Books, Booze, and Beds: 10 Legendary Haunts of Artists and Writers

By
Share:

A patron of the arts as well as a visionary bookseller, George Whitman, the owner of Shakespeare & Company, the legendary English-language bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris, died this week at age 98. Writers flocked to his shop to browse, mingle, and even spend the night. To honor Whitman’s legacy, we decided to take a look at Shakespeare & Company, as well as several other storied haunts of artists, writers, poets and other intellectuals, from cafés to bookstores to hotels. Click through to check out our list, and let us know which currently happening spot you think will become the next artist hangout of legend in the comments.

Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France

Though Whitman ran Shakespeare & Company for almost 60 years, he was not in fact the first owner — he took up the mantle from Sylvia Beach, the founder of the original Shakespeare & Company, which stood not far away from the current incarnation and was a favorite browsing spot for James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. Whitman’s Shakespeare & Company also proved a haven for writers and poets, many of whom actually slept among the shelves on makeshift beds that Whitman lent out to them for as much as months at a time. Whitman also made friends with many established writers who would stop in frequently for readings or just to visit — people like Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Samuel Beckett and William S. Burroughs — though we can’t say if any of these were part of the 40,000-odd people he lodged there over the years.

Max’s Kansas City, New York City

“Max’s Kansas City,” Andy Warhol famously opined, “was the exact place where pop art and pop life came together in New York in the ’60s.” Indeed, the restaurant and nightclub was a veritable magnet for creative types almost from the moment it opened in 1965, and quickly became a favorite haunt of the Factory kids and the glam-rock milieu in the early ’70s. As Patti Smith describes the place upon her first visit in Just Kids , “Sandy had experienced Max’s at the time when it was the social hub of the subterranean universe, when Andy Warhol passively reigned over the round table with his charismatic ermine queen, Edie Sedgwick. The ladies-in-waiting were beautiful, and the circulating knights were the likes of Ondine, Donald Lyons, Rauschenberg, Dalí, Billy Name, Lichtenstein, Gerard Malanga, and John Chamberlain. In recent memory the round table had seated such royalty as Bob Dylan, Bob Neuwirth, Nico, Tim Buckley, Janis Joplin, Viva, and the Velvet Underground. It was as darkly glamorous as one could wish for.” Indeed.

Vesuvio, San Francisco

As legend has it, Neal Cassady stopped by this bar on his way to a reading at Six Gallery (of Howl, perhaps?), and soon brought back all his friends, turning the place into a Beat standby. It didn’t hurt that the bar was located right across the alley (now renamed Jack Kerouac Alley) from the now-famous City Lights Bookstore, founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who faced obscenity charges after publishing Ginsberg’s most famous poem in 1956. All the better for reading and drinking, two of Jack Kerouac and company’s favorite activities.

Les Deux Magots, Paris, France

As legend has it, surrealism was invented at Les Deux Magots — scribbled on the back of a petit paper napkin. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre came every morning to write and sip tea, Camus and Hemingway were regulars, and it was on the terrace of the café that Pablo Picasso met Dora Maar. Once the hub of the artistic, intellectual and literary community in Paris, it’s now a wildly overpriced tourist destination. As Picasso might sigh, Tant pis.

La Rotonde, Paris, France

“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,” laments Hemingway’s Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises. The Café de la Rotonde was yet another favorite spot of the ex-pat writer, who shared tables with Picasso, Modigliani, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Diego Rivera and T.S. Eliot. Yes, it was just like Midnight in Paris.

Hotel Chelsea, New York City

A hotel where you could exchange art for a room — how could it not become a staple of the underground scene in the ’60s and ’70s? In fact, the hotel is probably the most iconic spot on this list, at least in terms of the sheer number of notable artists, actors, writers, and intellectuals who called it home. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived there, as did Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin and Dylan Thomas. It’s where Nancy Spungen, of Sid and Nancy, was found stabbed to death. It’s where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey. Madonna lived there in the early ’80s, and returned there to shoot pictures for Sex in 1992 (in room 822, if you want to know). Warhol shot Chelsea Girls there in 1966, documenting the lives of basically all of the Factory girls who lived at the hotel at the time. Need we say more?

Antico Caffe Greco, Rome, Italy

Arguably the city’s most famous café, the Caffè Greco is certainly one of the oldest, continually operating since 1760. Famous as a haven for such far-ranging visionaries as John Keats, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen (who once lived upstairs), Lord Byron, Goethe, Felix Mendelssohn, and Franz Liszt, this café has the unusual distinction of still being a popular spot for current aspiring writers and artists.

The Cedar Tavern, New York City

The Cedar Tavern was one of the favored watering holes of the Abstract Expressionist painters — Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and friends — as well as Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Frank O’Hara in the ’50s and early ’60s. Bob Dylan was an occasional patron, and reportedly met there with D.A. Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth to plan the shooting of Don’t Look Back. Though a regular, Pollock was ultimately banned from the bar for kicking down the men’s room door, and Kerouac for urinating in an ashtray. Sounds like an flat-out epidemic of too much drinking with too few restrooms, if you ask us.

Harry’s New York Bar, Paris, France

The birthplace of the Bloody Mary, the weirdly-named French bar was the hangout of many notable figures, both artistic and otherwise — Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart, Coco Chanel, Jack Dempsey, Sinclair Lewis, and Ernest Hemingway (who yes, we know, attended every single bar ever, it seems) were all patrons. George Gershwin even composed An American in Paris at Harry’s piano bar. We’ll drink to that.

White Horse Tavern, New York City

Though some tout the White Horse as the place where Dylan Thomas finally drank himself to death, the truth, as far as we can tell, is this: when returning one night to the Hotel Chelsea from the White Horse, announced gleefully, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!” Two days later he was admitted to the hospital, and within a week he had died of pneumonia. Bad timing, it seems. The bar was also a favorite of other artists of the time, including Jim Morrison, Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, and Jack Kerouac, who had to be thrown out so many times that someone scrawled “JACK GO HOME!” on the bathroom wall — though whether it was meant as an admonishment or just as a reminder, we cannot say.