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Pubs we love: Literary bars

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The best cure for writer’s block? A stiff drink. Here, the spots where famous and not-so-famous authors go to find inspiration at the bottom of a glass.
by Mariah Beckman

KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St., New York
THE DETAILS: At this Soviet propaganda-plastered bar—formerly a Ukranian social club—the patrons are writers and the writers are patrons. Nearly every night of the week, the place hosts readings by accomplished authors such as Glen David Gold and Paul Steven Stone, all
of whom work strictly for drinks. DRINK: Pay homage to KGB’s past life with a mild Baltika lager or a White Russian made with one of nearly 20 Russian vodkas. WATCH FOR: Pick up a copy of the KGB’s irregularly published literary magazine, bursting with original fiction and poetry plus author interviews and book reviews. The bar’s also planning a follow-up to its 2002 fiction anthology “On the Rocks,” available at Amazon.com. TIPS: Go Sundays for fiction readings, Mondays for poetry and Tuesdays for non-fiction; the rest of the week, enjoy music, strong drinks and smart company
between other presentations.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, 48 Webster St., Oakland, Calif.
THE DETAILS: Heinold’s was built in 1880 from the remnants of an old whaling ship on Oakland’s waterfront, and got even more nautical charm when a 1906 earthquake gave the floor a rolling quality. A young Jack London did his schoolwork at the bar’s tables; as an adult, he gained inspiration for “Call of the Wild” from the adventures of his fellow barmates. London mentions the bar 17 times in his 1941 novel “John Barleycorn”—no wonder it’s become a haven for the Bay Area literary set. DRINK: Heinold’s pours a nice selection of local drafts, but its claim to fame is an impressive Bloody Mary that’s a veritable salad of ingredients: Pickled green beans, pickled asparagus and olives amp up local Hangar One Vodka. WATCH FOR: Nearly every item in the bar is a relic. The German Army jacket was taken from a solder in World War II; the dollar bills were signed by men leaving for war so they’d have cash for drinks when they returned; and Heinold’s original clock marks the time of that earthquake—it stopped during the rumble and was never repaired. TIPS: Beware the tradition that just never gets old: The staff keeps the myth of London’s ghost alive by whispering to first-time guests in the restroom from an intercom connected to the bar, blasting the conversations over a loudspeaker for the saloon’s amusement.

White Horse Tavern, 567 Hudson St., New York, 212.989.3956
THE DETAILS: This Greenwich Village haunt was a blue-collar bar from the late 19th century until the 1950s, when writers like Jack Kerouac, Anaïs Nin and Hunter S. Thompson settled in. The most notable former patron, however, is poet Dylan Thomas, who died in ’53 after a rumored 18 whiskies at the White Horse. Later, the bar became the birthplace of the Village Voice; today, college students and aspiring writers still venture in for liquid creativity. DRINK: Select from a list of easy-drinking taps like Hoegaarden, Bass and Anchor Steam, or stick to Thomas’ poison—just maybe not 18. WATCH FOR: Peruse the portraits of Thomas, but keep an eye out for a seat on the patio, a sunny cluster of benches that inspires a long day of drinking. Keep fueled with the menu of big burgers and thick fries. TIP: Grow a thick skin to handle the sometimes-surly staff, though the attitude’s been part of the White Horse’s charm for decades: Someone once scrawled “Go home, Jack!” on the bathroom wall to convince Kerouac to leave.

BONUS: Bookish beer drinkers visiting New York City should take the $20, four-bar Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl, given by the Bakerloo Theatre Project. Tours begin every Saturday at 2 p.m. at the White Horse Tavern.

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