For whom the beer tolls: 15 best Brooklyn bars to read in

Union Hall makes us want to light a pipe and tell adventure stories.

Union Hall makes us want to light a pipe and tell adventure stories.

We often can’t help ourselves from buying a book whenever we pass a bookstore. We’ll save money for beer, of course, because we want to devour our literary haul with some lagers in one of our favorite reading venues: a bar! Not all bars are equal in the eye of the reader, naturally. Who wants to read where jaeger bombs are the norm? To save you the time searching, we compiled a list of fifteen places we think are the best Brooklyn bars to read in, along with suggestions on what to read.

Since most normies converge on pubs when night falls, these places are best read in during the day. But a good number of them remain quiet enough on weeknights to take in some text. Just remember to take care of your bartender if you’re going to spend a lot of time there. 

Brooklyn Inn, 148 Hoyt St, Boerum Hill
In our younger days we scoffed at the Brooklyn Inn because the crowd didn’t seem to want to get blasted on pickle backs. Now past 30, we’ve come to appreciate its sedate, learned atmosphere. It’s never too rowdy, but it feels appropriately old and steeped in brownstone neighborhood sensibility. It’s the perfect place to tackle a heavy work like Between the World and Me. The neighborhood is full of writers so you might only have your reading interrupted by someone celebrating their book deal or selling a show.

3 Diamond Door, 211 Knickerbocker Ave., Bushwick
Now you might think we’re mad including this place, and we are. They regularly extoll “getting fucking wrecked” on their Facebook page. But don’t let that discourage you; behind the wild punk exterior is a heart of gold, that is, a shady, pleasant backyard. Pick up a copy of The Flamethrowers, down a couple of beer-shots, and relive the divey, genuine side of New York.


At Covenhoven, there’s a different beer for every page of War and Peace.

Covenhoven, 730 Classon Ave., Crown Heights
You might think a dark room full of every ale imaginable might be a bad place to read. On the contrary: it’s the perfect place to take in a dunkelweizen and a mystery like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. If you time it right you can grab a window spot for some natural light, or chill out in the grassy, austere backyard.

Franklin Park, 618 St Johns Pl., Crown Heights
Franklin Park, the ur-outdoor bar in Brooklyn, is home to its monthly Reading Series, which attracts famous and up-and-coming writers alike. The beer garden is a relaxed place to unwind. We suggest reading series veteran Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a book that will help you reflect on the massive changes that have come to the neighborhood over the past ten years.

Red Lantern Bicycles, 345 Myrtle Ave., Fort Greene
We’re still not sure why America hadn’t produced a bike shop/cafe until recently. Guess our bike pros were too busy inventing flight. The Red Lantern folks aren’t slackers, thought. They fix bikes, roast their own coffee, and even make their own juices and nut milk. Oh, yeah, they’ve got beer, too. Don’t know a thing about gears? Flash your copy of Bicycling Science and you’ll fit right in. Please just don’t drive there.

The Halyards.

The Halyards is ship shape for reading.

Halyards, 406 3rd Ave, Gowanus
Ishmael may go to sea when New York makes him feel like “methodically knocking people’s hats off” in the street. Since we object whale-hunting, we like to go to Halyards instead. The front room has great lighting during the day, but gets a bit crowded during the night. When that happens, we like to retire to the ship’s hold (the back room) and read up on high seas adventures like Moby Dick.

Union Hall, 702 Union St., Park Slope
With a virtual library filling the front room, of course this Park Slope staple is on the list. The bartenders are nice and it’s dead quiet during weekend days – save for the frequent clack of bocce balls in the back. Its furnishings and worn-wood everything evoke a shabby-chic explorers club, so we suggest grabbing a scotch, a seat next to the fireplace, and a climbing adventure like Into Thin Air.

