A few dusty books, a framed portrait of Mark Twain or a famous author or two that has graced the door are a few factors that establishments use to anoint themselves as literary bars. But luckily, for those who appreciate a well-crafted cocktail with an immersive read, there’s an array of innovators that have redefined the term. Grab your favorite well-worn paperback and voyage to these six can’t-miss bars.
Russell Davis may be most familiar as a cocktail-fixer on the television show Bar Rescue. This spring, he opened Academia. It’s designed as a faculty lounge with an Ivy League-level drinking experience, replete with collegiate banners and chalkboard walls. “Academia pays homage to the great thinking drinkers of our era, and it just so happens that many of these figures were writers,” says Davis. “We have created a space that not only honors these spirited scholars, but that also seeks to creatively inspire guests.”
The Library at The NoMad Hotel
New York City
The NoMad Hotel’s namesake restaurant is known for its exquisite dining, but it’s not the property’s only attraction. Also in the hotel, The Library is a lounge set in a two-level, well, library, with its upper reaches accessible via an antique spiral staircase imported from France. There are 3,500 books in the collection, organized into seven sections: food and drink, New York, mind and spirit, both “feminine stuff” and “masculine stuff,” music and France. The menu and the beverages come from The NoMad Bar.
If Venice has been said to lack anything, except perhaps breathing room in those crowded piazzas, it’s an exciting cocktail scene. Enter Alessandro Zampieri’s Il Mercante, with a menu dedicated to famous voyages of historical figures. In its first year, it focused on Marco Polo, while Zampieri turned to Ferdinand Magellan for its second. He hopes to deliver in-depth stories with each drink, where destinations are matched with the ingredients and the flavors found there. “We want every cocktail to tell a story,” says Zampieri.
The Old Man
Down a dim alley and hidden away from bustling nightlife, the entrance to this venue is marked by an eye-catching, geometric Hemingway mural, a mosaic pieced together from leftover construction materials. Owner Agung Prabowo’s menu is a product of painstaking research. “Every drink is based on a different Hemingway book,” he says. “Every book he wrote, he was drinking different cocktails and spirits, at different times and places.” Prabowo’s mad-scientist mind draws on this information to create drinks like The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, with marshmallow gin, citrus and lacto-fermented raspberry, topped with grated Gruyère.
Petworth Citizen & Reading Room
Every weekend, the cramped backroom of this bar bursts to life as the Reading Room, with Literary Cocktails sessions from Chantal Tseng. “I read first to get inspired, then create a menu for the weekend,” says Tseng, who creates up to 14 fresh cocktails each week to serve amongst the space’s stock of 3,000 books. Expect plenty of her favorite ingredients, like Sherry and other fortified wines, “which incidentally get referenced quite a lot in fiction,” she says. “Oftentimes, former literature majors or professors get excited and make the trip especially for their favorite author or book.”
Raised by Wolves
Part hidden bar and part retail shop, this oasis is stocked with an assortment of vintage spirits, cocktail tools and ingredients. A spinning fireplace platform rotates to reveal a fake wall and concealed entrance. Inside, you’ll find a tiered white fountain in the middle of a circular bar, all under a stained glass gazebo that changes colors. Stocked bookshelves are ready for perusal, along with plenty of reading nooks. The bar also draws on a library of rare and vintage liquor to create a handful of ultrapremium cocktails.