Writers with cocktails may be a stereotype, yet it is true. Many famous writers drank, partly to keep alive the romantic image of writers drinking. In big cities like New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Chicago, there are bars that are famous for being dedicated watering holes of the local literary set.
So why do writers drink?
First off, though many famous writers were heavy drinkers, that was a select few. Thousands of writers did not drink in excess. Some may think that drinking is a ‘muse’ that makes them a better writer, or at least look like one.
Be forgiving and lenient about the drinking by previous generations. Everyone drank because the water was unfit to drink until the 20th Century. Furthermore, previous generations had the Civil War, World War One and Two, fascism, communism, the Great Depression, the Cold War – it’s amazing that there were not more alcoholics.
I write and I can say that many writers, and artists, drink to relax their minds that are exhausted from a prolonged creative drive of production. The mind needs a release, a distraction. Joni Mitchel, a jazz singer-songwriter, escapes into painting after producing an album. Many artists play golf, paint, sculpt, garden, cook, make furniture, travel, sail, or do whatever, after an intense period of mental activity. I find hiking and ballroom dancing as my best releases.
Granted, many famous writers drank to excess, such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker, Anne Sexton, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, and others. The pressure to continually create and produce makes some writers susceptible to problem drinking. It’s proven that one out of ten people have a proclivity to have drinking or substance abuse issues.
On a deeper note, it isn’t depression that drives writers to drink – it is fear. Fear of losing the ability to create. This is common among all the arts and that’s why artists do crazy things in an attempt to spark their creativity.
Writers don’t fear death – they fear writer’s block, a fate worse than death.
So, let’s take a look at what some famous writers have to say about drinking and their favorite drinks to evoke their Muse.
The Algonquin Roundtable, writer’s dinking club, NYC, 1920s
“I drink to make other people more interesting.” Hemingway
“Wine is a good thing, it makes you forget the bad.” (A Farewell to Arms)
Ernest Hemingway (1899- 1961). Received the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. Known for writing A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bells Toll, The Old Man and the Sea, and more.
Favorite Bars: Margots, Paris; Ritz, Paris; Carousel, New Orleans; Sloppy Joes, Florida Keys; Cerveceria Alemana, Madrid; El Floridita, Havana.
Drink of Choice: Mojito
2 parts rum, 1 part fresh lime juice, 6 mint sprigs, 2 teaspoons of sugar, soda water.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” Fitzgerald
“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.” (The Beautiful and the Damned)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 –1940) American novelist. Known for The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, Tender Is the Night.
Favorite Bars: Ritz, Paris; Margots, Paris.
Drink of Choice: Gin Rickey
2 oz. gin, juice of half a lime, sparkling water
“Three be the things I shall ever attain: envy, content, and sufficient champagne.” Parker
Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967), American writer of short stories, poems, plays, film screenplays.
Favorite Bar: Algonquin, NYC
Drink of Choice: Whisky Sour
3 parts bourbon
2 parts fresh lemon juice, 1 part sugar syrup
Shake with ice, strain into an old fashioned glass.
“Man must drink because he is a rational animal.” Byron
Lord Byron (1788 – 1824) British poet. Known for Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
Favorite Bars: Atico Cafe Greco, Rome; Café Pedrocchi, Padua, Italy.
Drink of Choice: Zitsa, Greek sparkling white wine.
Byron is a national hero of Greece and died fighting for its independence.
“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.” Thomas
Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953), Welsh poet and playwright.
Known for: “Do not go gently into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the night.”
Favorite Bars: White Horse Tavern, NYC; Vesuvio Cafe, San Francisco.
Drink of Choice: Straight Whiskey
“Vodka went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallower’s sword and made me feel powerful and god like.” Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963) American poet, won the Pulitzer Prize, known for The Bell Jar, The Colossus, Ariel, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.
Favorite Bar: Ritz Carlton, Boston
Drink of Choice: Vodka Martini
6 parts vodka, 1 part dry vermouth, garnish with lemon peel.
“I don’t think I’ve ever drunk champagne before breakfast before. With breakfast on several occasions, but never before before.” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
Truman Capote (1924- 1984) American novelist. Known for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood, Other Voices Other Rooms, The Glass Harp.
