3 Must-Visit Spots for Book Lovers in New York City
One of the best things about visiting a city like New York is making the massive metropolis feel all your own by planning an itinerary around one specific theme.
Nearly by accident, my husband and I, while in town the last weekend in January for the New York Times Travel Show, created a bookish few days. While not planned, we ended up visiting three spots that brought joy to my book-loving heart.
1. Reading Room at The Whitby
Stepping into The Whitby hotel feels like walking into an "Alice in Wonderland" dream world.
A single jar full of of freshly sharpened, gray-and-white striped pencils sits atop the handsome, dark wood check-in desk. Bright strings stretch above the desk from wall to wall of the narrow lobby, part of one of many unusual art pieces here that command a second look. Gazing into the digital face of a grandfather clock that appears to have a man behind it, I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had handed me a nondescript bottle with a "Drink Me" note attached.
If I was already captivated by the lobby of The Whitby, owned by London-based Firmdale Hotels, what other novelties were waiting to be discovered here, I wondered?
One flight of stairs below ground level was perhaps the greatest gem of all: the Reading Room. Lined with built-in bookshelves stretching four and five levels tall and lit with whimsical dangling lights along with tiny shaded sconces at mid-level, this was one of the coziest rooms I'd ever set foot in. The cozy striped couches begged me to choose a tome (or two, or three) from the shelves and settle in.
Though we'd planned to have cocktails at the bar before our impending 8:15 p.m. dinner reservations, I'd have been perfectly content losing all track of time in this space.
2. The Writing Room
Those reservations happened to be at The Writing Room, a perfect date-night spot on the Upper East Side. We were practically blown in the door by a gust of freezing wind and I silently pleaded with the hostess to seat us in a spot that would help us forget it was the dead of winter outside.
It turned out to be our lucky night. She escorted us to a toasty little corner in the back of the main dining room, where we sat next to each other on the booth side and took in the history of this place via the art on the walls. We noticed a common theme: Many of the framed black-and-white photographs featured the name (and who we guessed to be the face behind the name) Elaine.
Our sweet waitress informed us The Writing Room inhabited the former space of Elaine's. It was the go-to bar and restaurant for many New York writers, actors and other celebrities from the mid-60s to 2011, when it shut down after its owner, Elaine Kaufman, passed away.
Pondering the fact that the likes of Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe—and even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—may have at one point sat in the very space I was breathing air right now filled me with a newfound energy, despite having been up since 3:45 a.m. for our flight.
Though the atmosphere and the book-filled back room I discovered on a walk-about were enough to bring me back to The Writing Room again and again, I'm certain I could have made a meal out of the citrusy whipped ricotta with housemade grilled bread.
3. New York Public Library
After a long morning of introducing myself to and mingling with strangers inside Javits Center at the New York Times Travel Show, I was more than ready for some quiet strolling and silent observation of the city streets.
With no particular destination in mind—and energized by the 50-degree, partially sunny weather in January—we made our way toward 5th Avenue. When I spotted the iconic stone lions flanking the flagship New York Public Library, I had to see it up close.
Those lions, named Patience and Fortitude, represent two qualities you must possess to get through the security checks upon walking through the front doors.
Stepping into the Rose Main Reading Room feels a bit like you're in a movie. Standing among the tourists gathered behind the ropes, I feel oddly juxtaposed against the hundreds of people sitting at the long desks on their laptops, doing (or at least pretending to do) real work.
I ask yet another security guard outside the door, "How do I go about getting access to study in here?" It turns out, you simply have to ask—and provide your full name, email address and purpose of being there.
Next time I'll lose the camera around my neck and cross over to the other side.