The 12 best specialty bookshops in NYC

January 9, 2018

Albertine book store, via Wiki Commons

Independent bookstores are still going strong in NYC, with standouts like BookCulture, WORD Bookstore, McNally Jackson, and, of course, The Strand Bookstore, continuing to provide literary New Yorkers with the written word despite the specter of Amazon. But while the aforementioned shops are great places to find new and used literature, if you’re looking for a more curated collection, look no further than some of the city’s finest specialty bookstores, where mystery fiends, activists, artists, Francophiles, and others can find works tailored to their interests, as well as rub shoulders with like-minded readers. Here are some of our favorites.

Argosy Book Store, via Wiki Commons

1. Argosy Book Store
116 East 59th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues in Midtown East, Manhattan

The Argosy is New York City’s oldest independent bookstore, and though you can find a wealth of printed works from all genres stored on the shop’s simple wooden bookshelves, they’re particularly known for their collection of maps, autographs, and rare out-of-print finds. Peruse (or purchase) John Hancocks from the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Humphrey Bogart, along with posters, vintage map prints, and historical documents. The Argosy also does bindings, restorations, and appraisals.

2. Albertine
972 5th Avenue at East 79th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan

Francophiles flock to this beautiful three-year-old bookstore, located on the first and second floors of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Albertine, aptly named after a Proustian love interest, boasts French works printed in English as well as in their original French, having compiled thousands of books by contemporary and classic authors from the 30 French-speaking countries worldwide. They’ve also got a handsome collection of French magazines, through which you can peruse while reclining on a couch in the shop’s upstairs reading room. Be sure to take a glance at the painted ceiling, which is replete with an old-timey depiction of the solar system.

3. The Drama Book Shop
250 West 40th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Midtown West, Manhattan

This century-old bookshop is the premiere spot for thespians and other theater enthusiasts, boasting piles of plays, music books, biographies, monologues, theory books, posters, and other drama-related paraphernalia, with a special emphasis on Shakespeare. In addition to the books, the Drama Book Shop’s got a 50-seat basement theater and hosts talks and workshops, plus it’s served as a browsing spot for the likes of film and theater stars like Katherine Hepburn, Bette Midler, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

4. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
28 East Second Street between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery, East Village, Manhattan

Bonnie Slotnick’s been selling rare and vintage cookbooks downtown since 1997, and though she was priced out of her tiny Greenwich Village mainstay a few years ago, she’s since found a new home (and larger space) in the East Village. Slotnick’s shop contains thousands of cookbooks dating all the way back to the 19th century, with plenty of out-of-print offerings and recipes that pre-date your grandparents. Best of all, Slotnick’s usually on hand to chat with you or trade recipes while you shop.

Book-Off via Shinya Suzuki/Flickr

5. Book-Off
49 West 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, Midtown West, Manhattan

Book-Off is a Japanese chain of used-media bookstores, and, appropriately, the only NYC iteration (there are outposts in California and Hawaii as well) is full of gently-used Japanese literature, anime, manga, comics, and DVDs. You can find typical English-language works on the first floor, but the other two levels are strictly Japanese, though, of course, shoppers of all nationalities are invited to browse the wares, which are advertised using bilingual placards. You can also purchase used toys and other fun accouterments, and prices are fairly reasonable, considering the quality.

6. Archestratus
160 Huron Street between Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

This sublime cafe/bookstore hybrid is a prime spot for foodies, harboring both an impressive collection of culinary books — cookbooks, food memoirs, food-related fiction, etc.,—and a spectacular kitchen that serves up Sicilian dishes and treats, in addition to beer, tea, and wine. Archestratus also hosts dinner parties, meetings, and a cookbook club for foodies looking to bond with like-minded eaters.

7. Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop
141 Front Street between Pearl and Jay Streets in DUMBO, Brooklyn

This narrow DUMBO storefront was once a gallery space, but starting in 2013 it transformed into Berl’s, a spare, simple shop selling poetry books and chapbooks. Though the wares here aren’t cheap—DUMBO rent is no joke, after all—Berl’s boasts a nice variety of works, with a focus on small press books from the likes of Jellyfish Highway, Albion Books, and McSweeney’s. The store also hosts readings and events, making it an inviting space for local writers and artists to come together and network.

8. The Mysterious Bookshop
58 Warren Street between Tribeca and Church Streets in Tribeca, Manhattan

Budding Jessica Fletchers adore the Mysterious Bookshop, which, as the name suggests, specializes in pulpy detective novels and crime thrillers. The shop is one of the oldest mystery bookstores in the world, having first opened in Midtown in 1979 (on Friday the 13th, of course). You can find plenty of new titles here, but the Mysterious Bookshop is also famous for offering “Bibliomysteries,” or short fiction stories and essays by popular writers, in addition to rare and vintage finds, including an $8,500 first edition copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

Bluckstockings, via istolethetv/Flickr

9. Bluestockings
172 Allen Street at Stanton Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan

This collectively-owned bookstore specializes in feminist, queer, and activist literature, offering up everything from self-published zines to sci-fi fiction to radical academic texts, along with topical buttons and other leftist merch. Bluestockings is staffed exclusively by volunteers and hosts discussion groups, meetings, and other forums focusing on activism and community outreach. There’s also a fair trade cafe on the premises, and the coffee is both very cheap and quite good.

10. Idlewild Books
170 7th Avenue South between Waverly Place and Charles Street in the West Village, Manhattan

Travel bookstore Idlewild had to relocate to the West Village from its longstanding home in Flatiron in 2017, but thankfully it took with it its massive collection of guidebooks, maps, cookbooks, country-specific literature, travel-themed fiction and poetry collections, photo books, travel accouterments, and foreign language dictionaries. Idlewild also offers excellent French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Italian classes both in Manhattan and at their sister bookshop in Cobble Hill, plus they’ve got a blog on their website that lists streaming foreign language films and other fun stuff for folks with wanderlust.

11. Freebird Books & Goods
123 Columbia Street near Kane Street in the Columbia Street Waterfront District, Brooklyn

This cozy Columbia Street shop sells a whole host of mostly used books from across the spectrum, but their New York City section is particularly good. New Yorkers and New York enthusiasts alike can sift through historical texts, memoirs, novels, books on architecture and politics, and other literary goods pertaining to our fair city’s culture and history. Note that Freebird is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, but for the lucky readers who make it over there, there’s a wealth of good stuff to find.

12. Printed Matter
231 11th Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets in Chelsea, Manhattan

Printed Matter was first founded about four decades ago in Chelsea by a group of artists, including Sol LeWitt as a for-profit publishing house for artists’ books. Soon after its founding, though, it earned non-profit status, and now offers educational, research, and library collection services for artists. Its bookstore, boasts a collection of about 15,000 artists’ books, along with zines, prints, out-of-print works, and other art-related materials. Printed Matter also organizes one of the city’s best events of the year, the annual NY Artbook Fair, where attendees can browse wares hawked by hundreds of booksellers, artists, and zinemakers at MoMA PS1.


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