New York City has no shortage of vast bookstores where you can easily spend an hour peacefully browsing the endless shelves and genres, but what I’m looking for is a bookshop that makes my heart ache a little; one that makes me want to swap lives with the bookseller and live inside their world. So far, I’ve found three that make me feel that way. Here is my incomplete list of bookshops that stole my heart in NYC…
Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks (Antiquarian, out of print, unusual)
If Manhattan has a portal to a literary Narnia, I believe this is it. Hiding behind the weathered old wooden door of one of the oldest remaining buildings on the island, is the kind of bookshop you just didn’t think existed anymore. It might read “cookbooks” on the brass plaque outside, but even if you’ve never managed to cook anything more elaborate than an omelette, don’t make the mistake of not giving that rickety door a nudge and stepping inside Joanne Hendrick’s home…
Yes that’s right, you’re stepping into Joanne’s home. Mr & Mrs. Hendricks live inside this historic house on Greenwich Street above the bookshop. Joanne is quiet and shy, as am I, but there we were, quietly and curiously sharing stories in her little bookshop for over an hour. We danced from subject to subject as we opened up to each other; I talked about Paris, and she told me about her books; each one a treasure to behold…
Over by the window, there was a series of books about how to tell one’s fortune from tea leaves. I think that’s when I knew we were kindred spirits. Then she showed me a first edition of Gertrude Stein’s cookbook poetry Tender Buttons that sent us off on a tangent about the Parisian Lost Generation. Joanne thought maybe I should think less of Hemingway and more of Stein. It was food for thought.
I asked to see one of her most rare books in the current collection. So here’s what an antique cookbook costing $4,000 looks like ↑.
I gushed over her beautiful wallpaper and the dinner table trinkets and collectibles that sit on the shelves in between hundred year-old books. Art Deco cocktail cups, vintage ladles, prints and porcelain for the kitchen; I wanted it all, but never once did I feel like I was in a shop. Joanne welcomed me into her home like they do in storybooks; where the hero on a long journey gets invited in by the wise woman for some much needed respite from the big scary world out there. I’ll never forget our encounter. Thank you Joanne.
Find Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks at 447 Greenwich Street. If you’re making a special trip out of the way, call ahead to make sure she’s in: 212 226 5731.
Molasses Books in Bushwick
Do you ever wonder what Brooklyn was like when the first beatniks of New York’s beat generation came over the bridge from Greenwich Village? Before we called them “hipsters”, when Jack Kerouac was only starting to use the term at the dawn of its popular coinage. Before the gentrified coffee shops and craft beer bars moved in on almost every corner– what was it really like for the OG hipsters of Brooklyn? The ones that weren’t trying to fake authenticity? To me, Molasses Books paints that picture: the last of the original hipster homesteaders….
Located on an ungentrified and reassuringly scruffier side of Bushwick, only a few minutes walk from how you imagine Bushwick to be today (giant street murals everywhere on the side of creative warehouses and hipster factories), I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. Would I be treated as an outsider? Would I be judged for pulling out my laptop to catch up on my articles for a while? I’ll admit, I almost expected this bookstore to let me down with an overly “hipster” attitude, but as soon as I walked in, I knew I was in the right place. And I half expected Dylan Thomas or Allen Ginsberg to walk in after me.
Behind the counter was a lovely girl in overalls, who seemed to like painting and learning French in her spare time. There was a slow but steady stream of characters I wanted to get to know walking in and out of the bookshop– one guy looking like a young Ginsberg dropping off a box of books, or another guy who’d lived on the street since the 50s, who seemed to come in every morning for a coffee and a chat with the girl in overalls while she polished glassware.
The books are as intriguing as their genres promise without being pretentious. This is a bookshop where you can find anything from gender studies to UFO theories and not be shy about purchasing a well-read vintage copy of Jurassic Park.
A sign says laptops must be put away by 8pm to make room for intimate events like the live jazz nights, the Molasses drawing club, book readings and even karaoke. It’s all chalked up on the board. Spend some time there getting to know the space and people and see if it doesn’t become your second home in Bushwick.
Molasses Bookstore is open everyday from 10am to midnight.
Argosy Bookstore, New York City’s oldest independent bookstore
Remember that bookstore Audrey Hepburn worked at in Funny Face, before she left Manhattan for Paris? I thought I’d walked into the real thing. Or something close to it. Argosy bookstore was founded in 1925, now in its third generation of family ownership with an enormous stock of antiquarian and out-of-print books, as well as art, antique maps & prints, and the history of science & medicine.
Here is where you’ll find the last true booksellers– at least six or seven of them, each with their own desks, piled high with antique books under green library lamps, busying themselves with client enquiries about the whereabouts of rare editions and generally restoring your faith in the book trade.
Argosy is the founding member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and have about 60,000 out-of-print books on all subjects. They also have another 80,00 rare and unusual books hidden up on the 5th floor, which can be browsed if you have a serious enquiry. Just minutes from the Plaza Hotel, seek out this old world gem in the midst of the concrete jungle. It really is exactly how you imagine it in the movies.
Argosy Bookstore, 116 East 59th Street