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.

Continue reading “GABST DAY 2: Bookstores, book bars and oh, have I mentioned books?”

GABST Day 1: Champagne, ice cream and mini-golf

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The view aboard the ice cream express.

Something very very bad is about to happen.

That’s the only conclusion I can come to after spending a day in Seattle during which the sun shone incessantly and the temperature never dipped below 65 degrees. You guys, I got a sunburn. In Seattle. I mean, the other shoe has to drop, right?

So Great American Bookstore Tour, Day 1, went swimmingly. At first pass, Seattle reminds me a great deal of Chicago, which is to say that the people are nice, it’s very clean and slightly less walkable than you’d like it to be (although, in Seattle’s defense, I am also a truly atrocious navigator, managing to turn what should have been a 1-mile, half-hour walk into a 1.5-hour sojourn through vaguely industrial and highway overpass-y areas that looked more like the outskirts of a sad suburb than the heart of a beloved northwestern city.)

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Smash Putt

Anywho, after perusing Pike Place Market (eating brioche and drinking 1 p.m. champagne cocktails counts as perusing) my travel-mate and I walked up to South Lake Union, where we boarded — like eager children — something called the Fremont Sunday Ice Cream Cruise. Yes, it’s pretty much what you think: We sat on a boat and learned some Seattle history while eating ice cream.  (I also came to the conclusion that I’m going to need a houseboat.)

From there it was back to the hotel for a brief respite (read: me falling facedown on the bed and wondering how I’m going to keep this up for 14 days) before heading out to Smash Putt, a genius suggestion from an ST reader. Smash Putt is like if Mad Max created a mini-golf course in the basement of an early 90s videogame nerd. It’s like putt-putt meets Max Headroom. Best of all, they let you shoot golf balls out of pressurized air guns into various nets and old machinery and pieces of metal. So, not your typical Easter Sunday (though, I guess it depends on your family).

Tomorrow we move on to the main affair: Elliot Bay Book Co.

It’s almost Great American Bookstore Tour time, and I need your help

A photo from my last epic road trip -- a Spring Break 2007 trek to New Orleans. This is about three minutes after I won a bet about how long I could stay on a mechanical bull. As they say, don't threaten me with a good time.
From my last epic road trip — a 2007 trek to New Orleans. This is shortly after I won a bet — with a skeevy stranger — about how long I could stay on a mechanical bull. Don’t threaten me with a good time.

About ten months ago, I began planning a vacation-slash-road-trip that would take me to the western coast of ye olde United States and, more importantly, to six of the greatest independent bookstores our country has to offer. Now, as spring peeks its timid head up over miniature piles of lingering snow-sludge, my literary adventure is a mere nine days away.

That’s right people, it’s Great American Bookstore Tour timeโ€”two weeks, five cities, five bookstores (plus The Strand), one SUV and one CD collection with an average release year of 1999. Here’s the agenda:

My journey begins with two days here, where I’ll have one travel companion, plus the pleasure of interviewing Elliot Bay Book Co. owner Peter Aaron.  (Fun fact: My employer, Reuters, is allowing me to document some of my “How does one keep a bookstore open these days?” findings in a TBD article. Of course, all judgmental city-based commentary and glowing reviews of roadside cheese food products will continue to be documented on ST.)

I anticipate spending my three days in Portland ogling hipsters and eating macrobiotic food, with the exception of the delightful afternoon I’ll get with Miriam Sontz, COO of Powell’s Books. There is a strong possibility I will fall so madly in love with this store that I will inelegantly beg Sontz for permission to stay forever, volunteering to clean bathrooms or stock shelves or stand on the sidewalk and maniacally lure in new customers by screaming things like “Books reading learn good!”

In Portland, I’ll take on two travel companions (these are, by the way, actual friends ….lest you think I have plans to pick up a predetermined number of hitchhikers along the way). Together, and with the help of the aforementioned CD collection, we’ll meander down to San Francisco, where I’ll spend four days, one of which will include a chat with City Lights Books chief buyer Paul Yamazaki.

Shedding my fellow road trippers, I will begin the long and arduous 20-hour drive from San Francisco to Denver, with overnights along the way in Elko, Nevada (a geographically logical stopping place, though I was also swayed by the abundance of casinos) and Salt Lake City (Mormons, natch). After three days of solo travel — if I don’t tweet at least every two hours, please call someone — I’ll spend another two in Denver, where I’ll have the pleasure of speaking with Tattered Cover Book Store CEO Joyce Meskis.

