I’m sure it’s not a brand new idea, but I like the brand new V&A Reading Rooms at 8 Exhibition Road, South Kensington. Very much. I like Waterstones’ 5th View bar in their flagship Piccadilly store too but that’s more of a bar, set up in the confines of a bookshop. I like combined bookshops and coffee shops too, but you can’t usually get a glass of something strong yet uncaffeinated. And you never seem particularly encouraged to slosh your coffee around near many books.
The V&A Reading Rooms are different. A truly combined bookshop and bar, the establishment’s website clearly states:
“Customers are able to read and to shop with, if they so choose, a glass of chilled chablis in hand.”
A spot for resting your glass while browsing
I – and a few friends – did so choose. We spent a couple of hours in the shop, consumed quite a lot of wine, and ended up buying quite a few books too. The brillance of the idea is that this is designed as a browsing bookshop. The selection of 1000 or so titles are shelved randomly, with odd titles piled up on candle-lit window ledges just crying out to be flicked through in between sips of liquid refreshment. There are even spaces within the shelving arrangement, specifically designed for you to perch your drink while you pick up a book.
Given the association with the V&A, the selection of titles is suitably ‘arty’, but with a good dose of quirky-gift-book thrown in. I enjoyed reading aloud selected implausible book titles from Horace Bent’s Baboon Metaphysics, reminiscing about the Toy Instruments I had once owned and ended up buying a truly bizarre lexicon of the words used to describe bird calls: aaaaw to zzzzzd. That was after the second glass of wine…
Temptingly quirky books
It will be interesting to see how the profits from books vs wine turn out. I suspect the wine is the real money spinner here, though there’s not that much space for crowds of punters. Whatever, it’s a laudable approach to combining two entertaining pastimes: drinking and bookbrowsing. And yet another way to extend a brand. If they can make some money from it, maybe others will follow. I hope so…