I guess it would be quite obvious to those who have been reading my site since the beginning, that my particular passion, besides Manhattan itself, is books. I have been a frequent customer of the Strand since I was a little girl and my mom made this a destination on a New York City outing. Their stock has certainly increased from the few book shelves that they began with in 1927 on Fourth Avenue - to the 4, 000 square feet that they moved to here on 12th Street, in 1956 - to today's space of 55, 000 square feet. The "18 miles of books" consisting of old, new and rare books covers several floors. For years I just treated this shop like it a was museum, especially the Rare Book Room upstairs. I would step in and browse for hours, wanting everything, but not being able to justify purchasing it all. Then I opened my own book shop, inspired by the Strand. Despite their avenue address, the Strand has carts of books lining 12th Street rain or shine and a side street entrance. They also boast a Central Park kiosk open when weather permits and a pop-up location in the Club Monaco on 5th Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets.
Tucked into a cozy storefront on E9th Street, Pillow-Cat Books is — for any literary-minded animal lover — the cat’s meow. Guarded by the shop’s namesake cat, the bookstore opened by author Cleo Le-Tan is the city’s first animal-themed bookshop, offering new, used and vintage books across genre and language with one uniting theme — at least one animal or animal character within its pages. Cleo, a New York-based writer and the daughter of famed New Yorker illustrator Pierre Le-Tan, was inspired to open Pillow-Cat Books in September 2021 after working on A Book Lover’s Guide to New York, itself a charming tribute to the Big Apple’s best independent bookstores. “I interviewed people who have bookshops, and then I realized, ‘Oh, I want my own! ” she told the Manhattan Sideways team when we happened upon her eclectic collection one sunny Friday. She began to curate and source a stock of animal-themed works, finding special joy in hard-to-find tomes from years past. “I love vintage children’s books from the 1950s and 1960s, ” said Cleo, surrounded by books available to shop by category of animal as well as subject matter. Cleo told Manhattan Sideways that settling down in the East Village on 9th Street among the block’s many other speciality retail shops was one of her favorite parts about running Pillow-Cat. “I think it's a really nice block — I like how many independent, unique shops there are, ” she noted. “It’s a fun block because you get people coming from Tompkins Square Park who are friendly and local, but you also get visitors. ” We’d have to agree — as we browsed the shop, we already noticed several grateful visitors building their own stacks, making sure to give Pillow-Cat a pet on their way out.
In a city always on the cusp of change, certain havens embody the essence of the classic, idiosyncratic New York. Village Works Book Store on St Marks Place is one such retreat. Relocating earlier this year from its E 3rd Street location, the bookstore has become an organic part of its new setting — with a historic edifice from 1889 that was formerly the German American Shooting Society Clubhouse. Joseph Sheridan, the shop's proprietor, is a longstanding patron of New York City’s artistic and cultural scene, with a resume that includes everything from the Café Con Leche dance party to the Urban Works gallery. Village Works is the ultimate expression of his commitment to the city's culture, featuring an eclectic range of 5, 000 titles that largely focus on New York’s art, history and literature. The pandemic-induced exodus of tourists, students and wealthy residents revealed an opportunity to Sheridan. It was the ideal climate to unveil a bookstore aimed at documenting and celebrating this cultural resurgence. Starting with 2, 000 books from his personal collection, Village Works has since expanded to include self-published works and donated titles. Far from being just a bookstore, Village Works also serves as a gallery, and it regularly hosts events, book signings and fashion and retail collaborations, challenging the widely held belief that contemporary audiences are disinterested in New York's rich cultural history. Village Works is more than a retail space; it's a dynamic cultural hub. The scope of the bookstore has broadened from its initial emphasis on Village artists to include the wider New York City creative community. This commitment is evidenced by the store’s growing inventory, a series of art exhibitions complete with catalogs — and even foraying into publishing.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.