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.
[Editor’s note: This post was updated Sept. 26, 2017]
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 have your reading interrupted by someone celebrating their book deal or selling a show.
Bedford Hill, 343 Franklin Ave., Bed-Stuy
This step-down cranny of a bar/coffee shop is a day-to-night kind of reading joint, open 7am to 1am and frequented by a steady stream of Brooklyn authors and freelance writers. They’ve got terrific espresso from Wisconsin, a rotating tap list of local brews from the likes of Other Half and Singlecut, and a late-night kitchen to soothe your ravenous literary soul. So long as you get there after 2pm, you’ll have the place mostly to yourself until it picks up again with the night crowd. We suggest Emily Witt’s Future Sex, a collection of essays about dating that includes one of Witt’s encounters at the very bar you’re sitting in.
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.
Old Stanley’s Bar, 226 Wyckoff Ave., Bushwick
Bushwick has, of late, been experiencing the resurgence of the “old man bar,” a subject tackled with finesse in Louis CK’s series, Horace and Pete. If you want to soothe your inner barfly while taking in some literature, there’s no better place to do it than this at-ease, cash-only dive off Myrtle-Wyckoff with a sizable beer selection and cocktails served unpretentiously in pint glasses. This is a perfect spot to open up Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning and meditate on the changing soul of the city and how much the neighborhood has changed since the infamous Bushwick riots (hint: a lot).
Molasses Books, 770 Hart St., Bushwick
This Bushwick bookstore bar used to barter books for tabs. They may not do it anymore, but Molasses boasts has the same friendly vibe as it did in 2012. You can wander in and pick up a book to read, or bring your own. It never gets too crowded since there’s just a small bar doing beer and wine, but you’re not trying to get smashed while you read, anyway. For a hideaway nook like this we suggest Lethem’s crime drama, Motherless Brooklyn. Sip your pilsner while you read about a multilayered crime, why don’t you.
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.
Sycamore, 1118 Cortelyou Rd., Ditmas Park
With the added ambiance of potted, vased and hanging flowers from resident flower shop Stems (while currently banished by the Health Department, there is hope for Stem’s return), this bar manages to feel both intimate and elevated. It’s the kind of place you go to feel cozy and solitary in the presence of other people. You’ll have to plan your read ahead of time to make sure it’s not a BYO-vinyl DJ night or dance party when you get there. But once you settle in, we suggest Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense, a book of tender poetry about cats and childhood.
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.
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 to 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.
Black Rabbit, 91 Greenpoint Ave., Greenpoint
Walking into Black Rabbit feels like stepping into an old Yorkshire pub from the 19th century. They’ve got ye olde fireplace and an ivy-covered backyard garden, but also a great craft beer list and some of the best dry cider in town. Its got a steady clientele of regulars in addition to all the new folks who come in, so it can get loud at night. But during the day, cozy up in one of their tall, semi-private wooden booths by lamplight and pick up a copy of Orwell’s very relatable tale of struggling to make it, Down and Out in Paris and London, which boasts an ethos we can all speak to: “It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”
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 former 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, hit up the flashing pinball in the back.
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, 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, 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.
Sunny’s, 253 Conover St., Red Hook
If you don’t live in Red Hook then finding your way to Sunny’s for some book time will become something of a day trip in itself. But it’s worth it for the warm lighting and cozy feel of this longtime dive, which roosts unassumingly on Conover Street right near the water. There’s a backyard, too. In the winter it’ll get dark before Sunny’s even opens, at 4pm, but like we said, you’re planning to spend a while after the trek there, anyway. For this spot we recommend Sunny’s Nights, a bar-ography by the late Sunny Balzano himself. Oh, it’s got history all right.
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 a 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 (until recently, that is) Italian writer, Elena Ferrante.
Blind Barber, 524 Lorimer St., Williamsburg
Blind Barber functions as a coffee & barber shop by day and a bar by night. The daytime crowd usually filters out by 4 or 5pm, and on the right weeknight you can have the place almost entirely to yourself until it closes at midnight. They’ve got killer cocktails like the whiskey-based, jalapeño-spiced and ginger-sweetened Smoke & Dagger that you can sip as you read. It’s low lighting, though, so we recommend something like Lolita (notwithstanding the pun) to match the darker quietude.
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, Sam Corbin, Tim Donnelly, Madelyn Owens and the readers on Facebook for their great tips.
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