GABST DAY 2: Bookstores, book bars and oh, have I mentioned books?

Elliott Bay Book Co.
Elliott Bay Book Co.

In the spirit of the Great American Bookstore Tour, and in honor of another 24 hours of amazing Seattle weather, GABST Day 2 was the bookiest day in vacation history.

First off, I owe Seattle a bit of an apology, as comparing it most directly with Chicago was based on limited information. Turns out Seattle is more like if Chicago and Georgetown had a baby, and that baby had a few too many hills and a lot of strong coffee and a seemingly citywide love of all things reading.

Day 2 started (after a morning walk through Pike Place Market, and a visit to the first-ever Starbucks) with the much-anticipated trip to Elliott Bay Book Co., which is, I don’t know, heaven? Between the wooden floors, high ceilings, skylights, armchairs, reading tables, and respectful hush — I’d underestimated the value of shopping for books in peace and quiet — I basically wanted to throw down some blankets and camp out there forever, dividing my time between reading, sleeping and…no, just those two activities. In fact, the only thing that would make EBBC better is if its adorable little cafe sold wine. OH WAIT, IT DOES.

Bauhaus Books + Coffee
Bauhaus Books + Coffee

So Elliott Bay is without question an aesthetically pleasing bookstore — it has all the inventory of The Strand with none of the cramp — but more than anything it feels like a place for dyed-in-the-wool readers, people who want their local bookseller to know what it’s talking about, and to display more than the New York Times bestseller list. EBBC owner Peter Aaron, who I interviewed for my forthcoming Reuters piece, told me the store will sometimes stock a book knowing it’ll only sell one copy in 18 months, which is like buying a dress you’ll only get to wear to one wedding two years from now. Elliott Bay is also chock full of staff recommendations, and distributes both a “Booknotes” newsletter with seasonal staff-written reviews and a monthly flier on upcoming author events, of which they host hundreds each year. As far as GABST is concerned, Elliott Bay is going to be a tough act to follow.

Inspired by our visit, my travel-mate Sarah and I walked on to Bauhaus Books + Coffee, a quirky coffee shop with a wall of encyclopedias and other assorted hardcovers (this almost appears to be something of a “thing” in Seattle, the inclusion of a complete set of encyclopedias in bar decor). At this point we had a theme going, so it was on to Bookstore Bar, located in the lobby of the Alexis Hotel. The photo on the hotel website makes BSB look chic and fancy, but it’s actually got a pleasantly casual pub vibe, plus a wall of shelves that alternate between dusty hardcovers (including, again, encyclopedias) and bottles of liquor. Also any book is available to purchase for the paltry sum of $5. ALSO also, there was free popcorn.

Bookstore Bar
Bookstore Bar

From BSB it was on to Pioneer Square, Seattle’s historical district (and once home to the original Elliott Bay location). Tucked among gorgeous old buildings and a road median populated with humongous trees was The Globe Bookstore, a freaking adorable little indie shop with a clearly curated collection and an upper floor that — by virtue of its creaky old armchairs and shelves of used mystery books — feels a little like a grandmother’s basement, in the best possible way. From there we moved on to Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which was closed (5 p.m.; so early!) but I think still counts because at least we made the effort. And after that we meandered back towards Pike Place Market (with a layover at the Seattle Great Wheel; listen, I gots no shame about riding a Ferris Wheel at 27), where I stumbled into Left Bank Books, an anarchist bookstore whose disorder-friendly ideology doesn’t prevent them from making you check your purse. Left Bank was also home to my favorite purchase of the day: a sticker that says “Read a fucking book.”

The Globe Bookstore
The Globe Bookstore

Sated on literature, Sarah and I closed out the evening with a walk up to Tavern Law, an old-fashioned cocktail bar in the Capitol Hill area (Capitol Hill, for the record, is the impetus behind my about-face on the Seattle/Chicago comparison. Full of coffee shops, eateries and gay bars in equal measure, it reminded me of Georgetown without the chain stores, or NYC’s Christopher Street with more variety.) The cocktails at Tavern Law were spectacular, but only half as spectacular as the bartender, who a) charged my phone b) patiently answered our zillion questions about old-timey-cocktail making and c) gave me two coasters worth of recommendations for my brief stay in Salt Lake City next week. (A different staffer also indulged me in book talk, and handed over a separate coaster’s worth of bookstore and book recommendations.) I may still be clueless on the ingredients for anything outside a gin and tonic, but if I lived in Seattle I’d visit this bar on the regular.

Left Bank Books
Left Bank Books

So that’s it! Tomorrow it’s on to Portland, and Powell’s, and delicious cheap tacos. But since this is my last night in Seattle, let me just say that I had a blast. The city is clean and quirky and beautiful, and the waterfront (both waterfronts, if we’re including the ice cream cruise/South Lake Union) is breathtaking. Everyone I spoke with was gregarious and warm, and the Seattle brand of hipster is about as inoffensive as they come (casual clothes, earth tones — seriously, I saw nary a yellow or red — and a decidedly non-pretentious air). If this is an omen of GABST adventures to come, I can’t wait.


Bookstores visited: 3.5
(it’s not my fault Mystery Bookshop was closed; I’m taking a .5 on it)

Book-themed bars or coffee shops visited: 2.5
(Tavern Law wasn’t book-themed, but it did have the requisite encyclopedia collection)

Books purchased: 2
The Braindead Megaphone (Elliott Bay)
The World’s Greatest Short Stories (The Globe)

(More photos can be found at

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