Favorite Bars: Carousel Bar, New Orleans
Drink of Choice: Screwdriver, he called “my orange drink”
1 part vodka
2 parts orange juice
Edgar Allan Poe
“Fill the mingled cream and amber, I will drain that glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber, Through the chambers of my brain.” Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849), American writer, essays, novels, short stories, poems. Known for The Purloined Letter, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Gold Bug, Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Drink of Choice: Brandy Eggnog (Poe Family Recipe)
1 part brandy, 1 part rum
7 eggs, 5 cups milk
½ cup whipping cream, 1 cup sugar
“In the meantime for Elegance and Ease and Luxury, I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above Vulgar Economy.” Austen Letter to Cassandra, 1808
Jane Austen (1775 – 1917) British novelist. Known for Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey.
Drink of Choice: French Wine
“Don’t drink to get drunk, drink to enjoy life.” Kerouac
Jack Kerouac (1922- 1969) American novelist. Known for On the Road, The Town and the City, Big Sur, The Dharma Bums.
Favorite Bars: White Horse Tavern, NYC; Kettle of Fish, NYC; Vesuvio Café, San Francisco.
Drink of Choice: Margarita
10 parts tequila
4 parts orange liqueor, 3 parts fresh lime juice
Garnish with salt on the glass rim.
“My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.” Faulkner
William Faulkner (1897-1962) American novelist, received the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. Known for The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light In August, Absalon Absalon!, The Reivers.
Favorite Bars: Carousel, New Orleans; Chumley’s, NYC; Algonquin, NYC.
Drink of Choice: Mint Julep
3 ounces bourbon
4 mint sprigs, 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, 2 teaspoon water
Garnish with a mint sprig.
“God has a brown voice, so soft and full as beer.” Sexton
“Poetry is still first, cigarettes and alcohol follow.” Sexton
Anne Sexton, (1928-1974) American poet, awarded the Pulitzer Prize, known for Live or Die, poems.
Favorite Bar: Ritz Carlton, Boston
Drink of Choice: Gin Martini
6 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth, Mix in a shaker with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel oil and olives.
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Twain
Mark Twain (1835- 1910) American novelist. Known for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court.
Favorite Bars: Algonquin, NYC; Antico Caffe Greco, Rome.
Drink of Choice: Old Fashioned
2 parts bourbon or rye whiskey, 1 sugar cube, few dashes Angostura bitters, few dashes of water, Muddle sugar, bitters, and water in an old fashioned glass. Fill with ice and whisky, stir.
“A drinking man’s someone who wants to forget he isn’t still young and believing.” (Cat On a Hot Tin Roof)
“Liquor is one way out and death’s the other.” Williams
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) American playwright, Pulitzer Prize. Known for: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth.
Favorite Bars: Carousel, New Orleans; Ritz Carlton, Boston; Algonquin, NYC.
Drink of Choice: Ramos Gin Fizz
2 oz. gin, ¾ oz. simple syrup, ½ oz. heavy cream, ½ oz. lemon juice, ½ oz. lime juice
1 fresh egg white, 3 dashes of orange flower water, chilled club soda
Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Ah, drink again,
This river that is the taker away of pain,
And the giver back of Beauty!” Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892- 1950) American writer, essays, poems, plays.
Drink of Choice: Side Car
2 parts cognac or brandy, 1 part orange liquor, 1 part fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass.
“After the first drink you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” Wilde
Oscar Wilde (1954-1900) Irish playwright. Known for The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Favorite Bar: Kennedy’s, Dublin
Drink of Choice: Absinthe 1
1 oz. absinthe
Pour ice cold water over a sugar cube on a spoon over the drink until dissolved.
“The wine-cup is the little silver well, where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell.” Shakespeare
“I pray you, do not fall in love with me, for I am falser then vows of wine.” (As You Like It)
“His drunkenness is his best virtue, for he will be swine drunk, in his sleep he does little harm.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)
William Shakespeare (1564- 1616), British playwright.
Favorite Bars: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London; George Inn, London.
Drink of Choice: Beer and Ale
“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.” Wharton
“We ought to be opening a bottle of wine.” Wharton
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) American novelist, awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Known for The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, The Reef, The Glimpses of the Moon.
Drink of Choice: Wine
“There is no bad whiskey, there is only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
“I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle.” Chandler
Raymond Chandler (1888- 1959) American pulp fiction and film noir novelist. Known for The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, The Long Goodbye, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister.
