If you’re like J and me, your ideal afternoon involves tea, photography, and a casual stroll through a bookshop. Here are some of our favorite DC-based haunts for bookshop browsing:
This mom and pop shop is more librarian’s treasure trove than bookstore, rife with paperbacks haphazardly sorted in dusty piles and a cat or two perpetually roving the travel section. But all the bedlam is what makes the shop a gem: the owners clearly have a true passion for what they do, and they’re more than happy to chat and help you sort through the stacks till you find exactly what you’re looking for. Perhaps this is why I found myself stopping in nearly every week when I lived nearby.
Location: 2501 Duke St, Alexandria, VA
What sets this place apart from the sea of bookstores on King Street is its staff: while a quick glance at the titles in the front window display will demonstrate their keen literary taste, it takes a conversation to realize that they’re also pros at helping you select the perfect book for any occasion. Not to be missed is the children’s section in the back (I’ve found a lovely illustrated copy of Peter Pan, and several beautiful hardcovers of other children’s classics). But my favorite acquisition to date has got to be the book on cult mind control, which J and I scooped up for free after winning a contest at the cash register.
Location: 1510 King Street, Alexandria, VA
The first time I visited, I must admit that I was having a particularly rotten day. But upon entering Bridge Street Books, things took a turn for the better. Not only did owner Philip Levy help me swiftly find my favorite Jonathan Safran Foer title, he also offered me an entire box of cupcakes and chatted consolingly about the joy a favorite book can bring. By the time I’d stumbled upon the splendid selection of poetry, my spirits had been most thoroughly lifted. Ever since then, Bridge Street has never failed to disappoint.
Location: 2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC
This quiet bookstore’s genuine appreciation for the literary craft makes it a wonderful place to browse. J and I have definitely lost ourselves for an hour or two in the current fiction section, but the things that keep us coming back are owner Jim Toole’s special touches, which include a list of forbidden phrases (prohibited utterances include “Oh my God,” “Sweet”, and “Whatever”) as well as an ever-changing pile of books near the register proclaimed to be “well-liked by your generation.” But as Toole recently quipped: “I know it is just a matter of time before they push me out and make this another Starbucks, so that we can have more crap on every corner of this city.” Here’s hoping he’s wrong.
Location: 657 C Street SE, Washington, DC
As if Tryst Coffeehouse wasn’t enough of a reason to be in Adams Morgan, this place more than justifies the trip. Their three floors make them a prime location for exploring the wide range of books, records, and postcards available, or perhaps just looking literary while fighting off a hangover from nearby Jack Rose Saloon (not that I’d know anything about that…). And DC thespians take note: I’ve heard the drama section is a perennial favorite of local actors in need of killer audition monologues.
Location: 2467 18th Street NW, Washington, DC
I love the visually stunning array of books, cards, snarky buttons, and more, as well as the consistently top-notch series of visiting authors. The cafe downstairs is also lovely, though I’d like to suggest that they play some local music as opposed to the Rihanna that blared last time we went- perhaps Paperhaus or Ugly Purple Sweater? But what really sets these folks apart is their in-house printing press. J and I are big fans of District Lines, their recently released anthology of local work.
Location: 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC
ps: this post was originally printed in our Archived days on tumblr–check it out here.