Christopher Hitchens walks into a bar... and other literary pub namesakes

Hitch has been honoured with a Toronto bar in his name
  • @johnhenrywalsh

Writers and fictional characters have inspired pub names in the past: there are a dozen Shakespeare taverns from Bristol to Sheffield, three Sherlock Holmes pubs in London,  a Daniel Defoe in Stoke Newington and a Milton’s Head gastropub opposite John Milton’s cottage in Chalfont St Giles. But now a different class of  literary-theme bars has appeared.

Last year, the Hunter S was launched in north-east London, a shrine to Hunter S Thompson, the master of gonzo journalism, author of Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His life was marked by a deranged love of guns, a suicidal ingestion of Class A drugs and a charged prose style that any hack would kill for. The pub can’t commemorate all that, so its walls are festooned with guns, the horned heads of stuffed wildlife and a handful of sketches by Thompson’s frequent illustrator, Ralph Steadman. The lavatory urinals are gaping, lipsticked female mouths, the jukebox plays delta blues and a large selection of rums and Thompson’s favourite bourbon, Wild Turkey, sits behind the bar.

The management team, Seven Eighths, also owns The Hemingway in Victoria Park, Hackney. “As a scholar,  philanderer, seasoned drinker and general exponent of the good life,” they say of the tirelessly self-mythologising and suicidal Ernest, “it seemed a fitting name by which to christen this lovely, grade-two  listed building.”

Dublin has had a James Joyce’s Café Bar for years and a Bloom’s Hotel, named  after the hero of Ulysses. You can find a Dylan Thomas pub in Swansea Enterprise Park – a “family pub restaurant” which seems wrong for a man who died after drinking 18 straight whiskies. (“I believe that’s a record,” he said, shortly before keeling over.)

But what’s this? In the staid Canadian metropolis of Toronto, on the corner of Queen and Leslie, a new bar has opened called Hitch, apparently inspired by Christopher Hitchens, the British-American journalist who died a year ago. He’s thought to be an “inspirational figure” there because he drank like a shoal of mackerel. But locals who’ve written early reviews of the venue also insist he “inspired” the rough country pâté (representative, apparently, of his “anti-Zionist beliefs”) and the lamb snacks (“a throwback to his public criticism of Mother Teresa”). The bar, which features a  selection of works by Hitchens, also  plans to have a big screen showing TED talks and other intellectual pursuits. 

This is ingenious. We look forward to more writer-themed bars in the future: especially the Hilary Mantel (try the Thomas Cromwell mead and the Henry VIII turkey drumsticks) and the Nick Hornby (check out the bar footy, the capacious jukebox and the wryly self-pitying male clientele).