The Literary Bar Crawl: NYC Edition

New York has a great literary heritage and there are so many places you can go to soak up some of the liquid inspiration of great writers. In this list you can find places where poets drank, famous bar settings and places where you can just curl up with a manhattan cocktail in front of a crackling fire surrounded by library shelves. Perfect for warming up on a cold and soggy February weekend.

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The White Horse Tavern

White Horse Tavern

567 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

This is best described as an ‘old man pub’ – or as close to one as you’re going to get in NYC. It’s been around since the 1880s, is a certified Poetry Landmark and is famed as the bar where Dylan Thomas sank 18 shots of whisky before collapsing outside then dying of alcohol poisoning several days later. But it’s not just Thomas who has been a regular here – Bob Dylan, Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac all spent plenty of time propping up the bar. Kerouac was such firm fixture that legend has it ‘Go home Kerouac’ was written over the urinals.

The Shakespeare (inside the William Hotel)

24 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016

What was formerly The Peacock and is now The Shakespeare is a British restaurant / gastropub that sits inside the William Hotel and has a great library bar modelled on a Stratford pub called The White Swan. The hotel also houses speakeasy style joint The Raines Law Room where you can quaff beautifully made cocktails surrounded by opulent, cosy bookshelves.

Housing Works Bookstore Café

126 Crosby St, New York, NY 10012

This NYC book institution has a lovely cafe inside it where you can sip a wine or one of their monthly themed cocktails whilst also browsing the shelves. The whole place is staffed by volunteers and the stock is donated so 100% of the profits go to Housing Works’ projects. And if you’re looking for a quirky venue, you can even get married here…

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Bookmarks Bar (photo womeninetfs.com)

Bookmarks Bar at the Library Hotel

This upmarket cocktail lounge will float your boat if you decide you don’t want to slum it with the Beat Poets anymore. The romantic rooftop setting plays the perfect host to  the literary themed cocktails on the menu. Why not try The Pulitzer (Nolet’s Gin, Elderflower, Fernet Branca and agave nectar) or F.Scotch Fitzgerald (Brown buttered Glenmorangie, Campari and Carpano Antica).

Cafe Wah?

115 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012

Cafe Wah is still a thriving music venue nearly 70 years after it first opened. Allen Ginsberg could often be found here and the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendricks and Bruce Springsteen all played here whilst launching their careers. This is definitely the place to go if you want to liven things up at the end of your night and with a really eclectic mix of performers there is something for everyone on offer here.

Pete’s Tavern

129 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

This couldn’t be a literary list of NYC drinking holes without mentioning Pete’s Tavern. In continuous operation since 1864, Pete’s is synonymous with NYC’s writer crowd. The most famous of Pete’s customers was William Sydney Porter – aka O. Henry, the short story writer and in his honour, Pete’s have even kept his booth, where he supposedly wrote The Gift Of The Magi. Legend also has it that Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the first of his wildly popular children’s books – Madeline, on the back of one of the menus…

Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
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Photo revelinnewyork.com

If you need some food to line your stomach after all those delicious cocktails, then hop over to the newly revived Minetta Tavern. A mainstay of the 1930s Greenwich Village writer crowd including Ernest Hemingway, this wonderful restaurant has been taken over by Keith McNally and is now serving perfectly cooked côte de boeuf and french inspired food in sumptuous surroundings. People rave about this steakhouse – why not pop in before heading next door to Cafe Wah?

Rose Club Bar at the Plaza Hotel

768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019

The Plaza Hotel should be on a literary tour of NYC for any bibliophile – just make sure you don’t dance in the fountain like F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald! The Rose Club Bar is the hotel’s in-house jazz club and the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for a spot of luxury. Craft cocktails with their own mixologist mean that drinking here is a totally unique (and wallet punching) experience. On a side note – if you’re a fan of Home Alone 2  and want to live like Kevin, The Plaza are offering experiences based on the movie and they look AWESOME.

