Best literary bars in NYC: Kettle of Fish, Old Town Bar and more

At these NYC bars, you can peruse books, listen to local scribes or drink where famous authors once wet their whistles.

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  • Illustration: Ana Benaroya

    Booze and books have had a long, well-documented relationship—especially in New York. Click through this slide show to find our favorite literary watering holes (go-to spots for Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker and Frank McCourt, among many others), as well as cool reading series and an NYC bar packed to the brim with handsome tomes.

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Kettle of Fish
    In the ’50s and ’60s, this cozy West Village tavern’s original location on MacDougal Street served as a haunt for the Beat Generation, attracting heavyweights of the movement such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Norman Mailer—not to mention some young songwriter named Bob Dylan, who’d drop in between sets at the Gaslight. Although today it’s probably best known as a meeting place for rabid Green Bay Packers fans, traces of its intellectual roots still exist. In the back, check out the large, neon-red BAR sign, in front of which Kerouac was memorably photographed back in the day. 59 Christopher St between Seventh Ave South and Waverly Pl (212-414-2278, kettleoffishnyc.com)

  • Photograph: Lindsay Taylor

    White Horse Tavern
    Speaking of the On the Road penner, Kerouac was also a regular at this Village pub. Rumor has it he overstayed his welcome so many times that “Kerouac, go home!” was scrawled above a urinal in the men’s room. But its most noteworthy drinker remains Dylan Thomas. The Welsh poet slammed his last whiskey here—allegedly his 18th of the night—before passing away a few days later. Be warned, though: The historical joint becomes packed with smashed co-eds at night, so any poetry-book leafing is best enjoyed in the afternoon. 567 Hudson St at 11th St (212-989-3956)

  • Old Town Bar
    True to its name, this Flatiron saloon is one of the most ancient places to imbibe in town: It’s been pouring drinks steadily since 1892—even operating during Prohibition as a speakeasy. Maybe this permanence is why so many literary boozers—including Frank McCourt (a signed copy of his Angela’s Ashes is displayed above one of the booths), Nick Hornby, Seamus Heaney and Billy Collins—have sidled up to Old Town’s long mahogany bar over the years. 45 E 18th St between Broadway and Park Ave South (212-529-6732, oldtownbar.com)

  • The Blue Bar (at the Algonquin Hotel)
    A stomping ground for New Yorker and other Condé Nast staffers, this Times Square drinking den is an ideal place to trade bookish barbs over a stiff drink. Some fodder for your next chat in the posh, oak-paneled, cerulean-lit space: The bar is housed in the Algonquin Hotel, where Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and fellow word-wielding wits met daily as part of famed ’20s lit group the Algonquin Round Table—or the Vicious Circle, as it was often called by its catty members. 59 W 44th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-840-6800, algonquinhotel.com/blue-bar)

  • Photograph: Courtesy Benoit Linero

    The Library (at the NoMad Hotel)
    This magnificent section of blockbuster restaurant the NoMad is outfitted with plush couches, elegant lamps and 3,500 expertly curated tomes. Nab a cocktail at the bar and look through two floors’ worth of books, accessible by a spiral staircase. If you plan to read (and you should—the titles cover everything from medieval history and French philosophy to Audrey Hepburn), stop by early, as the spot becomes crowded in the evening. 1170 Broadway at 28th St (347-472-5660, thenomadhotel.com)

  • KGB Bar
    This former commie hangout hosts free readings almost every night, showcasing New York’s budding wordsmiths. We recommend standout series Fantastic Fiction (third Wednesday of each month at 7pm), where notables Joyce Carol Oates and Jack Ketchum have appeared, and the weekly Sunday Night Fiction (7pm). Between readers, be sure to sample (some of) the 50 types of vodka stocked behind the bar. 85 E 4th St between Bowery and Second Ave (212-505-3360, kgbbar.com)

Illustration: Ana Benaroya

Booze and books have had a long, well-documented relationship—especially in New York. Click through this slide show to find our favorite literary watering holes (go-to spots for Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker and Frank McCourt, among many others), as well as cool reading series and an NYC bar packed to the brim with handsome tomes.


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