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Book and Bottle Books

Bellying up to bars in books

(Albi) Femme attablée au café - Maxime Dethomas 1908
Woman seated in café by Maxime Dethomas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Over the course of my reading in 2021, I’ve often wanted to grab a stool at the bar (or restaurant or café) frequented by the characters in the book and shamelessly eavesdrop for an hour or three. Here are five of the mostly fictional establishments I’d like to visit:

The Corkscrew, favorite gathering spot of the wine-swilling barristers of London’s Lincoln’s Inn that features in Sarah Caudwell’s quartet of mystery novels: Thus Was Adonis Murdered, The Shortest Way to Hades, The Sirens Sang of Murder, and The Sybil in Her Grave. The group, who have an unlikely penchant for getting tangled up in murder given they practice tax law, are forever ordering another bottle of Nierstein. Since the author was a barrister in London, I suspect the Corkscrew is based on a real wine bar—any tips on its identity are welcome.

The Cosy Corner from Ivan Turgenev’s short story, The Singers, which details a wild singing competition in a rural pub—a nineteenth-century version of Russian Idol if you will. I read the story in George Saunders’s collection of great Russian short stories, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which is enriched by Saunders’s essays following each story and was one of my favorite books of 2021.

Girls & Women, Deborah Levy’s imaginary café from the third and final installment of her excellent “living autobiography,” Real Estate. The menu features an entrée of vodka and cigarettes; guava ice cream is also up for consideration on the bill of fare. I have half a mind to start a crowd-funding appeal to encourage Levy to open it IRL.

El Faro from Jessica B. Harris’s memoir, My Soul Looks Back, in which she reflects on running in the same social circles as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. Harris is best known as a food writer, and this year’s excellent Netflix documentary, High on the Hog, was based on her book of the same name. My Soul Looks Back isn’t a food book per se, but she writes especially evocatively of the bustling scene—and shrimp in green sauce—from this late, historic West Village Spanish restaurant.

Giacomino’s Café from Sapienza Goliarda’s novel, Meeting in Positano, written in the 1980’s but released in an English translation only earlier this year. Here on the Amalfi coast, our protagonist orders “rum babas in abundance and cappuccinos by the gallon,” a breakfast of champions if ever there was one. Goliarda lived a life as large as that breakfast, and my cultural wish for 2022 is for someone to make a film about her.

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