 

 

Where would you recommend people go to get a literary drink in NYC? The next edition will be London so get your suggestions in for places for bibliophiles to get a swift one…

Feature photo: goodlifereport.com

Review: “The Rules Of Magic” by Alice Hoffman

 

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Hardcover: 369 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: 10th October 2017

4 STARS

SET IN NEW YORK CITY AND MASSACHUSETTS

 

I’m struggling to remember the last time I read a book that didn’t have magic in it…. This hasn’t been an intentional decision – maybe it’s just the autumnal weather kicking in, but it has had the beneficial side effect of immersing me in literary depictions of otherworldliness and getting me to think about what I do, and definitely do not, like about how the extraordinary is dealt with by authors.

The Blurb: For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

Alice Hoffman’s writing is really lovely and I mean that in every sense of the word. There is a softness and lyricism to the way she describes scenes, a focus on the senses and how they mix with emotions for the characters. She’s able to deal with difficult situations for the characters in a way that touches you but doesn’t have the brutal edge that lots of authors seek in an attempt to make their writing ‘hard-hitting’ or ‘gritty’. Hoffman weaves her words around you like a spell and draws you in gently.

I wasn’t massively enamoured of the characters in the beginning and it took me a little while to settle into this novel. It is a prequel to Hoffman’s wildly successful “Practical Magic” and I must confess that whilst I’ve seen the 90s movie adaptation with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman (and that took me until last month…) I have never read the original. Perhaps this was why I found the connections a little tricky – I wasn’t already invested in these characters. In the end didn’t even really notice being sucked in. I suddenly realised that I was half way through. And it was dark outside.

Hoffman deals with the supernatural elements superbly. There are plenty of magical shenanigans but it never seems to tip over into the absurd. The fact that the three siblings each go on a journey with their discoveries and that their relationships with magic are heavily influenced by their different approaches to life keeps it grounded and stops it becoming boring. There is no ‘magical fix’ for the obstacles they need to overcome and Hoffman grows the characters throughout the story really effectively as they realise this themselves.

Overall this is a really gorgeously descriptive novel that transports you to 1960s New York. There’s no need to have read “Practical Magic” to enjoy it and if you’re new to Hoffman’s writing this is a great place to start.

 

@ahoffmanwriter

www.alicehoffman.com

Review: “A Discovery Of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

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Kindle: 594 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books

Release Date: 8th February 2011

3 STARS

SET IN OXFORD, FRANCE AND NEW YORK STATE

Pitched as a grown up “Twilight” meets “Harry Potter,” Harkness certainly draws on the conventions of the genre in this first of three All Souls novels.

The Blurb: Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

I had high hopes for this novel – I’m a sucker for a supernatural adventure romance, but to be honest I struggled with it. The opening is slow and it takes a good third of the book before we get past our heroine researching in various areas of the Bodleian being watched by various creatures. Not exactly the gripping introduction I was wanting.

It is also very frustrating to come across yet another stereotypical macho (but sensitive) leading man – Matthew Clairmont, besides his very contemporary love of yoga, is basically a carbon copy of Edward Cullen and Jamie Fraser, right down to the brooding old fashioned morals. Protective to the point of being annoying, instead of being a foil that allows Diana to shine as a strong leading lady, he ends up seeming to stifle much of what makes her interesting.

The pace certainly picks up in the second half of the novel and I enjoyed the plot once it got going – even if there were moments where I felt I read it before in other books. The Outlander style element that was introduced towards the end of the novel sets up something interesting and I will probably read the next in the series as a beach read. I am incapable of not finishing a series once I start one!

Overall a solid addition to the genre but don’t expect anything particularly new or original.

www.deborahharkness.com

@DebHarkness

10 Best Books in a Blizzard

With the last blast of March winter upon those of us on the US east coast – need something to curl up with whilst you’re snowed in? Why not try some of these classic books with wintery settings…

11250053 “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

Set in Alaska in 1920, this wonderful novel follows Jack and Mabel as they struggle to survive in the harsh environment they find themselves in. After building a child out of snow who mysteriously vanishes, they are drawn into the life of Faina – a young girl who appears to have stepped from the pages of a fairytale book. But is everything what it seems to be…

This book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and has won numerous awards.

 

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“The Cider House Rules” by John Irving

Homer Wells has been brought up in an orphanage in Maine under the tutelage of Dr. Wilbur Larch. Isolated at St Cloud, he assists the doctor with caring for troubled mothers, delivering illegitimate children and taking them into the orphanage. When Homer meets a young couple who arrive seeking an illegal abortion, he finds himself wanting to explore the world beyond his upbringing.

