Eat, Drink, and Be Lit: NYC’s Top Bookish Bars

Monday, November 11, 2019
Take a good look around when you visit your local pub—you could be sitting beside the next Mark Twain or Toni Morrison. It's no secret that a number of NYC's oldest working bars have poured a beer or two for some of the world's most famous authors, poets, and artists, while others pay homage to the wordy greats with literary-themed decor, tipples named after favorite writers, or simply a safe space for aspiring storytellers to show this artsy city what they've got. If you're in the mood for a few scholarly sips, make sure to bookmark these watering holes for later.

Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg

The only sweet treat you'll find inside this old-school Brooklyn watering hole is its biweekly reading series. Yeah, you heard right. If you didn't think reading was cool before, just ask a few of Pete's regulars. Fifteen years running and counting, it's clearly one of the bar's most popular events. And just in case you weren't paying attention, let us remind you what goes well with literary events: booze. You can't go wrong with the Perennial Favorite—blanco tequila, Campari, lavender, and a spritz of lime. 709 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg  

The Writing Room on the Upper East Side

While sitting in what was once a favorite spot for literary types back in 1963 (when it was originally named Elaine's), the owners of the Writing Room knew that this neighborhood bistro needed to turn a new chapter. Inspiration stacks the walls with photos of acclaimed authors, and leather banquettes match the wood accents found on the tables, windowpanes, and polished floorboards. You'll want to put your pen down when the charcuterie starter arrives, and if you know what's good for you, you'll follow it up with the red wine–braised short ribs. To really set the scene, ask for a seat in the Study Room, the back dining area (and sometimes private room) where you'll be surrounded by stacks of books and a fireplace to keep you cozy during the colder months. Just be sure to set your writing time 3–6 p.m. for happy hour—every single day. 1703 Second Avenue (between East 88th and 89th Streets)
Photo courtesy of the Writing Room

White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village

"Do not go gentle into that good night." Author of that famous quote, poet Dylan Thomas, may have penned the line during one of his many visits to his favorite watering hole, the White Horse Tavern. Many other distinguished artists on the jazz and writing scene liked to frequent what is now known as the second-oldest continuously run bar in New York City (out-aged by either Fraunces Tavern or McSorley's, depending on who you talk to). A generous list of wines, cocktails (we're partial to the bourbon-and-honey Gold Rush), and beer drafts have kept the crowds coming since 1880. 567 Hudson Street (between Perry and West 11th Streets)

McSorley’s in the East Village

The footsteps of many influential artists have passed through the doorway of this renowned ale house, but the one person members of the literary community want to talk about is e.e. cummings, the poet who commemorated the bar with his poem "I Was Sitting in Mcsorley's." He spoke about "unclean tables" "dinted mugs," and "ale that never lets you grow old’; all of which make the historic spot sound less than pleasant to visit, but the charm of it can only be understood once your own foot steps onto the sawdust-littered floor. You can also leave the decision-making to your next plot twist, since you only have a choice between two beers: light and dark. 15 East 7th Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
Photo courtesy of McSorley's Old Ale House/Facebook

Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village

In its first location on MacDougal Street, Kettle of Fish opened its doors to such writers as Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso. When it moved over to Christopher Street in 1998, new ownership chose the spot formerly known as the Lion's Head, which was also a notable literary haunt that saw the likes of Frank McCourt and Pete Hamill. In addition to curling up on one of the sofas or posting up at the bar to read or write (maybe not on Sunday, when it's a popular spot for Packers fans), you should look into the bar's book club, which meets monthly! 59 Christopher Street (at Seventh Avenue South)
Photo courtesy of Kettle of Fish

The Dead Poet on the Upper West Side

Owner (and former English teacher) Drew Dvorkin pays homage to the works of his favorite writers at the Dead Poet, an Irish pub that boasts a library of literary classics (yes, you can borrow them), a jukebox offering tunes old and new, and a wall packed with photos of the greatest bards to have ever lived. Dvorkin puts his language skills to use creating clever names for his cocktails; we're fans of the scotch-based Robert Burns and the coconut rum–heavy Midsummer Night's Dream. He also pours a perfect pint of Guinness! 450 Amsterdam Avenue (between West 81st and 82nd Streets)

Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Alphabet City

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe gives a voice to a diverse group of today's freshest talents and tomorrow's household names. (Activist Gloria Steinem and poet-philosopher Allen Ginsberg have previously made appearances here!) Lower East Siders flock to the Nuyorican during open-mic nights for a front-row seat to watch poets, musicians, and freestylers take the stage. And those who compete in the twice-weekly poetry slams show off skills you'd be happy to tip your hat (and beer) to. 236 East 3rd Street (between Avenues B and C)
Photo courtesy of Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Rather set up shop fireside? Check out our list of where to go when those temperatures drop.