I just moved to New York.
In addition to the fantastic restaurants, the never-ending excitement, and the overpriced everything, it is kind of a geeky, book lover’s paradise. It’s the home of publishing houses big and small, bookstores old and new and enough movie theaters to satisfy your need for pretty much any genre.
There’s also a lot of history. And I can’t lie, I’m kind of fascinated by history. Especially history of the more scandalous nature.
This week, only my third in New York, I got to marry my love of scandalous history and my love of books: I visited New York’s own speakeasy bookstore.
Speakeasies are pretty awesome. Historically, it was a way to skirt strict prohibitions laws in the late 19th century. With liquor laws relaxed again, current speakeasies are more of a nostalgic nod to clubs that requires a special knock or password to gain admittance.
Brazenhead Books, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, doesn’t require a password, but it’s not something you can look up online either. Well, except to read about it. You can’t look it up in a phone book or just stop by. It’s by-appointment-only. In fact, in order to visit Brazenhead, you have to track down the owner’s contact information, get in touch with him and set up a time to come visit. Then you get the address and how to get in the door.
It involves phone calls, buzzers and an apartment building rather than a big store front on a main street.
Walking through the door of Brazenhead Books, the sound coming out of my mouth may have actually been of the *squee* variety. I also might have breathed, “This is SO awesome.”
I had heard the stories and seen some pictures, but there’s nothing quite like walking through the doors, taking a deep breathe and seeing heaven stretch out in front of you.
If someone bottled the smell of old books, I would buy it. Not even kidding. Seriously, somebody get on this.
There are four rooms completely full of books. When I say completely full, I don’t mean wall-to-wall bookcases. I mean floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall books. There are stacks on the floor where there was no room on shelves. Desks in the center of rooms are also piled with books.
I controlled myself. I only bought two titles. But I want to go back. I want to go back when I have a full-time job and a regular paycheck again so that I can buy a lot more. It was magical.
Even now, four days later, I’m still thinking about the wonder I felt walking through that door. It wasn’t even just the place. Michael, the owner of Brazenhead, is a wealth of information on books and literature. He will tell you the story behind Brazenhead when you go, and if you’re anything like my friends and me, you’ll be there longer just for the conversation.
I’m going to have to go back. The hours are a little wonky but the store is open to those who love books – even if they just want to be surrounded by them. It’s one of the first stores I’ve been to where the person behind the counter said “Don’t feel like you always have to buy something. Some people just come and hang out with the books.”
It’s like he read my soul. Hanging out with books is my favorite thing to do. I’m going to have to visit again soon.
Image is my own.