisterers? We asked two (very much alive) drinking buddies – who just so happen to be addictively-funny authors – about their watering holes of choice.
John Niven – Scottish author and screenwriter. Works include: Kill Your Friends (2008), The Amateurs (2009), The Second Coming (2013)
Caitlin Moran – English journalist, author, and broadcaster at The Times. Works include: How to Be a Woman (2011), Moranthology (2012), How to Build a Girl (2014).
(Although we know she’s also a fan of ‘hopelessly ill-advised espresso martinis at 2am’ from the legendary Groucho Club – and John assures us she’d ‘drain the bar at Dukes quick as look at you’.)
*Lead Image Source: lambandflagcoventgarden.co.uk
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All this talk of whiskey and martinis - and not a crystal glass in sight. Let’s remedy that.