Four Literary Pub Crawls We Love

Posted by Brian Morell

(Image via Flickr)

Nothing goes better with a book than a nice glass of wine. Or a cold beer. Or a shot of whiskey. I think some of our greatest authors knew that, too, and that’s why they spent much of their time in pubs. In some of the world’s great literary cities, you can take a tour of these bars and pubs, seeing where our most celebrated literary minds spoke, fought, wrote, and drank.

So I’ve pulled together a short list of my favorite cities for literary lushes like myself. But don’t stop here—after all, what pub crawl wouldn’t be better with a book in your back pocket?

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DUBLIN: The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is perhaps the oldest such tour, having been around for over 25 years. For about two hours, your guides will sing, act, and read to you as they discuss such literary greats like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and W.B. Yeats, taking you to many of the public houses where these writers drank and wrote.

We had gone on this tour in June, right around Bloomsday, and we stopped at a few of the pubs that Joyce wrote about in Ulysses. We also paused at Trinity College, where Wilde attended school as a young man. As you are drinking your pints, make sure to pay attention to these little tidbits as your guides recite passages and tell you about the history of these Irish writers. At the end of the tour is a quiz, which we were the proud winners! Not only do you get bragging rights, you win a t-shirt, which my wife proudly displayed.

Recommended Reading:
James Joyce Ulysses
W. B. Yeats The Wild Swans at Coole

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EDINBURGH: Unlike the Dublin tour, the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour is mostly a performance between two characters, Clart and “McBrain.” Clart starts off the tour as your guide, declaring that pubs were seedy places where writers like Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns found their inspiration. Suddenly, a voice from the audience calls out in dispute, saying that these men of letters were not ones to partake in debauchery. Enter McLaine, soon to be christened McBrain, who believes that Scotland’s great writers were respected and virtuous intellectuals. The two actors use this discussion of literary genius juxtaposed against life in the pubs of Edinburgh as the main theme throughout the night.

That theme was especially evident on this particular tour since it happened to coincide with a concert by Noel Gallagher at Edinburgh Castle, which provided background music throughout the night. It also made the scene at all the pubs a rather rambunctious one. The website says the tour lasts about two hours, but our guides led us around well into the night and through many drinks, ending this unforgettable evening three hours after we had started. As we departed for the night, the concert was ending too and we were able to hear the entire city singing.

Recommended Reading:
Robert Burns Complete Songs and Poems of Robert Burns
Walter Scott Ivanhoe

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NEW YORK CITY: The only regularly held literary pub crawl in New York City just covers a very small geographical area of Manhattan, but the Greenwich Village Literary Walking Tour and Pub Crawl packs a whole lot into those few blocks. The tour only visits three pubs, fewer than the others, but you do spend a good amount of time there, so you can certainly enjoy a drink or two at each. The advertised length of the tour is also longer, clocking in at over three hours, so make sure to pace yourself.

You start at the White Horse Tavern, one of the oldest pubs in the city, where so many great authors drank and wrote: James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac all called it a favorite, along with many others. It’s also known as the last place Dylan Thomas drank, who claimed “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!” before dying shortly after. Much of the walking tour also highlights places the writers lived, including Henry Miller’s home, where his wife allegedly ran a profitable business catering to men.

During the literary pub tours in Dublin and Edinburgh, you cover much of the city as you travel to the many pubs along the tour, but for the Greenwich Village tour, you cover part of a neighborhood, let alone a city. It’s truly a testament to the literary greats who lived in New York, and especially so to one particularly beloved neighborhood.

Recommended Reading:
O. Henry The Last Leaf
Edna St. Vincent Millay A Few Figs From Thistles


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LONDON: Sadly, we have not been on the London Literary Pub Crawl, since it started running about a week after we had left England. Next time, I suppose! Despite not being known for their drinking habits, your guides on the newest of the literary pub tours are Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf. In the afterlife, Dickens and Woolf seem to have become experts on the history of British literature, covering celebrated authors from Shakespeare to George Orwell and Dylan Thomas. They visit twelve pubs on this tour, far more than the other tours, but that might leave less time for drinking. Besides all the knowledge that Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf bestow upon you, it’d be interesting to hear what they think of each other.

Recommended Reading:
Charles Dickens The Old Curiosity Shop
Virginia Woolf Night and Day

Brian Morell is an awesome librarian from New York City. He writes about his travels and life at That Long Yellow Line and about music for The Ruckus. Follow him on Twitter @goodinthestacks.