If there's one thing we've always done right here in Boston, it's drinking. Coming in a close second would be writing. Naturally, writers being how they are, we've also turned out our fair share of writing about drinking, or writers known for their drinking.
Consider the sheer number of literary figures — from Emerson to Longfellow, Hawthorne, Alcott, Whitman, Thoreau, right on up through Frost, Lowell, Sexton, and Cheever — who were either born here, or spent a significant time haunting our hallowed watering holes. And the full list of major luminaries who spent time teaching at our universities would be too long to include. Twain and Dickens warmed a bar seat or two as well: Dickens tossed back slings and juleps at the Tremont House, which, like many of our most literary watering holes, is now lost to history or has undergone a location change. But there are still a handful of bars throughout the city with a bit of authorial tradition. And plenty are currently ushering in a new generation of young writers. Here are a few, from the past to the future.
THE LAST HURRAH AT THE OMNI PARKER HOUSE
The grandaddy of them all, the Omni Parker House was home to the Saturday Club in the mid-19th century, a gathering of writers and thinkers that included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and others — like Charles Dickens, who lived in the hotel for two years. Although the original hotel was demolished and rebuilt in the 1920s, the bar here carries on a literary tradition, taking its name from Edwin O'Connor's classic novel.
60 School St, Boston :: 617.227.8600 :: omnihotels.com
THE BAR AT THE TAJ BOSTON
While the original building that houses the legendary Ritz-Carlton in Boston is now operating as the Taj Boston (and a new Ritz has opened nearby), it's the Arlington Street location that still turns down the sheets, and stirs the martinis, for the literary ghosts. Tennessee Williams is said to have written parts of A Streetcar Named Desire while staying in the old Ritz. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath were regulars at the bar here before and after their poetry workshops with Robert Lowell.
15 Arlington St, Boston :: 617.536.5700 :: tajhotels.com
This pair of bars not only takes its name from the poet laureate of drunken self-loathing, but his work is also featured prominently on the walls — something to think about while you're staring off into the distance over a beer. They've also traditionally hosted a writing contest called the Pint and Pen, in which local writers flex their creativity for cash and prizes.
50 Dalton St, Boston :: 617.437.9999 :: 1281 Cambridge St, Cambridge :: 617.497.7077 :: bukowskitavern.net
TOM ENGLISH'S BAR + THE BANSHEE
The list of bars that have made their mark on the work of Dennis Lehane is lengthy. Most of the seedier ones have long since been transformed into cleaned-up versions of their former selves. But there still are two Dorchester holdovers that Lehane pointed out to me a couple years ago as having an influence on the fictional Black Emerald Bar in his books like Gone Baby Gone. The Banshee was once a much less friendly place called Bonds, and Tom English's wasn't nearly as clean as it seems now, but the air of old Dorchester, and Lehane's characters, still linger around the area.