Trading in my trusty steed for a bird of steel again, I’ll fly from Denver to DC, where I hope to chat with Politics & Prose owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine, and spend a moderately more calm weekend with friends. Finally, I’ll close out the trip with an exhausted Amtrak ride back up to NYC, armed with trinkets and books and whatever memories haven’t been washed away by nightly carousing and cocktails.

SO HERE IS WHERE YOU COME IN. While I could walk around DC with my eyes closed (not that I wouldn’t get run over by a town car with diplomatic plates; just saying I could technically do it) I have yet to even step foot in the USA west of ….Louisiana? So I need recommendations. If one had but a few brief days in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Denver, where should one dine and drink? What should one do? Are there other bookstores one should check out? Secret divey hole-in-the-wall pubs off the beaten path? Bizarre funky art installations? Inquiring minds want to know. Inquiring minds need to know. Because left to my own devices I’ll be overwhelmed by possibility and end up ordering room service.

It’s happening!!!

Today is a momentous day! After months of planningโ€”actually about three weeks of planning, then six months of forgettingโ€”I have officially begun scheduling my Great American Bookstore Tour for the spring of 2013 (which gives me plenty of time to save money and scout out FedEx locations so I can ship all the books I buy back to New York.)

For the unfamiliar, the Great American Bookstore Tour (GABST) is my plan to visit some of the biggest and most legendary bookstores America has to offer, before they all go belly-up because of the stupid Kindle. Of course, it works to my advantage that all of these stores are in cities I have yet to visit (with the exception of NYC and Washington DC), so my otherwise culturally motivated endeavor will also be an excuse to conduct a mini cross-country tour of the U.S. and eat all manner of roadside foods. Yay fried cheese!

Here is the itinerary:

1. NYC –> Seattle. Visit the Elliot Bay Book Co. as well as that needle that goes into space.

2. Seattle –> Portland. Visit Powell’s Books, take discreet photos of hipsters, eat locally grown food and generally get in touch with my bohemian side.

3. Portland –> San Francisco. Visit City Lights, the Mrs. Doubtfire house, the Full House house, ride on a trolley, check out that bridge, complain about steep hills.

4. San Francisco –> Denver. Visit The Tattered Cover, look at mountains.

5. Denver –> Washington DC. Visit Politics and Prose, regale my high school friends with my adventures.

6. Washington DC –> NYC. Visit The Strand (for the millionth time), unpack, feed my incredibly lonely and neglected cat.*

*I will not actually leave my cat alone for two weeks.

Step 1โ€”a flight from NYC to Seattleโ€”has just been booked, which makes this whole idea just that much more real. Now I only have a rental car, multiple hotels, another flight, $5 million in gas money and $6 million in book-buying money left to save up. Totes possible. Totes.

The Great Bookstore Tour

I’ve been thinking lately of vacations, as one tends to do when theirs has recently passed (and they have nothing left but the remote promise that next summer will bring another week of freedom and peace, of detachment from current events and an endless supply of curly fries.)

Friends have criticized me in the past for being, let’s just say, unimaginative when it comes to travel. It’s not that I don’t think the world has plenty to offerโ€”I want to ride a camel past the pyramids as much as the next girlโ€”it’s just that I’m a naturally anxious person; extensive travel makes me want to break out in hives. (I wouldn’t actually break out, but I’d want to, so the world might see a physical manifestation of my inner turmoil when it comes to adventure.) My plan has always been to remain a relatively vanilla vacationer until the day I stumble across an incredibly wealthy and far more adventurous soul mate, who will whisk me away to destinations unknown, which I won’t mind because while we’ll split the paying, he’ll handle the planning.

Until that day comes (at my current rate of male courtship, we’re looking at 2030 or later), I’ve decided that I should at least try to break out of my comfort zone, which isn’t hard since said zone’s exact geography is within a five-mile radius of Ocean City, New Jersey, where I go every year to reap all the benefits of vacation (sun, sand, complete lack obligation) with none of the downsides (i.e. I know where everything is, I can walk everywhere, and there’s fudge.) Further, in a fit of inspiration last week, I think I’ve settled upon my next non-adventure: a cross-country tour of the best bookstores in the U.S.

Continue reading “The Great Bookstore Tour”