When I visit New York, there are always important things to see: the MET, Central Park, favorite cafes, MOMA, my cheap LES Japanese spot, Sing Sing Karaoke, Prospect Park, Momofuku… But those that I never fail to visit are the independent bookstores. That includes the always-dreamy Strand Books. Eighteen miles of new and used books. It is heaven.
So when I moved back to DC, I initially felt deprived. Where would I get my brain food? The Library of Congress may suffice for some, but I like to own my books. I’m selfish with them, as if they were friends or lovers. I love them hard and I don’t loan them out.
I was, therefore, happy to (re)discover DC’s many, great, independent bookstores. We may not have a Strand, but we have Kramer, Bridge Street, Riverby, Latern and many more.
Here’s my top 5 favorites, for all you bookworms, followed by a more comprehensive list.
A bookstore to which I owe my existence. My parents met there in 1981, five years after it opened—which was 1976. While bookstores now often come hitched to cafes, Kramerbooks was the first bookstore/café in the country to serve every meal of the day. Stacked and lined with new prints and old classics, children’s books and cook books, Kramerbooks is a must visit for lovers of the written word—or bookworms looking for a good place to meet a first date.
Take it from the New York Times: “Kramerbooks is a cultural landmark of sorts…Many people do not consider themselves true Washingtonians until they have received a phone call that begins as an invitation for drinks after work and ends with ‘I’ll meet you at Kramer’s.’ Kramerbooks & Afterwords is definitely an institution. There is no place like it here. It is known throughout the town, almost entirely through word of mouth. Of course, anything worth knowing in Washington almost always is.”
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe is located at 1517 Conn. Ave. NW.
Located on Connecticut Avenue, Politics and Prose first opened in 1984 by two women—Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade—and one part-time employee. Their goal: “The bookstore will offer superior service and unusual book choices; it will serve as a gathering place for people interested in reading and discussing books.” Thirty years later, the bookstore is still flourishing. It’s so good, in fact, the president goes there (see photo). Politics and Prose includes 8,000 square feet of retail and 14,000 feet of total business space, including offices and café.
Politics and Prose is located at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW.
The bookstore is dedicated to “building social justice starting in the classroom” and is “the Washington, D.C. area’s best source for books that encourage children and adults to question, challenge, and re-think the world beyond the headlines.” You’ll find this small but well-stocked bookstore inside the 14th Street Busboys and Poets. Teaching for Change is a great place to find progressive books on social justice and activism, multi-cultural books for children and young adults and books of poetry.
Teaching for Change Bookstore at Busboys and Poets (14th &V) is located at 2021 14th Street NW.
Two floors of aching floorboards and well-used, rare and out of print books. Idle Time Books is located in the heart of Adams Morgan, just a few doors up from Tryst and Madam’s Organ. You can’t miss it, for it’s bright green storefront and it’s collection of postcard racks in the window. And know this: their online catalogue of books includes almost 90 categories. If you don’t find exactly what you need, you’ll likely find something you like, and the good prices will keep coming back.
Idle Time Books is located at 2467 18th Street NW.
Every corner, wall and counter of this little bookstore is packed tight with books. There isn’t much fanfare — just a ton of books. In their words “We have fiction books in the fiction room… mystery books in the Mystery Room, foreign language books in the bathroom, cookbooks in the kitchen on the kitchen sink, business books with the lawyers in the Business Closet, cultural biographies in the Cultural Closet, and a Weird Section for those who like witches, dreams, and things that go bump in the night…”
Capitol Hill Books is located at 657 C St SE.
Books for America, located at 1417 22nd St NW.
Bridge Street Books, located at 2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW.
Riverby Books, located at 417 East Capitol Street SE.
Second Story Books, located at 2000 P St NW.
Carpe Librum, located at 1030 17th St NW.
The Lantern, located at 3241 Sacred Heart Way.