It’s late when I rock up to the ‘Sequins’ party in Redfern. An old friend is in Sydney for the weekend and he insisted I should join him at some old buddy’s Birthday party. It takes him five minutes to open the front gate- when I finally make it through I’m rather astonished to find the buzzer is a big red button marked ‘push to open’. I’ll get you a drink he mumbles as he disappears into a smoke filled room. I eye the costumed stragglers, the party is clearly winding down. Amongst them many a charming individuals whose slurs obscure their names but I nod and smile and eventually accept glass of Pinot passed over by an older gentleman dressed head to toe in periwinkle blue. A striking young woman struts out of the fog in Diamante heels and a Carnival costume.
-WOW! Where did you get the outfit?!
-From my flatmate. I think she may be a high-class escort, if there is such a thing. You should see my boyfriend.
-Oh, which one is he?
-He’s the one in the dress.
-Ah yes, I met him. He seems lovely.
-Well I think so. You’ve got to admire a straight man, who’ll go to a party in full drag.
-That’s quite impressive indeed… So what do you do, when you’re not out in sequins and feathers?
-I was in sales and now I’m trying my luck as a writer.
-How exciting! And what do you write?
-The book’s about online dating, the catastrophes mostly. My writing coach told me to write about what I know. And you?
-I’m about to start work in a bookshop. Well, at the bar that’s in a bookshop.
-Wine and books. What an exquisite combination.
-Well I think so.
And thus began a surprisingly coherent discussion of this wonderful pairing, what books suited which drink- a rich, sultry red wine for a romance novel or a thriller (how fabulously cliche) , a beer with an academic text, an irish coffee with late night fantasy and many other combinations…
Wine and Books. Yes, a rather exquisite combination indeed. The bond between writers and booze is infamous, so many of the greats are alcoholics that you’ll find no shortage of websites matching authors with their poisons. If our beloved novelists were writing under the influence, it seems quite befitting to enjoy their work with a glass of fine tipple. Afterall wine brings out the philosopher in so many of us. Here’s what a few greats had to say about this wondrous elixir (please dear reader, drink responsibly):
“Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.”
William Shakespeare, Othello
“Wine is bottled poetry.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)
She Stoops to Conquer, I
Old books and old wine, it’s a shame the prices don’t correlate so well for me when it comes to the wine! Old books, new wines, no matter. At home I’ve always paired them quite naturally, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that a few enterprising individuals are also capitalizing on the relationship. Books and wine.
The first place I got a taste of wine and books in Sydney was not in fact a bookshop, but The Bar At The End Of The Wharf, a beautiful slightly alternative perch hosted by the Sydney Theatre Company. Much more than just a pre/post-theatre venue, this is a place to linger- with jaw dropping views of the Harbour Bridge and Luna park you can pick a book off the shelf and curl up into a sofa, they have them outside on the deck too so you can soak up the sun, and then watch the sun set over the water. It’s quirky and cultured, the book selection minimal but interesting and eclectic, with both theatre classics and literary masterpieces- William Shakespeare to Vikram Seth. The wine isn’t overly expensive and by golly it’s worth it for the setting!
Another book-meets-alcohol venue would be Ampersand on Crown Street. Once owned by the crowd that brought you Ampersand on Oxford Street, this branch was bought out last year but continues to trade under the name. Despite an impressive collection I felt the focus here was much more on the food and drink than on books- the food is delicious and the books provide an elegant, sophisticated setting for a meal or drink with friends. It gets horrifically busy on the weekends so Saturday reading sessions here will get you many an irate look and a stylish boot-tap, but this is somewhat counterbalanced by the tranquil atmosphere on the first floor during the week. There’s a lot of seating, and tables big to small,which combined with its fantastic location (a few minutes walk from Central Station) make it an ideal place for a book-club meet or a date on a weeknight. To me personally, it lacks the charm and character of its Oxford Street parent and the undercurrent of style over substance make it a great wine bar, but only a decent bookshop.
There’s also Sappho Books, Café and Wine bar, though this place deserves a review of its own, and I hear of (but have yet to visit) Berkelouw in Leichart, which is supposed to have combined the two brilliantly. Probably prompted by the latter’s success, Berkelouw’s Paddington Branch has also added a wine bar to its shop- which opens next week I think. Berkelouw’s up next I assure you.
I recently discovered that a nicely chilled 2011 Vinedos de Alfaro Viura (a Spanish Rioja) went beautifully with the works of J.R.R Tolkien. Is there a particular drink that gets your creative juices flowing? Have a favourite wine that helps propel you into some one else’s imagined lands? Or do you know any great literary wine quotations? Please share away!!