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Blogging From: Busboys & Poets

What: Coffee Shop/ Restaurant/ Mini-bookstore

Where: Arlington, VA

Ring the bell, sound the alarm! We have a winner! OK, I guess this was never really meant to be a contest, but Busboys and Poets  definitely wins the prize for being the best establishment I have found so far that meets all of the things that I look for when I’m on the hunt for the perfect places conducive to reading and writing in public. Busboys and Poets is an independently owned restaurant and cafe that now has four different locations all around the DC Metro area. It was founded in 2005  by Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist, and restaurateur, with the intentions of creating a “community gathering place.” He named the establishment for Langston Hughes, who once worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel prior to gaining recognition as a poet.

Before entering Busboys and Poets, I was expecting it to be a little more bookstore and a little less cafe. However, it happens to be much more of a cafe and restaurant than it is a bookstore. This was not a disappointing turn of events, though. The atmosphere inside was busy and buzzing. If the tables full of people that I noticed in the outside dining area prior to entering weren’t enough of an indication that this was an Arlington hotspot, then the amount of people I found inside certainly was. Customers have the choice of either being seated to a booth, pulling a stool up to the bar, or plopping down at one of the communal tables where you’re welcome to dine, work, write, and read to your heart’s desire.

A picture of my blog, on my blog. So meta.

I set up camp at one of the large communal tables, which was empty when I arrived but eventually became home to other laptop toting, cafe-lovers who came to B&P to get some work done. I’m the kind of person who takes an agonizingly long amount of time to decide on what I’m going to order whenever I’m out to eat, but when a restaurant has a menu as diverse and appetizing as Busboys & Poets’, it will take me three times as long. When I finally decided on what to order, I chose the Harira, which is a flavorful Moroccan bean soup, and it did not disappoint. The cool thing about B&P’s menu is that it has a lot of options to offer and it also specifically points out which dishes are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. Their menu also boasts the following:

  • 100% Fair Trade & organic coffees and teas.
  • Organic wine and beer. And Biodynamic wine.
  • Boycotting of Canada’s seal hunt by “no longer purchasing any seafood from Canada.”
  • Primarily sustainable seafood.
  • Grass-fed, free range beef from local Virginia farms.
  • Local, organic field greens from the Engaged Community Offshoots Farm Network.
  • Conservation of water by only serving it upon request.

Show the planet some love.

Aside from providing good food and a great place to work, Busboys & Poets also supports local artists, musicians, and activists by hosting tons of different events like open mic poetry nights, independent film screenings, author readings and book signings, and talent showcases. You’ll also find several paintings by local artists available for purchase decorating many of the B&P walls.

Some art & trinkets in the bookshop section.

The books section of B&P is not what a true bookstore lover would call a “bookstore.” It’s more of a gift-shop-like area where you’ll find some pretty cool gizmos and gadgets that are actually worth buying. Of course, for all intents and purposes you can rightfully call it a bookstore since there were four or five shelves filled with a good deal of really great reads.

I spy Howard Zinn.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? 100% yes. This place was made for people like me who tote their laptops and books around with them everywhere they go. This is the type of place that public Internet users live for. Good food, good service, and good books. There’s not much more you can ask for.

Bonus points: Busboys and Poets is a proud member of DC Local First and are a Certified B Corporation. Also, their Hyattsville, MD location will be holding a very special event on Wednesday, September 21 (which is International Peace Day) where they will be dedicating a room to Howard Zinn. Check it out if you’re in the area!

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Blogging From: Capitol Hill Books

What: Epically awesome, Independent Bookstore

Where: Washington D.C.

You couldn't walk past here and not go inside.

I discovered Capitol Hill Books when I read some fine, bookish words of wisdom from the store’s owner, Jim Toole, on Peoplesdistrict.com last week. After reading Jim’s sentiments about, books, independent bookstores, and acting “mentally lame,” (Hint: do not act mentally lame at Capitol Hill Books! Or ever for that matter.) I knew I had to visit his store.

When I walked through the front door, I was pleasantly surprised to see the very same man I had read about in the article sitting in front of the cash register, ringing up books for his customers. “Welcome,” he said with a smile. I smiled back and began to browse.

The amount of books in this store is overwhelming. But when I say overwhelming, I mean overwhelming in the good way that any hardcore lover of bookstore browsing wholeheartedly appreciates. To put it simply, Capitol Hill Books is three floors of an endless array of books. Once inside, you’ll never want to stop browsing.

This times 1,000,000 = Capitol Hill Books.

The first floor houses endless shelves of non-fiction, plays, philosophy, and books about presidents and politics. (Just to name a few subjects.) Besides finding tons of used books by some of my favorite philosophers on the first floor, I was also smitten to find hanging on the wall, an article about Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States and a humorous note referring to Mr. J.D. Salinger. (Two deceased authors whom I would most certainly invite to my dinner table if you were to ask me which people, dead or alive, I would most want to have dinner with. Just in case you were wondering.)

Nice to see you again, Mr. Zinn.

If only!

Except for the the floors and the ceilings, there isn’t really one inch of Capitol Hill Books that isn’t occupied by books. Even the wall lining the stairway to the second floor is stacked to the brim with one book after another.

You cannot escape the books.

The second floor is mostly dedicated to fiction, and subsequently where I spent most of my time browsing. I found every author from Jane Austen to Tom Wolfe  and the Bronte sisters to Vonnegut. Here, I decided on buying a used copy of The Great Gatsby, which I unfortunately have not read since high school and have been very much wanting to re-read. I also found and purchased Tom Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. I’ve been wanting to read that one ever since I heard Demi Moore’s character reference it in Now and Then. (So, since 5th grade. Finally got to that one about 11 years later!)

The third level of the store is in the basement. The level beneath the ground is home to everything from humor to reference and books on specific topics such as hunting or Russia. Down here, there is at least one pile of books, if not more, dedicated to almost any topic you can think of. The one thing about the basement that you have to watch out for though, is the height of the ceilings. Anyone taller than me (and I’m not tall) will have a bit of difficulty navigating the lower level.

Straight and to the point.

Low ceiling perspective.

Although the amount of shelves and rooms in this store seemed endless and the organization of the books isn’t always completely clear, it’s neither frustrating or annoying because there are tons of little notes that direct you happily towards whatever it is you might be looking for. Plus, browsing and searching and then finally discovering is the best part of bookstore browsing, and I can safely say that Capitol Hill Books is essentially one of the best places I have found for doing so. It’s the perfect set up for an exciting book exploration adventure. When you start, you’re not sure just what you’ll find but you know for sure that it’s going to be good. At one point I overheard a girl say to her friend, “This is like your heaven.” No, girl, this IS heaven; enough books to last a lifetime and plenty of friendly fellow book lovers to share them with.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? This is a not a place for you to whip out your laptop and start blogging or writing. In fact, Jim Toole even says no cell phones. (“This is a book store and not a phone booth,” he says.) It’s a good, old fashioned bookstore and it will stay that way. However, the second floor is the perfect reading hideout. There are several chairs and any book lover could easily pull a book from one of the many shelves and feel perfectly comfortable diving into the pages for hours at a time without being bothered by anyone.

Bonus Points: Quirky categorical notes & signs, culturally relevant and unique decorations, reasonable prices, and the overall feeling of entering some sort of magical wonderland of books.

Overheard near this sign: "But Mommy, we don't wanna get the books! We wanna get lollipops!"

Capitol Hill Books’ Website