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Some of Boston’s best bars have a literary history
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  September 1, 2006

Riding there red line from Central Square to Park Street recently, a friend of mine from Philadelphia surveyed the length of the train and said, “You don’t see this in Philly.” I looked around, wondering what was going down that wouldn’t take place in the City of Brotherly Love. Nothing out of the ordinary. Average crowd on a Wednesday-evening ride, the only exception being the two drunks at the end of the car bellowing back and forth about Varitek. But even that wasn’t much of an exception.

“Don’t see what?,” I asked.

“Everyone’s reading,” he said.

I looked again. It was true. More people than not had a book, a magazine, or a newspaper in hand. A couple of New Yorkers, the Boston Phoenix, copies of Middlesex and Jane Eyre. A few people without something to read were peering at discarded Metros on the floor.

Ours is a city of readers. So it makes sense that the bars around town reflect that.

“I’m a drinker with a writing problem.” — Brendan Behan
Irish playwright Brendan Behan divided his time between prison and pubs; according to one story, Guinness hired him to come up with an advertisings logan for its beer. As part of his payment, the company gave him six kegs. A month later, Guinness checked back in with Behan to see what he’d come up with. Behan, having offed all the beer, had this for the brewery: “Guinness makes you drunk.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. And his namesake bar, the Brendan Behan (378 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain,617.522.5386), has a similar no-nonsense feel. It’s small and dark, with high wooden booths and no TVs; it’s a conversational, neighborhood spot, harking back to the Irish-pub days of yore.

“I may be a prig,” he replied, “but I know what I like.” — Flann O’Brien
There was a time when Flann O’Brien’s (1619 Tremont Street, Boston,617.566.7744) in Mission Hill was my local bar, and it still occupies a big warm spot in my heart. Named after the Irish novelist and satirist (whose real name was actually Brian O’Nolan, and who’s most famous for At Swim-Two-Birds), Flann’s is a snug spot, dark and cool, peopled by sundry Mission Hillies, local punks, and MassArt and Northeastern kids. Irish-author portraits hang on the walls, and the pool table, removed for a while to help the bar compete with the loungier spots popping up in the’hood, is back.

“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the members of the Saturday Club, a group of big-brained men, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who met at the Omni Parker House Hotel. Charles Dickens was an occasional guest of the place as well. The Parker House’s bar likewise has literary linkages. The Last Hurrah (60 School Street,Boston, 617.227.8600) is named after Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edwin O’Connor’s novel about a Boston-Irish boss’s last political run. It’s the plush haunt of local politicos and Financial District suits with one of the best views of downtown bustle.

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