Few things conjure more romantic notions of the past than images of esteemed writers sipping coffee in smoky coffeehouses. Across the world, you can still find the venerated cafes and bars that once played host to the literati elite. From Keats to Hemingway, Paris to New Orleans, the Romantics to the Beat Generation, this is your grand tour of the places where the greats wrote and drank — and you can, too.
Paris' 6ème arrondissement is known for its artistic cafes and the glitterati that frequent them. At the rise of the Jazz Age, when the vibe here was more bohemian than boutique-centric, famed authors and artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso would head to La Rotonde for afternoon coffees that quickly evolved into evening cocktails. The cafe's reputation was solidified when none other than Ernest Hemingway immortalized it in "The Sun Also Rises" writing, "No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde." Over time, it has blossomed into a more gilded contemporary, replete with a cinema next door and a brasserie menu that boasts tartare and steaks. Sit outside and perhaps you'll be inspired to write a novel of your own as you watch fashionable Parisians stroll by.
This North Beach bar was destined to be the watering hole of choice for the Beat Generation's brightest voices: Soon after Vesuvio opened its doors in 1948, the historic City Lights Books set up shop across the street. Vesuvio's first brush with fame came in 1955 when Neal Cassady — the real-life inspiration for the Dean Moriarty character in "On the Road" — stopped by. Soon after, the bar became the stomping ground of choice for the artistically inclined, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas. Pay homage to these literary iconoclasts by ordering a Jack Kerouac — orange and cranberry juice mixed with rum and tequila. Just don't pull a Kerouac and blow off important appointments by hiding out in here — though after a few drinks with the friendly staff, one can see why it would be so appealing.
The oldest coffeehouse in Rome, this legendary cafe has seen countless esteemed guests saunter through its doors since opening in 1760. In high repute, the cafe became an obligatory stop for writers on grand tours of Europe. John Keats, the famed romantic, lived nearby and was often a fixture here. Fellow wordsmiths Lord Byron and Percy Shelley solidified its iconic reputation with their frequent visits. Now it's a favorite among sightseers who stop in after touring the Keats-Shelley House (located within walking distance) while locals stand at the counter sipping small cups of caffe corretto (a shot of espresso with a small dose of liquor).
A tavern since 1650, The Eagle and Child was dubbed "The Bird and Baby," by the literary greats that frequented its halls. Here, writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis gathered, nicknaming themselves "The Inklings" to discuss ideas and (one likes to think) kick back with a few pints. Now a part of the Nicholson's pub group — a collection of historical watering holes scattered throughout Great Britain — it stays true to its public house roots, serving up hearty fare like pork and black pudding sausages with creamy mash and award-winning cask ales.
Housed inside Oslo's Grand Hotel, the Grand Café opened in 1874 when the city was still known as Kristiania, a namesake of the former King Christian IV it would keep until 1925. When the cafe opened, it was a favorite lunching spot for Henrik Ibsen, whose scandalous play, "A Doll's House," shocked viewers by questioning sexual roles and 19th century marriage norms. The cafe still attracts worldly intellectuals during the hotel's annual Nobel Peace Prize banquet. Noted scholars are known to convene here to dine on regional specialties like wild salmon and Lofoten lamb, as well as hearty Norwegian stout.
Established in 1886, the Hotel Monteleone has always been a bright spot in Vieux Carré. Located in New Orleans' iconic French Quarter, it attracted the attention of the Southern literary elite who came here in droves. It was here that Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner holed up while writing in the Crescent City, each claiming the hotel as their residence for a brief time. Downstairs, the legendary, revolving Carousel Bar served up glasses of Ramos gin fizz to the likes of Truman Capote, who joked to enamored guests that he was born in the hotel. Nowadays, the Carousel Bar is still a hot spot for literary sightings (John Grisham and Stephen Ambrose among them) and — if you believe it — paranormal activity. Grab a stool at the bar and order Tennessee Williams' brandy Alexander while taking comfort in the fact that it's not your head spinning — it's the bar.
Ashley Hardaway is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of "Other Places Publishing guide to Ukraine." You can follow her on Twitter at @ADHardaway, connect with her on LinkedIn or keep up to date on her travels at AshleyHardaway.com.
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