Little Bookshops in the Big City

To devotees of crime novels, detective stories, adventure yarns, and other such pulpy pleasures, Otto Penzler is a god. Penzler is, to the faithful, the foremost authority in New York City — and maybe the world — on whodunit fiction, and his personal collection of rare first editions numbers close to 60,000. He runs an eponymous imprint for the publishing house Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that puts out a half-dozen new mystery titles each year, and he’s the founder of The Mysterious Bookshop, a 2,000-square-foot shrine to the genre in Tribeca. It’s one of the biggest specialty bookshops in the country — and, founded in 1979, one of the oldest. Like the proprietor himself, the shop’s staff is chatty, opinionated, and encyclopedic, so you’ll leave not only with the copy of Murder on the Orient Express you came for, but with cocktail-party conversation points about Agatha Christie’s secret romance-novel nom de plume and a copy of the lesser-known novel she considered her favorite, Endless Night.

You don’t get that from Amazon.

There’s something uniquely New York City about The Mysterious Bookshop—or Books of Wonder, or Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, or the Argosy Book Store, or any of a hundred other highly specialized hole-in-the-wall bookstalls. For all its only-the-strong-survive reputation, the city protects little shops like these; it makes them possible by supplying the inestimable talent behind the counter and tribes of devoted patrons on the other side of it — armchair detectives, Julia Child wannabes, Wicca practitioners, you name it. A Yelp review of Brooklyn’s delicious Archestratus Books & Foods neatly sums up patrons’ passion for their friendly neighborhood booksellers: “I love this place so much — its very existence just makes me so happy.”

Herewith, a baker’s dozen of our favorite specialty booksellers in New York City.


What’s Here: Mystery fiction, thrillers, spy novels, and true-crime books.

What We Love: Proprietor Otto Penzler’s captivating anthologies — some 28 at last count — of classic stories about hard-boiled detectives, squared-jawed adventurers, archvillains…

58 Warren Street, Tribeca • 212.587.1011 •


What’s Here: Books about social commitment, civil rights, representation, activism, and feminism.

What We Love: Bluestockings’ staff is 100-percent volunteer.

172 Allen Street, Lower East Side • 212.777.6028 •


What’s Here: Cookbooks, food memoirs, and vintage culinary collections.

What We Love: The 4,000-volume book selection is impressive, but the food—homey Italian fare crafted by the gifted Paige Lipari — is the real attraction.

160 Huron Street, Greenpoint • 718.349.7711 •


What’s Here: Just poetry — new and old volumes, along with handmade and limited editions.

What We Love: Berl’s is the only all-poetry bookstore in New York City.

141 Front Street, DUMBO • 347.687.2375 •


What’s Here: New and antique books and art prints for children and young adults.

What We Love: Whether you’re shopping with a child, for a child, or for your inner child, BoW’s two locations are sublime hideaways where sitting on the floor is enthusiastically endorsed.

18 West 18th Street, Flatiron District • 212.989.3270 • West 84th Street, Upper West Side • 212.989.1804 •


What’s Here: Americana, first editions, antique maps and prints, and volumes on the history of science and medicine. There’s also an impressive collection of autographs and art.

What We Love: Founded in 1925, Argosy is a six-floor wonderland for bibliophiles and cartophiles, complete with giant wooden desks and green-shaded lamps.

116 East 59th Street, Midtown East • 212.753.4455 •


What’s Here: Books on art, architecture, industrial design, fashion, photography, film, and other such sophisticated pursuits.

What We Love: One of 14 Taschen stores around the world, the New York outpost, with its cast-iron façade, is a work of art unto itself. There are murals created by Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, “floating” bookshelves designed by Philippe Starck, and an excellent Arne Jacobsen Egg chair for reclining with a copy of Rem Koolhaas’s 2,528-page Elements of Architecture.

107 Greene Street, Soho • 212.226.2212 •


What’s Here: Out-of-print and antiquarian cookbooks from around the world.

What We Love: Irresistible craving for your French grandmother’s wicked clafoutis, made from a recipe in her long-lost copy of Larousse Gastronomique? Bonnie Slotnick can help: This Greenwich Village icon has been trading in hard-to-find cookbooks for 21 years.

28 East 2nd Street, East Village • 212.989.8962 •


What’s Here: Volumes on mystical practices, witchcraft and pagan culture, and enhancement of the spiritual self.

What We Love: More than a bookshop, Catland maintains a full calendar of evening readings, discussions, and classes of all sorts — Yoga for Witches, anyone?

987 Flushing Avenue, Bushwick • 718.418.9393 •


What’s Here: Books about spirituality, Buddhism, Western and Eastern philosophy, yoga, meditation, Wicca, and Reiki.

What We Love: There is no day so stressful that a few browsing minutes in Namaste, with its healing crystals and scented candles, can’t remedy.

2 West 14th Street, Greenwich Village • 212.645.0141 •


What’s Here: Artists’ books—which, unlike catalog-style monographs, are publications that have been conceived by contemporary artists as artworks in their own right.

What We Love: The shop’s website, which includes a visual inventory of some 45,000 books from its current and past inventory, is an irresistible (and free) education into a little-known branch of contemporary art.

231 11th Avenue, Chelsea • 212.925.0325 •


What’s Here: Feminism titles with female-centered narratives and politics.

What We Love: In addition to its highly caffeinated collection of smart writings, Brooklyn’s Cafe Con Libros brews a sensational cup of joe, using beans from the vaunted Gramercy-based coffeehouse Irving Farm.

724 Prospect Place, Crown Heights • 347.460.2838 •

13. THE LIT. BAR (Coming Soon)

What’s Here: Works by authors of color, featuring protagonists of Color and marginalized groups.

What We Love: When it opens late this year, The Lit. Bar — a labor of love for charismatic Bronx native Noëlle Santos — will be the borough’s only bookshop.

131 Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven •

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This story appears in the 2019 edition of Properties for Living magazine, The Corcoran Group’s annual celebration of exceptional homes in New York City, the Hamptons, and South Florida.
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