Friday, December 18, 2009

The SFF Literary Pub Crawl

It was about 2.5 years ago that I started my Questions Five interview series, which has had 27 participants (and more to come). I’ve always used a blend of repeat questions with questions specific to the author I’m interviewing – and all have been an attempt at humor that gives authors a chance to have fun with questions they’ve likely never seen before and blatantly plug a project.

It didn’t take long for me to begin asking questions about food and alcohol, with a favorite question that essentially asks to recommend me a pub. Probably owing to my fascination and love of the pub culture of Britain and Ireland, these questions are generally asked to authors from that part of the world – which amounts to 7 of those 27 interviews.

So, I’ve decided that it’s time to embark on a related theme – the SFF Literary Pub Crawl (this is an updated version from the original post). I’ll share the recommendations from those interviews above – I’ll divide first by location and then by the author making the recommendation. As with any decent pub crawl, an end simply isn’t in sight, so I’ll continue to ask the question when I feel like it and I encourage all authors, editors, publicists, bloggers, and generally anyone who bothers to read this to share their recommended put to include in the SFF Literary Pub Crawl. Try to limit recommendations to just one or two and be sure to tell us why it’s a favored pub/ drinking establishment and a link if possible.

On to the pubs:


London, England

Joe Abercrombie: You could try the Phoenix Artist’s Bar off Shaftsbury Avenue, where a glittering array of genre writers are often to be found arguing with their editors over that most eternal of literary questions – whose round it is. It has the added advantage of being right next to several of the UKs biggest bookstores. Once you are drunk enough, I therefore recommend you stumble outside and buy any and all copies of my books that you can find. The dizzy rush of excitement you’ll experience will be far superior to anything you can get in a pub. Honest.

Kate Griffin: Well, I kinda don't drink, owing to expense and taste and the fact that I never really had much fun doing it. But I do have fond memories of the Sherlock Holmes, which is to the north of Hungerford Bridge, and the Castle on Pentonville Road has a very nice roof terrace in the summer, which almost redeems the fact that it's on the Pentonville Road. If you're after drink + fun, may I heartily recommend Cafe Kick on Exmouth Market, which is a sports cafe. This essentially means a lot of football, many photos of men in bad shirts looking mud-splattered, much booze and, best of all, bar footie. Many, many hours have been happily whiled away playing bar footie in Cafe Kick.

Brighton, England

Jasper Kent: The Shakespeare’s Head. It has good beer (of the warm, brown variety), serves about a dozen different kinds of sausages (except Sundays – boo!) and it’s within spitting distance of me. It’s not to be confused with the other Shakespeare’s Head, on Spring Street, which is good but not as good.

Nottingham, England

Mark Chadbourn: I would certainly recommend going to The Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham - you not only get good beer and food and good company, you also get great atmosphere and an unforgettable history lesson. The Trip is the oldest pub in Britain. You can tell that the moment you stoop through the tiny medieval doors into a maze of small rooms where you could lose yourself for quite a while. The rear part of the pub is actually carved out of the rock and there is a tunnel leading to an underground labyrinth that links vast sandstone caves running beneath Nottingham. Right overhead, Nottingham Castle towers. The Trip was founded in 1189, when King Richard the Lionheart announced the crusade against the Saracens in the Holy Land - hence the pub name. If you're looking for ghosts, there are supposed to be several here. But watch out for the locals - they may try to entice you into one of the medieval pub games, particularly swinging a small hoop on a rope on to a horn fixed to the wall. It looks simple, but is fiendishly hard - and the locals ensure a constant supply of free beer betting against unwitting visitors. It's also one of the favourite watering holes of Britain's fantasy authors, and when the annual Fantasycon is in town (usually September) you can find many of them propping up the bar. You can find out more here: http://www.triptojerusalem.com/

Mark Charan Newton: An easy one! The Alley Cafe - www.alleycafe.co.uk - in Nottingham. I'm a vegetarian; this place serves vegetarian food, locally sourced, freshly prepared, and stunning. Not only that, but the bar is funky, and has a good mix of people and ages. It's tiny though, and you end up sitting close to other people, which really shakes us Brits out of our preference for personal space. So, good food, good people, decent DJ at the weekend - what more can you want? (Don't say meat.)

