I’ve never been that interested in restaurants or even that into food, but I sure love a themed environment. Also, I like pubs. Most people love all of the above, in some combination. Here’s a short and varied list of ways people have combined literary theming with drinks and eats, from long-standing to newish, fancy to down-to-earth, deeply themed to straight-up “No, he sat in this chair” type joints.
The Lockhart in Toronto is brand new, and a bit on the subtle side, and I imagine your muggle friends could come here and not even ken that it’s Harry Potter themed. Personally, I’d prefer to be radically immersed when I walk in, but being in-the-know is its own kind of fun. Plus, Rowling’s world abounds with secrets, what with the hidden train platforms and such, so maybe this really works for Potter.
Lovecraft bar in Portland – A friend went here and was a tad underwhelmed, but that might be because this is a dance bar, and my friend dances like a spastic shoggoth. A dance bar is not 100% what I would expect from a Cthulhic myth-theme, unless all dancing was by blind, faceless, hairless idiots to Pan flute remixes, but that’s the deal. And damn – you’d think a place like Portland could really pull off something totally original, with all its boundless hippy-hipster collective consciousness, like leather macramé seating tied to the branches of trees that grow thru the roof and one entire wall is a cat’s eyeball. Oh, well. If you dig dancing and Lovecraft, you know in which direction to bow on bloodmoon nights. (After you’ve finished your sea-ward ablutions, that is.)
There are obviously some more generic literary bars, about a billion “library” bars/restaurants, and those with famous names but very little specific theming: Novela in San Fransisco & Hemingway’s Lounge in LA for example. I don’t think these are as much fun, but they’re certainly more worthy of your attention than any meathead sports bar. Literature is always always > sports, though Hemingway might disagree with me.
Poe’s Tavern, Sullivan’s Island SC – not much theme, just a few quotes and documents hung on the wall – otherwise just a beach grill/bar with a very good beer selection. BUT, since Poe was actually stationed on this island while in the Army…. it makes the list.
Eatonville in Washington DC is a restaurant with a purpose: to mend the fractured relationship of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. A copyright dispute over a collaboration ended the friendship, so Andy Shallal, the Iraqi-American owner of Eatonville – an homage to Hurston – established this place right across the street from his Langston Hughes-themed Busboys and Poets restaurant. Busboys has several locations around DC, actually, and is pretty deeply involved in the cultural/political milieu, which is the way places like this used to be. Anyway, Zora and Langston are hopefully back to swapping recipes and manuscripts across the ethereal plane, thanks to Shallal’s reconciliatory efforts. Eatonville also has a Food & Folklore event, with storytelling while you dine. DUH – why don’t these other places have anything like that?!
(I googled “Eatonville biscuit” for you, so you can stare at their food. Don’t click on it, though – Ohh my gawd.)
(You did it, didn’t you? Are you not starving right now? Did I not warn you?)
Vesuvio in San Fransisco is a Beat Generation holy site. This is about as legit as it gets. This is the actual bar where everyone from Jack Kerouc to Dylan Thomas hung out. It’s not really themed, it just is. Can you dig it?
When we think of Russians, we think of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but Pushkin should be right there, too. Onegin in New York celebrates this third wheel. The lady who cuts my hair calls me Pushkin, both to my face and on her phone in Armenian, so you can see what a big deal this guy is – everyone knows what he looks like, the way we know what Twain and Shakespeare look like. Onegin is themed to Pushkin’s great verse-novel Eugene Onegin. Kinda. To me it just looks fancy, but I haven’t read the book. If you miss Imperial Russia, and you have a thing for perogis, this is your spot. Duels are strictly prohibited, but a Second will be provided, should the need arise.
Hobbits, by their very nature and habit, inspire eventful eating and drinking. As one would expect, there are many Hobbitesque — not Tolkienesque, but specfically Hobbitish – pubs and restaurants.
The Hobbit Pub in Southhampton suffered a lot of controversy, as they were nearly sued a few years ago by Hollywood for using Tolkien properties. McKellen and Fry swooped in on eagles to rescue, and though I don’t know the specifics of how it turned out, they now feature merchandise with the movie images, so… I guess all is well.
The Green Dragon in New Zealand is part of the tour of the film sets, on the actual location in Matamata, called Hobbiton Movie Set.
The Hobbit in Orange, California is very high end, fine French dining, but other than its multi-course (7) aspect, I can’t find anything really Hobbitish about it. Maybe it’s a place for Sackville-Bagginses.
The Hobbit Cafe, Houston, otherwise known as Shire-on-Richmond, has a giant oak tree out on the deck and looks pretty down-to-earth. There’s a dearth of round doors, but it has that neighborhood-feel, which is about as Hobbity as you can get.
Here’s a few more:
The Shire in Killarney, Ireland
Bilbo Baggins/Green Dragon in Alexandria, Virginia
Green Dragon Pub in Murfreesboro, TN
Wilde Bar in Chicago looks the part, with its leather chairs and antique bar tops, but could almost be just another fancy watering hole, if you took away all the Oscar Wilde quotes and the book nook corner. But no list of bars/restaurants would be complete without reppin’ Chicago. You will gain a pound for every day you are in this city, and burn them off for the 10 months of the year it’s so cold you can’t feel any of your cheeks. Totally worth it.
There are 6 Alice in Wonderland joints in Japan: 5 in Tokyo, 1 in Osaka. These are the best thing ever, and put most of these other places to shame, with their attention to detail, ambition and execution. I imagine they think, “If we can’t do this perfectly, then what’s the point?” Rock on. Each one has a slightly different emphasis, from the labyrinth to the giant-size objects and so forth. Here’s a better look at each one. These are all from the same company, Diamond Dining, that also has Samurai, Vampire and Pirate establishments – and a “gothic” place with a really baffling look. Ah, Japan.
Now, fair reader: what, besides an insurmountable lack of capital, is to keep you from starting your own joint with hitherto undreamt of literary theming? With immersive environments, from Disneyland to Halloween walk-thru mazes, at an absolute pinnacle of popularity, is there any reason you shouldn’t create a Conrad’s Heart of Darkness tea shop or a Plato’s Republic vegan chili-haus or a Samuel Beckett “Fail Again, Fail Better” cake boutique? A unique environment and a solid product in the right location can’t fail. Anyway, I’d show up.
This list is obviously only a tiny slice of all the places folks have designed to celebrate their favorite writers and books. If there’s a spot you know of, add it below. Alternatively, make a place up, by way of inspiration.
OH geez – forgot one – Safe House in Milwaukee – Not strictly literary, this amazing, secret Milwaukee restaurant/bar is all about espionage. So you got your Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Graham Greene – but also your real historical spy & cold war paraphernalia and film/TV homages. There is a secret entrance, a secret exit, mini-themed areas, an entire wall-puzzle that will test THE PURPLE GOOSE FLIES AT MIDNIGHT your skills of observation. There are secrets I cannot tell, because your clearance level is not nearly high enough. I can’t even tell you where exactly it is. Actually – come to think of it, maybe I should not have mentioned it at all. It’s not exactly the kind of establishment that craves publicity – what with all the secret rendezvous and what not – ha ha. Yeah, hm. This was a mistake. I, uh… made this one up. No really. Ha ha – funny guy, right? If- hang on, that’s weird – who would drop by at this hour? Be right ba-