Bar Beat: Battery Park Book Exchange

Drinking and books: It seems like a natural combination. How many times have you had a page-turner in hand but then thought, “Hmm, I need a drink.”

Photo by Jonathan Welch

Or, conversely, how many times have you been drinking a delicious cocktail, relaxing on a couch and thought, “You know, an excellent book would be perfect right now.”

Much as bars make excellent social spaces, there’s something to be said for a relaxing drink and literary work, and the usefulness of the combination isn't one many establishments have caught on to (one of the many features of the much-lamented Joli Rouge was its eclectic library).

Enter the recently opened Battery Park Book Exchange, located in the bottom floor of the Battery Park Hotel, which seems to be charging forth in an effort to be known both for its wine and books. As a bibliophile but only a recent inductee to the possibilities of wine, it seemed an interesting spot.

The décor is sumptuously old world, and the owners mix up the types of books admirably, with the shelves containing both recent best-sellers and old leather-bound volumes by Dickens, Longfellow and other noted worthies. The space, with the bookshelves sheltering crannies of tables and chairs, seems ideally suited to couples or small groups.

The wine's also a pleasant surprise, as good variety and quality all too often seem a sport in which only the wealthier among us can engage. But it's possible here to try an excellent range with remarkable quality without breaking the $5 a glass mark. It’s a good place to visit if you generally envision champagne as overly sweet wedding fare or wine as something only to compliment dinner. The deliciously dry Brut Rose and the richly earthy Rubens Tempranillo both fit into the glass-for-a-Lincoln-bill category, but hold their own against wines much pricier.

The shop seems to have already become a meeting ground for discussion and literary groups, which could be seen clustering at some of the tables around a considerable cheese plate ($15, and best suited to being split among a group) and a bottle. Speaking of bottles, they're trying to foster a practice of taking unopened ones home, offering a 30 percent discount.

The prices on the books — both rarities and new editions — is competitive. The conversation is lively but fairly contained, not at all intrusive to those inclined to browse the shelves, glass in hand, stumbling upon ancient titles like Struggles and Triumphs: Forty Years' Recollections of P.T. Barnum in the divinely titled “?” section.

“Well, we had to put the miscellany somewhere,” the bartender notes.

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