October 10th, 2005
Stereotype dictates that brilliant, decorated, well-educated writers take to alcohol with as much – if not more – impassioned enthusiasm as they do their literary craft. While psychology and, of course, history both note a correlation between substance abuse and intelligence, the popular image of an author hacking away at a typewriter (or computer, depending on the era) with one hand while using the other to swipe swigs from a half-empty bottle of booze does not always ring true. Of course, this list has absolutely nothing at all to do with these exceptions! As the veritable Bible for what established members of the literary canon – Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers by Mark Bailey and Edward Hemingway – points out, not only do these ladies and gentlemen love themselves a drink…they oftentimes grow to develop their own alcoholic signature as well. Pour a glass of a beloved brew, faithful ferment, or a mirthful mix (but be responsible!) and settle in to read about what drinks the literati gravitate towards.
While Ernest Hemingway wrote of numerous adult beverages – A Moveable Feast occasionally reads as if the iconic author took up residence in Paris solely for the quality wine. However, the highly refreshing mojito actually earned its place as his signature cocktail during his tenure in Havana, Cuba. A regular at the La Bodeguita del Medio, tourists now convene at the small bar to soak up the history and the cool mint, lime, and rum concoctions that the celebrated scribe so enjoyed. Hemingway also grew into connoisseurship of daiquiris as well.
2. Raymond Chandler – Gimlet
Iconic noir detective (and inspiration for “The Dude” in the Coen Brothers classic The Big Lebowski) Philip Marlowe downed gimlet after gimlet with a contemporary in The Long Goodbye. His creator, Raymond Chandler, even outlined the perfect recipe in the novel – which eventually led to the cocktail’s surge in popularity. Inclusion paralleled Chandler’s fondness for gimlets, which he developed while traversing London. Though he also favored martinis and stingers, the writer and his beloved literary creation eventually became more associated with gimlets in the minds of the reading populace.
Though probably better associated with “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers” (among other substances), Hunter S. Thompson’s favored drinks bounced between Chivas Regal and Wild Turkey on the rocks. Anecdote after anecdote abounds regarding his love of the former, however, and many articles make special note of its presence during conversations. Biographer E. Jean Carroll made particular note of his daily routine, where the gonzo journalist began downing Chivas Regal at 3:05 in the morning and continuously indulged at different intervals throughout the day.
4. William Faulkner – Mint Julep
As one of the quintessential Southern Gothic (not to mention American in general), it comes as little surprise that William Faulkner partook regularly of the mint julep. He also famously kept a bottle of whiskey on hand whenever sitting down at the typewriter to hammer out novels and screenplays as well. Like many creative types, Faulkner frequently skirted the line between heavy drinker and full-bore alcoholic. Benders became the norm after a while, and many times the Nobel Prize winner considered himself incapable of creativity without the assistance of intoxicating beverages.
Given his fondness for Mexican culture, it is understandable that margaritas became the drink of choice for beat generation poster boy Jack Kerouac. A story from New York City’s White Horse Tavern claims that the bathrooms once sported a message of “Kerouac, go home” above the urinals as an attempt to encourage him to sway him away from the tequila-based concoctions and into bed for some much-needed rest. Such a story remains, of course, entirely anecdotal. Regardless of the veracity regarding the graffiti, however, Kerouac was indeed a patron and still enjoyed throwing back a margarita. Or two, or three, or four…
6. Dorothy Parker – Whiskey Sour
Dorothy Parker enjoyed many a cocktail during her life – and her terse, humorous “I like to have a martini” (alternately, “I wish I could drink like a lady” poem continues to elicit laughter even today. Mixed drinks of all shapes and sizes factor prominently in many of her writings, almost always referenced in a lighthearted and occasionally self-deprecating manner. However, the famously sly, sardonic wit allegedly adored the sweet tang of a whiskey sour above all other alcoholic pleasures. Martinis, of course, also ranked high enough up there to warrant dispute amongst fans and biographers.
7. Oscar Wilde – Absinthe
Beloved Irish wordsmith Oscar Wilde counted iced champagne amongst his favorite intoxicating indulgences, but when it comes to alcohol his name remains forever entwined with the green fairy herself. He grew to love the potent beverage while living abroad in Paris, eventually penning a famously hallucinogenic account of its effects. Most people, however, accept that Wilde took more than a few liberties when it came to absinthe’s true properties – chalking up the exaggeration as intended purely for delirious entertainment value.
8. Carson McCullers – Sonnie Boy
There appears to be some dispute between whether or not Carson McCullers referred to her comforting blend of hot tea and sherry a “sonnie boy,” a “sonny boy,” or a “sunny boy.” But regardless, she almost always worked with a cup of it at her side while firing off novels and short stories. McCullers also nurtured a love of Long Island iced tea as well, but the sonnie boy holds more of an impact over her life story. Preferring to imbibe in secret, she would claim that the steaming mugs on her desk contained only the hot tea half of the equation.
Poet laureate of potables, Charles Bukowski wrote frequently of the role booze played in the lives of the down-and-out of America with brutal, blunt honesty. As with many hard-drinking writers, he downed many cocktails of cocktails during his life – enough to make it difficult to truly nail down which held the honor of his absolute favorite. Boilermakers, comprised of a whiskey shot accompanied by a beer (usually lager) and downed in the drinkers’ preferred style, appear to rank up there.
