For Writers, Are Bars the New Coffee Shop?

By Susan Johnston July 11th, 2014

This article was originally published on a previous Contently blog. In honor of Friday happy hour, we’re dusting it off for your reading pleasure.

Ernest Hemingway reportedly said we should “write drunk, edit sober.” Most writers we know wouldn’t take this advice literally (after all, Hemingway apparently downed his absinthe in a cocktail called “Death in the Afternoon”). But a recent New York Post article about freelancers using bars for office space got us thinking about watering holes as creative alternatives to coffee shops, the traditional workspace for many writers around the world.

For some writers, bars can be quieter than crowded coffee shops or cafes, where real estate near a power outlet is usually in short supply. Coworking spaces, another popular option, may provide peace and quiet, but according to Alleywatch, the average monthly cost of a “dedicated desk” in Manhattan is $526. If you spent that much in a bar, you’d not only get a desk, but you’d also be able to buy about 100 beers.

Ann Logue, a Chicago-based freelance writer and author of Day Trading for Dummies, says she used to work in a bar called Nick’s on Wilson while her son had swimming practice. “Late afternoon, bars tend to be quiet,” she says, “unlike coffee shops or libraries, which get really busy after school hours.” The bar near her son’s swim lessons closed a few years ago, so now, she sometimes goes to A.J. Hudson’s, an Irish bar near her home, to get out for work. She orders a drink to justify use of the table but says, “I don’t think I drink enough to be as good a writer as Ernest Hemingway.”

Like Logue, Connecticut-based travel writer Garland Walton favors bars over coffee shops for afternoon story-planning or writing. Her favorite spot is Heirloom in New Haven, Conn., although she’s also set up shop temporarily in bars across Europe in Bruges, Brussels, Paris, Nice, and Bellagio to get her creative juices flowing. “I like to go late afternoon, when it’s not as busy, and then leave early evening,” she says. “I don’t want a scene, I want a place where people will let me be.”

In addition to¬†atmosphere, many bars now offer free WiFi, a definite plus for writers who communicate with editors and sources via email or conduct online research. For Walton, a bar with internet access isn’t a requirement, because she can tether her iPhone to her laptop. However, a strong internet connection becomes more important when she travels internationally.

Brooklyn-based freelance writer Aly Walansky frequently works out of hotel bars while traveling on assignment and says they’re perfect places to unwind after a long day of reporting. When she attends an event in Manhattan, she’ll often hole up in a nearby bar with her laptop, taking advantage of the internet or a wireless hotspot she creates with her phone.

In addition to providing much-needed workspace (and wireless internet) on the road for roving writers, bars may also help relieve the dreaded cabin fever closer to home. Tina Smithers, a freelance writer from Kansas City, Mo., sometimes brings her laptop to Snow & Co., a cocktail lounge. “They have comfortable couches and it’s pretty chill,” she says. “It still has that coffee shop feel, but it’s open later. The reason why I like to work outside my home is to be around people. It gets isolating working at home with my cat as my intern.” For Smithers, it’s more about the place’s collegial feel than its frozen cocktails. She doesn’t drink, so instead she orders coffee.

Writers have long debated the creative powers of coffee versus alcohol, but with lines blurring between cafe and bar, some venues offer both libations. Starbucks, for example, is unveiling a wine and food menu in certain locations as part of its “Starbucks Evenings” initiative.

Janet Jay, a freelance writer from Austin, Texas, takes advantage of this hybrid by taking interview subjects to local spots that are half-coffee-shop, half-bar. “You don’t have to choose between coffee and beer,” Jay says. “They can order whatever they want.”

Following the interviews, Jay prints out her notes and works on an article at a bar. “I like having the option to go to a deserted patio,” she says. “I also sometimes really like sitting in the bar right in the middle of everything and being able to work.”

Image by Chris Clark
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