Top Bookstores in NYC

Biases coming into this post:

  • Aesthetic of the store
  • Selection on hand (no, I am not going to have them order something for me. For that, I'll go to Amazon, thank you.)
  • Ambiance
  • BONUS: cool coffee shops attached or nearby

NOTE: These are not functional or monetarily responsible choices in any way. If you're not romantic at all, go to Amazon. Also, my quest took me throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. Queens was not a part of the research, so... sorry to all of you new Astoria hipsters. 

  1. Three Lives & Co
    • I almost regret posting this because a huge part of its allure is that walking in is like discovering a well-kept secret. But oh well, I probably don't have that many readers anyway besides my mom. 
      • Mom- if you are reading, this is my thing. Please don't go there and then post about it on Facebook and then tag me in the post.
        • Just kidding, love you. 
    • This place is chaaaaaaaaaarming. Yes, the fact that it is nestled in the West Village helps a lot. And yes, the fact that it is across the street from a Van Leeuwen's is a nice bonus. But at the end of the day, there's something about its display, its knowledgeable employees, its hardwood floors and its quaint ambiance that makes this the best spot in all the land.  
    • Three Lives would be demoted on this list if it didn't have anything by Kurt Vonnegut. But despite an initial scare, it does in fact have a good Vonnegut collection, it's just not on display, you have to ask behind the counter. I almost respect them more for that. 
  2. McNally Jackson
    • The bougie-est  of all bougie bookstores of course resides in Soho. But damn is this place awesome. Amazing selection, really cool editions of books. Beautiful layout. Cool bookmarks. And a dope coffee shop attached which makes it a great place to grab a book or a notebook and do some inspiring, creative things. 
    • PSA: If you go there, don't be the asshole who invites a friend and then proceeds to have a super-loud, one-sided conversation in the basement (where the big, spacious desk is) about how you're about to "pop your Tinder cherry." It's a bookstore and as such, it commands etiquette about two degrees above that of a library. Furthermore, on an individual service announcement (ISA)- no one cares enough to hear you debate with yourself about whether "he's cute or not," and whether you should "cancel, or maybe just go and have a drink." Least of all your pitiful friend. At best you are blocking people from their productivity and at worst you are robbing them of the simple joy of reading a freshly purchased book. Please, do less. 
  3. Housing Works Cafe & Bookstore
    • Not far from McNally Jackson, this one gets some nice points just for its location. It's up Crosby in the middle of a cobblestone street and not exceptionally obvious to passerby.
    • The aesthetic and ambiance inside are absolutely killer. Lots of tables, a coffee station in the back, and a staircase that leads to more tables by the window looking out onto the street.
    • Housing Works is an awesome organization largely dedicated to helping people who live with HIV/AIDS. The books are 100% donated and the people working there are volunteers. Exemplary social entrepreneurship at hand, you can feel good about yourself just by being a consumer. 
      • They do have some awesome deals. I picked up a copy of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses for just $5.
  4. 192 Books
    • 192 has a limited selection, but boy does it have an alluring aesthetic. Nestled in Chelsea, it's easy to miss if you're rushing to the HighLine, but totally worth a pop-in. 
    • Although limited, its choice of selection is noteworthy; I picked up a copy of the collected fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson last time I visited.
  5. The Strand
    • The argument could be made that this should be at the top of the list, and it would be a worthy argument indeed: The Strand has an incredible selection, a nice layout, a cool organization within the store and a solid ambiance depending on the time of day you're visiting. Its prices compete with Amazon and its accessory and non-book items on sale are a lot of fun. All of that being said, it's not at the top of the list because it's a little too big, too touristy, and too well-known for the nature of this list. However, if I'm near union square and in quick need of a book, I will elect The Strand a bit Southward from the park over Barnes & Noble which is on the North end any day. 
  6. Greenlight Bookstore
    • Really a gem in a gem of a neighborhood (Fort Green), Greenlight is a down-the-middle, great indie bookstore. Nice selection, cool accessories and a generally helpful and friendly staff. 
      • I've purchased a copy of Moby Dick from them as well as James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime. 
    • Across the street is a dope cafe called The Annex, and all along Fulton there are cool restaurants and bars. 
    • It's worth noting, I feel like every time I've been to Greenlight it's been snowing outside. Perhaps that is skewing my perspective, but my goodness is that a beautiful neighborhood in which to appreciate a thick snowfall. There are few nicer things than visiting the store and then meandering the brownstones and outdoor-lit restaurants nearby. Feels like Christmas all-year-around. 
  7. Westsider Rare & Used Books
  8. Drama Book Shop

ABSENT from this list: any place in DUMBO. What's up with that? There used to be a cool spot around and now there is a bookstore there, but it's too kitschy for my taste. That's a neighborhood craving a bougie bookstore. Get on it!