This week, to honor the name of my blog, I’ll be talking about drinking, writing, drinking while writing, writing while drinking, and maybe even writing about drinking while drinking and writing. To that end, Ed from The Dogs of Beer has written a post about the history of writers, their haunts, and their drinks. If you’d like to write a guest post for LitLib, send an email with your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
Hello everyone! My name is Ed Morgan and I write a little craft beer blog called The Dogs of Beer. I’ve been writing for almost two years now, focusing mainly on the craft beer scene in and around the state of Delaware but at the end of the day, I’ll write about anything that strikes a chord with me. I’m aided in this endeavor by my girlfriend’s dog Gryphon (AKA “Big Head Dog”), who serves as photo and layout editor. Say hello to Oliver’s readers, Gryph.
When Oliver asked me to write a guest post for his blog, I have to admit that I was a little hesitant. After all, if you’re a regular here at Literature and Libation you know that above all else, this is a blog about writing, and that Oliver is a writer. I, however count among my literary achievements such things as believing that over the past year I’ve used semi-colons properly no less than 5 times. However, I’m sure that Oliver would counsel me that taking oneself out of one’s writing “comfort zone” is what all writers should do on occasion, and when he suggested I write a post about writers and drinking, I have to admit I was pretty keen on the idea.
I’m well aware that alcohol has long been a muse for artistic people. The love affair between the once banned Absinthe and the creative likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is well documented. Many rock musicians have turned to alcohol thinking that it will heighten their creativity, sadly sometimes with deadly consequences. But musicians and artists are not unique when it comes to turning to alcohol. Writers too have had a fondness for drink and one of the things I’ve always found interesting in my travels and in my reading are the establishments themselves that have been made famous by association.
For instance, the Eagle & Child in Oxford, England, for all intents and purposes might have been nothing more than an unassuming local English pub, if it had not become famous for hosting the “Inklings;” a literary group that met every Tuesday morning in the Rabbit Room. The group was run by two Oxford locals: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Pete’s Tavern, in New York City, can lay claim to being a regular haunt for writer William Sydney Porter who, under the pen name O. Henry, wrote some of America’s most endearing stories including The Ransom of Red Chief and The Gift of the Magi. The tavern embraces this by advertising itself as “The Tavern O’Henry Made Famous”, and still maintains “The O’Henry Table”. While statements that The Gift of the Magi was written in the tavern are suspect, O’Henry did use the tavern (named Healy’s when O’Henry lived in NYC) as an inspiration for Kenealy’s Tavern that appears in his story, The Lost Blend.
And of course any Jimmy Buffett fan is familiar with Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Florida, a popular haunt for Ernest Hemingway. The bar (which now sits on Duval Street after owner Joe Russell moved it there after refusing to pay a rent increase from $3 a week to $4) originally sat at the location now occupied by Captain Tony’s Saloon and was Hemingway’s preferred drinking stop when he lived in Key West. At the time however, the name of the bar was The Silver Slipper, which Hemingway hated, claiming it wasn’t “manly” enough. He badgered Russell to change it and Sloppy Joe’s was born.
Yes, the association between writers and their favorite watering holes can be pretty strong. So strong in fact, that cities like London, Dublin, and New York have literary tours that allow you to walk around and visit some of the establishments that writers have held so dear. But sadly, some bars, taverns and pubs have become associated with writers for the gravest of reasons.
When ever I go to NYC and step into The White Horse Tavern, I’m reminded of Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas, author of such classics as Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight and, And Death Shall Have No Dominion. Although his death in November of 1953 was largely due to complications of pneumonia, the use of alcohol has always been cited as a contributing factor. It doesn’t help quell these claims when only 6 days earlier, Thomas was seen stumbling out of the White Horse loudly claiming, “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!” Years later in her autobiography, Dylan’s wife Caitlin would write, “But ours was a drink story, not a love story, just like millions of others. Our one and only true love was drink”
One can no longer walk into the Harbour Lights Bar in Dublin, Ireland but if you could, it probably would be practically impossible not to get a lesson on Irish writer Brendan Behan. Writer of Borstal Boy, an autobiographical account of Behan’s days in a Borstal prison due to his involvement in the IRA, and Hold Your Hour and Have Another, Behan may not be a household name to people outside the writing world. But he was an important figure in Ireland, and well known for his drinking. He’s credited with being the writer to first describe himself as “a drinker with a writing problem” and is the subject of The Pogues’ song Streams of Whiskey. One night, Behan collapsed while drinking at the Harbour Lights Bar and died later at MeathHospital from what’s been called “complications due to alcoholism and diabetes.”
