Sophie Marie Atkinson.
The following is a record of an actual conversation that recently took place between my boyfriend and I before our first (and potentially, last) holiday together.
Me: ‘What books are you taking with you on holiday?’
Him [blank stare]: ‘Huh?’
Me: ‘What. Books. Are. You. Taking. With. You. On. Holiday?'
Him: ‘What do you mean?’
Me [exasperated]: ‘I mean what bloody books are you taking with you when we go to Thailand?! To, you know, read?!’
Him [rolls eyes]: ‘God, you’re so British.’
1) Thank you dear boyfriend for noticing – after almost one (long) year together – my nationality, and...
2) What the hell is that supposed to mean?!
He went on to explain that they – Australians – consider the act of stockpiling literature to take with you on vacation a very ‘British’ phenomenon.
This entire incident took place in our local pub, where I spent all of 30 seconds sulking before deciding that I would not be insulted be his ignorant ways and instead would embrace both my bookishness and British-ness. And booziness. For what is more British than a passion for a pint, a glass of vino, a gin and juice?
Paris may have Les Deux Magot (the café-cum-bar-cum-bistro where Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus wrote) and Cuba may have its Hemmingway bars – where the American author sank Papa Dobles and penned some of the best literature known to man – but we, we, spawned Shakespeare and Dickens, gosh darnit!
And so I decided to celebrate London by taking a sweeping glance at some of the best bars and pubs that combine books and booze; coffee and culture; places that feed the mind as well as the belly (*groan*, I’m going to quit now while I’m ahead…)
First stop: the highly-lauded Quo Vadis on Soho’s Dean Street. This charming dining room offers up a daily changing menu of sumptuous fare as well as Champagne and cocktails, and it resides in Karl Marx’s former home.
Dylan Thomas and George Orwell both drank at The Fitzroy Tavern on nearby Charlotte Street when they worked at the nearby BBC in the 1940s and 50s, and Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw were just some of the artists, intellectuals and bohemians who frequented this pub as well.
The Lamb pub on Conduit Street is where Charles Dickens used to drink (handily located very close to Dickens House; a must for literature and museum buffs alike) and The George Inn in Borough, which can be traced back to 1542, was potentially frequented by Shakespeare, as the Bard lived and worked in the area.
The Dove pub in Hammersmith is not only the smallest bar in England, but it was also said to have been a favourite of both Graham Green and Ernest Hemingway. James Thompson, the 18th-century poet, reputedly wrote the words to ‘Rule, Britannia’ here.
Rumour has it that Keats, Shelly and Byron, no less, all wrote at Hampstead’s (supposedly haunted) The Spaniards Inn while others whisper than Dick Turpin watched carriages go by from here as he waited to rob them. Dickens also includes the pub in his Pickwick Papers novel.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street is another historic pub that has hosted many famous figures including Dickens, Dr Samuel Johnson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Once again, Dickens name-checks a pub in a novel, this on appearing in A Tale of Two Cities.
Agatha Christie and Rudyard Kipling were both regular visitors to the 170-year-old Browns Hotel. Rumour has it that Kipling wrote The Jungle Book here.
Moving away from where these awe-inspiring authors drank and onto bars themed by or dedicated to works of literature; Lewis Caroll, my personal favourite author, must get a special mention, simply for the number of bars and restaurants that doff their hats to his most famous work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Situated in the boho neighbourhood of Stoke Newington lives the newly-opened White Rabbit, an Alice-themed pub with split-level setting that includes a basement club called, of course, The Rabbit Hole, and an outdoor space complete with Victorian inspired walkway, street lamps and seating areas. Cocktails include the thoughtfully named Aztec Ruin and English Garden. Don’t leave without trying the Espresso Martini.
Lewis can also be thanked for the gorgeous Callooh Callay cocktail bar in Shoreditch. Named after a line from his poem, The Jabberwocky (‘O frabjous day! Callooh Callay!’), this cocktail bar/club is packed with references to the playful, surreal world of Lewis Carroll, from the décor to the cocktails, such as Afternoon Twee or the Mad Hatter’s Punch, served out of a gramophone. Callooh Callay even goes one step further and segues into CS Lewis: to enter The Jubjub Bar – a small, secret candlelit room – you have to convince the staff to give you a key and then to step through a Victorian wardrobe and climb the stairs. It’s all very Narnia.
Image courtesy of Flickr user shimelle.