In L.A., people don't usually go to bars alone. Sure, it can be intimidating, but partly it's because many Angelenos don't want to be seen at a bar alone.
But for those brave enough to do it, reading a book in a dimly-lit bar is the thing to do.
“When I first moved here I was always going to bars by myself,” says Bix, a woman who was reading Patti Smith's Just Kids recently at El Prado in Echo Park. “A book is just a great way to be alone and have something to do beyond checking your phone.”
Of course, it wasn't easy to get her to talk. Nobody wants their midday reading interrupted, and most “bar readers” would rather be alone. After Bix told us her favorite L.A. bar to read in, she promptly asked us to take if off the record.
Reading at bars offers an escape from the stainless steel teapot and chic MacBook crowds at bookstores and cafés like Stories Books in Echo Park.
Bars offer a spot to read where folks aren't on WiFi trying to get Tumblr-famous. In fact, come to think of it, nobody even reads at a bookstore anymore, they're usually just responding to emails. It's like being at the office.
If you're reading the writings of, say, Bob Dylan, you might get to the part in The Essential Interviews where he tells The New York Times that he's inconsistent, even to himself. To understand something like that, you'll need a beer (or a shot of tequila) — coffee just isn't going to cut it. Another tip: Try the seat at the corner of the bar. That's the one most bar readers seem to want.
So for the past year, I've been reading to the buzz of a cold IPA, kneeling over the wooden bar at Sunset Beer in Echo Park, Story Tavern in Burbank, or the Drawing Room in Los Feliz. The best time to read in a bar is midday, which makes Story Tavern ideal, since it opens at 11 am.
Also nice is when a spot has a laid-back vibe; the kind of thing Hemingway and Fitzgerald were into in Paris, circa 1925. It also feels good when a bartender is serving you a drink in a room that feels like a reading room in some fancy Victorian-style home, surrounded by dusty books, reading lamps, and leather chairs. The Wellesbourne on Pico comes to mind.
Come before the crowds, so you don't have to snatch a seat. There's always room at places like El Prado, where the bar is softly illuminated by small candles that make you feel like you're in a medieval library.
Bars can also go from “brooding library” to “lively hangout” in just a few hours.
Recently at Offbeat, a new '60s-style bar in Highland Park, a conversation about Oscar Wilde segued into talk of The Smiths and Songs That Saved Your Life.
There's a fine art to reading books in bars. Miami culture critic Juan Vidal wrote the guide. Just remember to get there early, and to avoid getting too drunk. It reduces retention.
Finally, be sure to find a bar where you can befriend the bartender and talk about what you're reading. It beats listening to the guy next to you at a coffee shop hold a conference call.