Drink of Choice: Gimlet
4 parts gin, or vodka
1 part lime juice
Garnich with a slice of lime
George Bernhard Shaw
“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” Shaw
“Whiskey is liquid sunshine.” Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish playwright. Known for Pygmalion, Caesar and Cleopatra, Saint Joan, Man and Superman, Arms of the Man.
Drink of Choice: Whiskey
“I taste a liquer never brewed,from Tankards scooped in Pearl,
Not all the Frankfort Berries, Yield such an alcohol.” Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (1830- 1886) American poet
Drink of Choice: Wine and Dessert Liqueur
Served with her infamous baked desserts.
“I take my hangover as a consequence, not as a punishment.” Steinbeck
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American novelist, awarded both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. Known for Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row.
Favorite Bar: Costello’s, NYC
Drink of Choice: Jack Rose
3 parts apple brandy, 1 part grenadine, 1 part lemon juice
“When you drink the world is still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” Bukowski
Charles Bukowski (1920 -1994) German-American poet, novelist, known for being a “laureate of American lowlife.”
Favorite Bar: Frolic Room, Los Angeles
Drink of Choice: Boilermaker
Beer with a shot of whiskey.
“Imagine that whiskey is the fire and that the message is that which is known only in the soul of the man.” (Ballad of the Sad Café)
“Next to music, beer was best.” (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter)
Carson McCullers (1917- 1967), American novelist, known for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of the Sad Café.
Drink of Choice: Hot Tea and Sherry
“It was not long until I preferred the beginning of the thousand words with a drink.” London
Jack London (1876- 1916) American novelist, known for Call of the Wild, White Fang.
Drink of choice: Gin Martini
6 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth
Mix in a shaker with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with lemon peel oil and olives.
“All of you people who served in the war, you are the lost generation. You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” Stein
Gertrude Stein (1874 -1946), American writer in Paris, known for: Q.E.D., Tender Buttons, The Making of Americans, Three Lives, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Drink of Choice: Pimm’s Cup
2 parts Pimm’s, 1 part chamomile syrup
½ oz. lime juice, ½ oz. sugar
2 lemon wedges squeezed
“Be always drunken, nothing else matters; that is the only question.” O’Neill
Eugene O’Neill (1888- 1953 ) American playwright, Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. Known for: A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude.
Drink of Choice: Gibson
6 parts vodka
1 part vermouth
“I usually need a can of beer to prime me.” Mailer
“Cowards need alcohol to make love, they might as well make love to the bottle.” Mailer
Norman Mailer (1923- 2007) American novelist, Pulitzer Prize winner, known for The Naked and the Dead, The Executioner’s Song, Armies of the Night, An American Dream, The Deer Park.
Favorite Bar: White Horse Tavern, NYC
Drink of Choice: Bourbon
“Fan the smiling flames of hilarity with the wing of friendship and pas the rosy wine.” (The Old Curiosity Shop).
“Bring the bottled lightning, a clean tumble, and a corkscrew.” (Nicholas Nickleby).
Charles Dickens (1812- 1870) British novelist. Known for Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol.
Favorite Bars: George Inn, London; Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London.
Drink of Choice: Sherry and Brandy
Sherry Cobbler: sherry, sugar, orange slices
Sherry Punch: sherry, brandy, port
Wassail: sherry, brandy, cider
“No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid; but sainthood is also something that human beings must avoid.” Orwell
George Orwell (1903 -1950) British writer, known for Nineteen Eighty Four, Animal Farm.
Favorite Bars: Chicken & Hen, The Canonbury, Compton Arms, all in London.
Drink of Choice: Dark Stout Beer
Writers have an innate need to write, they have a specialized intelligence for it. Most people believe that they have a great novel in themselves, maybe so. But they are not ‘writers’ unless they had an overwhelming need to write when they were young.
Being a writer carries with it a heavy burden, they must produce and publish or die. Every writer goes through Hell with the torment and fears of Writer’s Block. In Dante’s Hell there is no hope, only despair. That is what drives many writers to drink.
So pay them homage and enjoy their works with a cocktail to celebrate.
Be kind and forgiving to writers, otherwise we will describe you.
The Drink Buskins