This is a book full of heartbreak that encompasses the morality of abortion, war, love, disability and legacy.

 

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“The Tenderness of Wolves” by Stef Penney

This book is full of suspense and adventure – part historical epic, part murder mystery, it follows a disparate band of wilderness residents as they seek to follow a mysterious set of tracks in the snow that they hope will lead them to the answers to a brutal crime that has been committed. The setting brings an eerie cruelty to the novel as the characters seek missing people, fugitives and the past before the snow covers the tracks left behind for good.

The novel won the Costa Book of the Year prize.

 

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“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

There’s no winter harsher than a Russian winter and this classic novel is considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced. Following the doomed and tragic love affair between Anna and Count Vronsky, this epic story reveals the hypocrisies of nineteenth century Russian society through a sweeping look at familial and romantic relationships.

Often cited as the ‘greatest book ever written,’ it explores jealousy, faith, fidelity, family, progress and passion.

 

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“Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin

When Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar decides to rob a house on the Upper West Side, little does he know that it will lead to love. The relationship between Lake and Beverly Penn, a free-spirited but ultimately doomed young girl is the perfect foil to that of Lake and local gang leader Pearly Soames, who sets his sights on destroying Lake. Set in a mythical, semi-Edwardian New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this novel has a mystical quality that will totally absorb you.

Heavy on the language – you need to set time aside for this one.

 

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“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier

If epic sweeping historical fiction is your thing, you’ll love Cold Mountain. The novel follows the arduous journey of a civil war veteran, Inman, as he struggles to get home to his betrothed, Ada, who has been left behind to try and survive on her father’s farm with the help of a practical young drifter named Ruby. As their stories begin to weave back together, Inman and Ada have to confront how much has changed since Inman left – with the physical and political landscape, but also themselves.

This won the National Book Award for Fiction.

 

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“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

Granted, the snow is mainly contained to the start and end of this classic Gothic tale, but it is still one of the most evocative pieces of Victorian science fiction in print. Victor Frankenstein, exhausted and found ranting in the Arctic wilderness, retells the tale of the creation of the monster that now stalks him through the wasteland. Originally developed from a ghost story told by Mary Shelley to her friends in Geneva when she was just 18 years old.

Don’t let the fact this is a school book classic put you off.

 

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“A Breath of Snow and Ashes” by Diana Gabaldon

As the sixth book in the wildly popular Outlander series, I wouldn’t suggest diving in here without taking a look at the others. Set in 1772, Highland exile Jamie Fraser and his time travelling 20th Century wife, Clare, are commissioned to quell a growing rebellion in the American Colonies – but knowing the ultimate direction of the War of Independence, Clare and Jamie find themselves caught between knowing the future and living in the past.

This is a great romp through the 18th Century – dashing heroes, gutsy heroines and action and adventure galore.

 

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“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Is there truly a more perfect snow bound book than this children’s classic? I re-read the whole Narnia series every year and I am always in awe of how such simple, beautiful prose can evoke such a complex, magical world. Four children are swept into a magical adventure when they find a mysterious portal into a world trapped in permanent winter. Will they be able to break the spell and release Narnia from the grip of the White Witch?

Please, please, please read the book and don’t watch the movie.

 

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“Fargo” by Joel and Ethan Coen

Alright – it’s not technically a novel, it’s a screenplay – but it still ticks my boxes for a read that perfectly balances tension and humour. Pregnant policewoman Marge Gunderson finds herself investigating a murder in snowy Minnesota. Trying to maintain her professional dignity in the face of numerous quirky personalities, Marge needs to solve this quickly if she’s to get out alive…

For this one you can watch the movie!

 

So whilst the wind is blowing and the snow is snowing – try some of these, wrap up warm and put the kettle on. It’ll be over before you know it.

 

 

A Bawdy Night of Bard and Booze

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What happens when Britain’s greatest Bard meets tequila swigging Yanks off Broadway??

Genius happens. Silly, rude, sloshing Genius.

5 Stars

When booking to take out two sober pregnant ladies, one of whom has made a career out of studying and staging the Swan of Avon’s work – a more sensible man might have avoided a show with the title ‘Drunk Shakespeare’. Luckily I’m not married to a sensible man.