I had been to the Fell’s Point, Baltimore, institution The Horse You Rode In On for a few drinks and some great live music on many occasions before I learned of it’s connection to the great Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s exploits are legendary and probably well known by those who read Oliver’s blog. But some of the greatest mysteries left to us by the father of the modern detective story are the details surrounding his death. Poe was discovered, delirious, on the streets of Baltimore on Oct 3, 1849, in clothes that weren’t his and never regained enough awareness to say what happened to him before dying on Oct 7. People have argued many theories on the cause of his death; include delirium tremens, syphilis, tuberculosis, cooping, and even rabies. But what everyone does agree on is that the bar, “The Horse” was the last place he was seen before being discovered on the 3rd.
I’m sure one of the reasons Oliver asked me to write this post was to share my own personal thoughts on writing and drinking. Let’s start out by saying that the chances of me ever making a bar famous by dropping dead in it are very slim, however since I do write a beer blog, it’s easy to assume that for me the two go hand in hand. Well, that’s not quite true. When I’m writing a beer review I do like to be drinking the beer I’m reviewing. This gives me the ability to think about and capture what I’m experiencing in real time and make sure I’m not leaving out any important details that might be forgotten later.
However, what I’ve learned is that drinking and writing is a slippery slope for me, just like drinking and playing music. When I was playing in pick up bands there was an amount of alcohol that would calm the stage jitters and make me play with confidence. And then there was the amount of alcohol that turned my fretboard finesse into the inept clawing of a cloven ox. And what I found to be true back then is that the difference between those two amounts of alcohol was very small.
So in writing, a few beers are nice to relax the mind and get the creative juices flowing, but it doesn’t take much more to cause me to turn out 700 words that look like I typed it with my face on a keyboard where the Z, G, and P keys are stuck. Of course some would suggest that it’s not all bad, that at least the basic framework is there and all I need to do is clean it up later when I’m more lucid. But you writers out there know that poorly written paragraphs are like “fix-it-up” houses. Some you can do something with it, and then with others it’s best to just bulldoze the whole thing and start from scratch. And since I do that enough when I’m sober, I chose to put the keyboard down whenever I feel that familiar buzz taking over my brain.
I guess you could say that when it comes to writing, alcohol is my muse, but not necessarily always my friend.
I’d like to thank Oliver for allowing me to guest post on his blog. To show my appreciation, knowing that Oliver is a cat person, I’d like to share a couple pictures my girlfriend and I recently took at the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West, Florida. Hemingway was a well known lover of polydactyl cats and his house, now a museum, plays home to 45 decedents of his cat, Snowball. The cats have the full run of the estate, as shown by this picture of one of the cats calmly lying on a bed that visitors are not allowed to touch.
Ah Gryphon, the cat picture please?
Yeah, that’s not the picture I took. What’s your problem?
I know we have an unspoken “no cat rule” at the Dogs of Beer, but we’re doing a guest post for Oliver and I think he’d like to see some of the photos I took of the Hemingway cats. So could you just put up the picture I took of the cat relaxing on the bed, please?
Ok, this isn’t funny. You’re embarrassing me. Please put the picture up or you and I are going to have a major problem. I’d keep in mind that you’re still young enough for me to have you neutered. Last chance fur ball, put up the picture!
Thank you. Now was that so hard? The cats have four full time attendants and receive a vet visit every Wednesday. And as you can see by the happy expression on this cat, they really appreciate how well they’re taken care of.
I hate you.