Friday, May 21, 2010

Literary Cafes, Pubs, and Taverns

While attending the University of London, a friend sublet a flat in Fitzrovia, right across from the Fitzroy Tavern, and, during a trans-Atlantic phone call, held the phone out the window for me to hear the Fitzroy's patrons at their leisure.

It was a moment feebly akin to celebrity-spotting at famous clubs and eateries - a moment probably appreciated most by those with a literary bent.

Fitzrovia is a small area in London bounded by Tottenham Court Rd., Oxford St., Euston Rd., and Great Poerland St. - and Bloomsbury and Soho.

Fitzrovia, Fitzroy St., Fitzroy Rd. (in nearby Regent's Park), Fitzroy Square housed, entertained, and nourished (gastronomically and intellectually) many literary elite, especially, but not only, in the years immediately following WWI - the height of English Modernism.

In no particular order - Ezra Pound, T.S.Eliot, W.B.Yeats, George Orwell, Dylan Thomas (pictured at left), Wyndham Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Anthony Burgess, Arthur Rimbaud, and Patrick Kavanagh. The area was also a favourite of Karl Marx, Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, and, later, Sylvia Plath and Pink Floyd.

Fitzrovia represents for me a time when writers gathered frequently in pubs, restaurants, and cafes to discuss their work, but also to discuss writing, poetry, literaure, art, meaning, philosophy, the writer's life - a whole literary way of being in the world.

I feel a nostalgia for this time before my existence! To be sure, there are still poetry readings and writers meeting in public establishments, as well as a million or more internet sites with poetry, book reviews and literary forums.

But, love it or hate it, the Modernist period in England had a special flavour that we just don't or can no longer do. And Fitzrovia was right in the thick of it all.


Hels said...

Agreed absolutely. Very atmospheric post.

I think that the young men (largely men) gathered initially in pubs (or coffee shops and wine bars in Paris or Vienna) because they were too grindingly poor to afford heating at home. Sitting in a nice warm pub gave them an "office" where they could write, sketch, meet friends and drink.

There doesn't seem to have been much food involved and I would not be surprised if all our budding artists and writers were malnourished and skinny. I also wonder how many of them eventually came to love alcohol too much!

Trulyfool said...

1978 stayed in a hotel in Russell Square.

2002 stayed in a flat in Maida Vale.

Both times my aim was to spend time at the British Museum. Done.

Just last evening I was drinking coffee from a 'Rosetta Stone' cup purchased at the museum.

What a turista I am. I could feel the ghosts.

A panhandler put the touch on me, somewhat aggressively, and suggested that if I didn't 'spare him a pence or two', he might ask my wife.

I gave him a coin of some denomination, and could feel the slime of his paw. He wandered with his happy dog.

Felt like something out of Dickens. I thoroughly washed my hands -- gave them a good 'laving'.

P. M. Doolan said...

I love to hang out in cafes that were once the meeting places of modernist writers, especially in Vienna, Z├╝rich and Paris. Next time I'm in London I'll check out this pub - they are so much nicer now that they are smoke free.

Owen Gray said...

Generally speaking, I don't think it's a good idea to wish one could go back in time.

But that said, more than once I have wished that I could have sat in a cafe along the Seine and listened to Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Callaghan debate the subjects of the day.

One of The Guys said...

I totally agree with you. I often get nostalgic about those types of meeting places, where artists, writers and musicians gathered.

I'm not sure it was a romantic as we think, but it would be nice to test it out.

Oh well, they didn't have blogging!

ChrisJ said...


You are probably right about having an "office," and there were certainly enough writers who drank too much.

ChrisJ said...


Yes, I guess it's not always the way we would imagine or like.

ChrisJ said...


If you do, let me know what it's like!

ChrisJ said...


Ah, Paris; yes, that would be wonderful.

ChrisJ said...


I'm sure it wasn't as romantic as we think, but would still be fun.

I hope blogging doesn't totally make that sort of thing disappear, but it probably won't.

Pearl said...

I didn't know any of that. thanks.

ChrisJ said...


Glad to pass it on. You are welcome.

Ladygoodwood said...

in the mid 1980's I moved from the north of England to work in London at the Sports Council in their Euston square offices. I had become enchanted by the Bloomsbury Group years before, and I used to love spending my lunch-breaks wandering around those Bloomsbury streets.
I have enjoyed similar experiences in the Rive Gauche and Latin Quartier in paris, and also in the Temple area of Dublin. Somehow, for those who are attuned, these great literary figures live on in the atmosphere of these places.

ChrisJ said...


It's so easy to imagine the artists wandering by or at that cafe.

Thank you for commenting.