Edinburgh, Scotland

Brian Ruckley: This is my kind of interview. It’s obviously absurd to try to narrow Edinburgh’s titanic array of drinking establishments down to a single recommendation, but given how long I spent on the haggis question I should probably try.I think the best I can come up with for you is the Bow Bar. There are two reasons: one, it’s a small, friendly pub with a mix of locals and visitors (but mostly locals), good beer and a startling array of whiskies if you’re into that kind of thing; two, it’s just round the corner from Edinburgh’s sf/f bookshop, Transreal Fiction, so on a rainy afternoon (it rains a lot in Edinburgh, but don’t let that put you off visiting) you can potter around the bookshop, have a chat with the owner, buy a few books and then retire to the pub to settle into a corner with a drink and read. Lovely. Also, if you lose track of time and end up drunk, there’s a chip shop within staggering distance to supply you with haggis and chips: a perfect end to a perfect day.

Glasgow, Scotland

Hal Duncan: Easy one. It has to be Stravaigin, on Gibson Street, in the West End. Funny enough, they have the_second_best_ way to serve haggis, because they're basically a gastro pub with a restaurant in the basement, and haggis is one of the staples of their menu. They tend to do a sort of Scottish fusion cuisine -- lots of game and seafood but influenced by recipes from around the world. As pub food goes, you can't beat it -- top-quality grub but in a really informal atmosphere. Also their cocktails are to die for. And I mean proper cocktails -- Bloody Mary, White Russian, Dry Gin Martini, Mojito and suchlike. None of those crappy 80s cocktails with nudge-nudge wink-wink sexy names, mixed by the pitcher from a couple of random spirits, a splash of Cointreau and a half bottle of Bailley's. No, we're talking cocktails for the committed lush. Martinis so dry you know the vermouth pretty much just got _shown_ to the gin: look, gin! Meet Mr Vermouth. Oh, dear, looks like Mr Vermouth can't stay. Bye, Mr Vermouth.Also Stravaigin is within staggering distance of my house. And I'm a very good native guide, you know. I'll show you round _all_ the best seats in the pub, for payment in the form of booze.

Dublin, Ireland

Peadar Ó Guilín: Most of them are ridiculously bad: giant sports games on every wall and pop music loud enough to murder the conversation we used to be famous for. Our ancestors even had a god of eloquence, once upon a time, did you know that? I miss him.So, for the real experience, you need to find what we call an “old man's” pub. If you walk through the door and half the stools aren't occupied by lads with pitted red noses and beer mustaches, then you should take your custom elsewhere.

New York, USA

Jeff VanderMeer: The Brandy Library in NYC that Gabriel Mesa introduced my wife and me to; because it is set up like a real library and the lighting is magnificent and the liquids contained therein are insanely amazing.

Lisbon, Portugal

Jeff VanderMeer: The Chinese Room (sic) in Lisbon, Portugal, which our friend Luis Rodrigues introduced us to, because it has more amazing airplanes and bric-a-brac while remaining sophisticated of any place on Earth. [Possibly the Chinese Pavillion – Pavilhão Chinês]

Brussels, Belgium

Jeff VanderMeer: An unnamed 16th century pub in Brussels where Ann tells me I wound up singing with a Frenchman at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember any of it, except that it was glorious.

Pilsn, Czech Republic

Jeff VanderMeer: The Pub in Pilsen, Czech Republic, where you get a tap at your table and can pour your own fresh beer—no preservatives or additives—and they have electronic scoreboards for every table at every The Pub in the country…and after four or five pints you definitely want to be at the top of the scoreboard. We spent an amazing night there with our Finnish friends Jukka, Tero, and Juha, Hal “The Wonder” Duncan, Alistair Rennie, Ian MacLeod, and several others…at the end of which I pretended to be Czech to the family from Montana at the next table.

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