10. F. Scott Fitzgerald – Gin Rickey
Ernest Hemingway and other contemporaries famously taunted F. Scott Fitzgerald for his surprisingly low alcohol tolerance – but that never stopped The Great Gatsby scribe from hitting the Owl Bar and other establishments for a few rounds of gin rickeys. A very fitting choice, many claim, as the drinks enjoyed their peak in the 1920s through the 1930s when Fitzgerald thrived creatively and grew to become the era’s undeniable literary figurehead. More than anyone, he captured the empty materialism and lackadaisical attitude towards life that characterized the Roaring Twenties.
Iconic Southern playwright Tennessee Williams favored the creamy, eggy Ramos Fizz enough to immortalize it in many of his works. One of the signature drinks of New Orleans, his fans toast the shaken beverage – which contains the aforementioned egg and cream, plus lime juice, sugar, gin, and a small spray of orange flower water and soda – in his honor even today. Many residents also recommend it as an excellent, boozy way of ushering in the annual Mardi Gras festivities.
12. Dylan Thomas – Whiskey
Unfortunately, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s favored beverage, straight whiskey, eventually proved his undoing in 1953. After 18 shots in a row, he passed away after a night at the very same White Horse Tavern that Jack Kerouac and other literary and creative giants frequented. A room dedicated to his writing prowess memorializes the extremely tragic event, though he died later that fateful evening in his room at the Chelsea Hotel. Today, his name is unfortunately as synonymous with whiskey and substance abuse as with innovative modernist poetry.
Anne Sexton and her fellow writer Sylvia Plath met in a poetry class, and the pair would skip off to the Ritz-Carlton afterwards for a few rounds of apparently dry martinis. They welcomed other students and patrons into their fold as well, one of whom later became Sexton’s illicit lover behind her husband’s back. She apparently loved throwing caution to the wind by illegally parking in the hotel’s loading zone before pumping her system full of booze.
14. Eugene O’Neill – Gibson
Nobel laureate playwright Eugene O’Neill grappled against personal and filial demons his entire life, slipping in and out of heavy drinking periods (apparently involving gibsons) following the alcohol-related death of his beloved brother Jamie. Unlike many writers on this list, O’Neill never felt as if alcohol actually stimulated his writing in any way – quite the opposite, really, as it almost entirely halted his ability to get much of anything produced. He dipped in and out of sobriety and psychotherapy, drawing from these conflicts during lucid periods to pen some of theatre’s most emotionally evocative and highly respectable dramatic works.
Associated more with bored housewives from the upper crust enjoying elegant brunches than brooding, intense writers emphasizing the plight of blue-collar workers and households, the bloody Mary nevertheless held the title of Raymond Carver’s favorite alcoholic beverage. Like his father before him, the eloquent chronicler of the down-and-dirty corners of society struggled against violent alcoholism. His close friendship with contemporary John Cheever only facilitated the issue further – though a 1977 stint in Alcoholics Anonymous helped him kick the destructive habit altogether.
16. Anthony Burgess – Hangman’s Blood
Rather than indulging in the ultraviolence, writer and prolific polymath Anthony Burgess blew off steam with a brew known by the eerie moniker of “hangman’s blood.” Though not credited with its creation – the first mention of the cocktail came in 1929 from Richard Hughes’s novel A High Wind in Jamaica – many attribute the finalized, definitive recipe to Burgess himself. Blending doubles of gin, brandy, port, rum, and whiskey, a bottle of stout, and a topping of champagne, how the drink’s name originally popped into existence leaves very little to the imagination.
William S. Burroughs’s life mixed Hunter S. Thompson’s affinity for all manner of intoxicants with Jack Kerouac’s beat sensibilities, wanderlust, and love of Mexico. Several different interviews make mention of an ever-present glass of equal parts vodka and coke, which he apparently clung to even after the ability to write any more abandoned his fail, ravaged body left him to whittle away the last remaining stretch of his lifespan in the company of his friends and cats.
18. Sherwood Anderson – Old Fashioned
William Faulker and Ernest Hemingway, among others, looked up to Sherwood Anderson as a literary role model – perhaps incidentally, perhaps not, they also took up his fondness for spirits as well. He apparently enjoyed an old fashioned or two as his personal poison, though his exact preference remains unknown – after all, there seem to be almost as many interpretations of the beverage as there are people who wish to drink them. Anderson passed after swallowing a toothpick at a cocktail party that eventually caused a fatal infection in his stomach.
According to the definitive tome on writers and their favorite alcoholic beverages, Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers, Pulitzer Prize winner and notorious denier of publicity James Gould Cozzens particularly adored black and tans. Alternately known as the half-and-half, this drink involves equal parts lager and stout to create an attractive (and delicious!) concoction juxtaposing light and dark tones. The drink name comes from the nickname Irish citizens bestowed on British soldiers who occupied their nation following World War I sporting black and tan uniforms.
20. James Jones – Singapore Sling
When frequenting P.J. Clarke’s in New York City, James Jones was known to throw back a Singapore sling after nurturing a taste for them during a tour of duty in the South Pacific. Fruity and fun, he also enjoyed these sweet cocktails with fellow writers and Bacchanalian revelers James Baldwin and William Styron (both of whom exist as viable contenders for inclusion on this list) on many a Parisian night. Many of these benders would extend well into the next morning – even the afternoon!
Please keep in mind that not all brilliant people drink excessively, nor does drinking excessively indicate that said imbiber stands as particularly brilliant, either. Political correctness and disclaimers aside, though, many a highly intelligent, influential writer has indulged his or her preference for at least one (if not more) alcoholic beverage to the point it becomes almost a personal trademark. History and psychology both support this phenomenon, as depression and intelligence sometimes directly correlate with substance abuse. More examples beyond these exist, of course, but that is up to the reader to go explore.
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