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English pubs in literature -- can America compete?


British author Richard Francis is a novelist and a scholar -- this fall, Yale University press will publish his book "Fruitlands: The Alcott Family, the Englishmen, and Utopia" about the Transcendentalists, particularly Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May, who grew up to write "Little Women"). It promises to be an engaging literary and cultural history, one that's thoroughly and carefully researched. So for now, before things get too heady, Francis has published a novel in England, "The Old Spring," about the day in the life of a pub.

"All my life I’ve loved pubs. My non-fiction is concerned with utopian theories and experiments, and pubs can be seen in the same light -- they are communities devised to make people feel happy, though of course they don’t necessarily succeed," Francis writes on his blog. "Neither do utopian communities, and my guess is that pubs have a higher success rate."

At the Guardian, Francis lists his top 10 pubs in literature, beginning with Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" and ending with Graham Swift's "Last Orders," with suitable helpings of Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and even T.S. Eliot along the way.

His list is, sadly, very British. Aren't there some great pubs in American literature? What would you nominate for the top 10 American pubs -- make that bars -- memorialized in literature?

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Photo: Beer taps at the Lucky Baldwin Pub in Pasadena. Credit: Courtney Hergesheimer / Los Angeles Times

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My favorite is Gil's, from Kenneth Fearing's The Big Clock:

"There was a thirty-foot bar, and on a deep shelf in back of it Gil had accumulated and laid out an inexhaustible quantity of junk--there is no other word for it--which he called his 'personal museum' It was Gil's claim that everything in the world was there, somewhere, and that the article, whatever it was, had a history closely connected with his own life and doings. The game was to stump him, on one point or the other."

try saloons, those should be pretty skewed in America's favor

Not sure any of them had names, but there were a number of memorable drinking 'establishments' in Cormac McCarthy's Suttree.

Harry's (American) Bar, highly recommended. Pity they're all overseas.

I feel like most American literature enshrouds its bars with a sinister aura. Think O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh or Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place. Even European bars aren't so nice when described by Americans. Think Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" or anything else by Hemingway. Must owe to our Puritan ancestry.

Uh, geez. Martha Grimes, please. His list is, sadly, very male.

I always liked the bar from Langston Hughes' Simple stories.

Science-fiction has a number of notable bars, used as the home for a series of tall tales. There's "Tales From Gavagin's Bar," by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague DeCamp. Spider Robinson was presumably inspired by it for his series of stories ("Callahan's Crosstime Saloon"), and then there's Tales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke.


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