Owl Farm, 297 9th St, Park Slope
We like to think there’s no coincidence that this bar shares a name with Hunter S. Thompson’s Colorado home – it even has the cozy cabin feel to it. There may not be shotguns and typewriters, but the place does have an impressive selection of booze and beer — 28 rotating taps — just what the good doctor ordered. We suggest the high-power screeds in the The Great Shark Hunt. If you need a break from alcohol-soaked gonzo journalism, however, hit up the flashing pinball in the back.

The Gate321 5th Ave, Park Slope
Some nosey ninny shut down the dog-friendly policy recently, but the Gate still feels like a place where Fido will bring you your slippers and the paper. The booths are like giant wingback chairs and the gentle murmur of the crowd sounds like you’re among family. The patio is a fine place to people-watch and enjoy some light reading. It’s small and can get crowded, though — not the venue for researching your thesis on Heidegger. Try a short-story collection like Brooklyn Noir instead.

Pacific Standard, 82 4th Ave., Park Slope
You have to catch this when there’s no sports game on (especially left coast sports). When the coast is clear, the back of this well-lit spot feels like you’re crashing on your rich-but-not-too-rich San Francisco buddy’s couch. In fact, it has three couches and its own little library to rescue you when your Kindle battery dwindles. We suggest riding shotgun with some suds and a classic east to west road trip book like I See By My Outfit.


Alchemy: a bar near Barclays that doesn’t suck.

Alchemy, 56 5th Ave, Park Slope
The Barclays Center has become the porch light to Brooklyn’s sports bar moths. It’s hard to find a nearby bar that isn’t playing whatever sport is on at top volume. Alchemy is the exception — they have a rotating selection of excellent beer and tasty house wines that would complement bit of magical realism like the aptly named The House of Spirits. We’re loath to give the following tip, but what the hell. The window seat next to the bar is flooded with sunlight and gives you a perfect vantage point to observe the world between chapters. The bartender probably won’t mind you camping in the spot as long as it’s not too busy and you stay current on your drink order.

Sharlene’s, 353 Flatbush Ave, Prospect Heights
A real neighborhood watering hole overseen by Sharlene herself has a mile-long bar with plenty of book-plopping room. No TVs or shot-sucking partiers here to disrupt your lit quest, at least during the day. The front window provides a well-lit perch to sit and reflect on an older New York with A Meaningful Life. Snag a bar stool with a back; otherwise it’ll get a bit rough after a couple of chapters.

Bar Sepia's the place for thoughtful discussion (via Twitter)

Bar Sepia’s the place for thoughtful discussion (via Twitter).

Bar Sepia, 234 Underhill Ave., Prospect Heights
We’ve done the math and Bar Sepia is the closest bar to the Brooklyn Library. And that’s perfect. Tucked away on a little-trafficked part of Underhill, this place would fit right in on a side street in 1940s Paris. They have an uncommonly large window seat that opens right onto the street. Don’t hog it all if the place fills up for the incredible happy hour deals. Do hold your All Men Are Mortal book club meeting at the long table.

Lowlands, 543 3rd Ave., South Slope
Lowlands feels like that chill student bar you used to frequent while studying abroad in Europe. The backyard is calming, and great spot to laze with a novel or liaise with Nietzsche. Inside is just as relaxed, especially when the weather turns sour. We suggest sticking with the Euro-vibe by reading My Brilliant Friend, by the mysterious Italian writer, Elena Ferrante.

Biblio, 149 N 6th St, Williamsburg
Now we’re not one to editorialize about what Bedford Avenue has become, so we won’t. But if you’re stuck among the heaving crowds of confused French tourists and nouveau-cool residents and just want a quiet place to read a book and get tipsy, goddammit, STELLA, then Biblio is the place. This quiet, bright bar has good food, lots of draft beer and literary-themed cocktails like the Tennessee Williams. It’s the perfect place to get the rage out with A Streetcar Named Desire. [UPDATE Feb. 25: Biblio closed!]

Don’t see your favorite bookish bar in the list? Tell us in the comments your favorite place is and why.

Thanks to Isaac Anderson, Margaret Bortner, Tim Donnelly, Madelyn Owens and the readers on Facebook for their great tips.

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