The premise of the show is that a nominated actor, each performance, is forced to down multiple shots and is then challenged to perform in a cut back version of a classic Shakespeare play: “Macbeth”. Our nominated actor was Hayley Palmer – and my my she was a valiant Lady Macbeth!

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The format is not in itself a new concept. There’s Drunk History for starters and the Reduced Shakespeare Company has been producing abridged versions of the plays for donkey’s years. (I’m also fairly certain that I’ve seen really bad student takes on it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

The thing that’s so wonderful about this production is that it dances between decent delivery of the key speeches throughout the play and bizarre, high energy current events sketches and improv. The cast’s ability to maintain an almost frantic approach for the full, uninterrupted 90 mins was impressive, and it’s genuinely funny.

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The show is clearly very tightly edited – despite the ‘off-the-cuff’ style of performance – but it allows just enough room for playing with the audience and the actors are skilled in bouncing off one another. They work hard to cultivate a feeling of being ‘in cahoots’ with the audience, from the gorgeous close quartered library set to the sharp, but never nasty, banter that flies across the stage.

This won’t be for you if you can’t bear to see the poetry butchered – or if you are squeamish about bad language and badly simulated sex – but if you like to laugh and like your classics tossed up with a decent helping of pop culture, this is one of the best nights out I’ve had in years – even stone cold sober.

http://www.drunkshakespeare.com

@drunkshakes

Bottoms Up with “The Thin Man”

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Would vintage 1930s New York be useful for helping me acclimatise? No. But it was jolly entertaining.

Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man’ is sparse and very of its time. The characters are almost entirely unlikeable, apart from Nora, and it’s a miracle anyone was able to get any deducing done given that they all seem to hit the sauce before breakfast.

Still – an engaging murder mystery with plenty of glamour.

I’d rather have a bit of P.G Wodehouse though… Tally Ho!

Welcome to “Americanah”

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I feel as if Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 offering, “Americanah,” fell into my lap at the perfect time. As a recent immigrant to Brooklyn, I was looking to diversify my reading list and maybe find out something of the place I had landed in through the eyes of others who have found themselves swallowed up by this noisy, raucous city. I had read Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” some years ago and whilst I couldn’t remember much specific about it, vaguely thought it had been enjoyable at the time. This seemed like a safe bet book – especially with the lovely gold New York Times Book Review 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR medal tacked on the front cover.

What I wasn’t expecting was to find a book that spoke to me so clearly that I couldn’t sleep the night I finished it. Here was a woman who had perfectly captured my own feelings on being dropped into the Brooklyn maelstrom. There are moments where she describes the simple experience of being in an American grocery store, the enormous, flavourless fruit, the overwhelming array of toxic multicoloured cereals, of accents heard but not understood and I was able to recognise myself the week before. A sense of things being familiar in some ways and inexplicably alien in others. I will never make the mistake of asking the concierge for a ‘parcel’ as supposed to ‘package’ again…

There is much in this book that is thought provoking. Whilst I do not share the heroine, Ifemelu’s, Nigerian roots and therefore experiences of race and race relations in the USA, her sense of separateness, otherness and struggle to find an identity that was both true to where she came from and open to embracing her new home was something that I could viscerally identify with. It is testament to Adichie’s skilful prose that this book is able to transcend, for me, the very obvious social commentary regarding race and culture.

That this novel has also made an appearance in my life the week of Trump’s new travel ban seems also, searingly prescient. The talk of immigrants is everywhere in New York at the moment. The collective horror and urgent conversations around dinner tables making the issues surrounding immigration and race central to more people’s lives than ever before. It has been eye opening and disconcerting to find myself even tiptoeing on the other side of the fence, to think of myself as an immigrant and what that means in terms of personal identity – how much loyalty to have to home and how much to embrace a new culture. Adichie’s bold and sharply observed portraits have driven home how complex and ever present the issue of race, of otherness is, not only in the USA, but also Britain. Something that last year, whilst comfortably ensconced in my teaching job, living in my cottage, I would have academically appreciated but not dwelled upon, has been thrown starkly into the light for me.

And so my small sense of otherness in the vast sprawl of New York continues. The realisation that whilst “Americans are so friendly!” “New York is different,” everyone is in their own bubble. Separate. Which this new immigrant finds oddly reassuring.