The new home for the Battery Park Book Exchange is a labyrinthine place, straight out of a scene from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The floors are covered in oriental carpets, the walls drenched in rich, warm colors. Mazes of tall bookshelves, filled with volumes on every subject, frame tiny lamp-lit coves, perfect for hiding away with a glass of wine and a rare find.
Owner Thomas Wright recently moved his volumes, wine cellar and gorgeous collection of furniture and sophisticated curio and oddities from the Battery Park Apartments to this brightly lit corner of the Grove Arcade after a parking dispute ruffled some feathers.
And the move seems to have served the champagne bar well. Now that the business has set up shop in the space, it’s hard to imagine what else could occupy the admittedly odd arrangement so fully and warmly. “It’s an odd space,” says manager Emily Krainik. “It’s very conducive to a bookstore, but not conducive to a lot of other things.”
—Photo slideshow by Jonathan Welch
The wine bar fills one corner of the first floor, while a second bar sits close by, awaiting shipment of the espresso machine which will turn it into a morning perch. On the second floor, just up a flight of glossily painted black steps and around a row of European art books, is a hidden-away nook of a room, just large enough for a small meeting-space. It’s walled-in with shelves of art books, and holds a long rectangular table of two smooth planks that gives the area its playful name — the board room.
Just outside the room, an older woman holds a wineglass in one hand, while the other traces the spines of the hardbacks, searching for textile books. Just past a few more rooms of books and readers is a rather hidden flight of stairs. At the bottom, a couple has a book spread out between them on a marble-topped table, two glasses of champagne nearby.
It’s a cozy, sumptuous and comfortably eccentric perch for the bookish wino. But Krainik says that, really, the champagne and wine aspect is secondary — even though the bar serves about 80 wines by the glass and offers 40 additional wines by the bottle.
The focus is on the approximately 60,000 used volumes Wright owns. Among them is a substantial collection of books about art, architecture and design. There are children’s books, cookbooks, some foreign texts. There are volumes of U.S. and world history — the list goes on and on says Krainik. As for the old, rare and collectible pieces, they are locked away in glass shelves downstairs, likely a good choice for a bookstore that serves food and something as highly staining as wine.
As for the food selection, it consists mostly of nibbles at this time — cheeses, trout dip, etc. — although Krainik says that the selection should expand as business gets more fully underway. For now, the lure of settling into this cozy new space is strong enough with the wine list and the books alone. Khayyam would feel right at home.
I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
Half a loaf for a bite to eat,
Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
Will have more wealth than a Sultan’s realm.
—The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam