FOR THOSE OF US whose evening whims have been known to involve the two essential Bs—bistros and bookstores, both of the indie variety—Minneapolis and St. Paul offer a treasured pair of choices for after-dinner book browsing.
Never mind that the Twin Cities have nothing to equal the bookstore-cum-cafe heaven of Washington, D.C.’s bustling Kramerbooks & Afterwords . . . or that the closest we came—the singular Table of Contents cafe/wine bar housed alongside the great Hungry Mind/Ruminator Books on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue—left us high, dry, and thoroughly heartbroken over a decade ago.
But lucky us: We’ve got two terrific indie bookstores keeping late hours in the Twin Cities, one on each side of the river, both within strolling or zippy driving distance from some of our fave eateries.
In Minneapolis, the deeply satisfying, bargain-friendly Magers & Quinn—a maze of new, used, and collectible books in Uptown, housed in an eccentric 1922 building once home to a Chevrolet dealership—is open ’til 10 (11 on Friday and Saturday) and is just around the corner from Lucia’s restaurant/wine bar (and the Lucia’s To Go/Bakery I love for truly gourmet meals on the cheap).
Across the river, St. Paul’s Common Good Books—Garrison Keillor’s appealing and well-stocked haven of new books, housed in a historic building owned by Macalester College—is open ’til 9 (7 on Sunday). It moved in April 2012 from its original home in Ramsey Hill, where it was cozily tucked into the basement of an 1887 Victorian apartment house, directly under Nina’s Coffee Cafe in the splendid and historic Blair Flats (just across the street from the agreeable bar and patio at W.A. Frost) (It was also mere blocks from my fave Mango Thai Cafe.Common Good Books is lovely, however, in its much larger space on the other end of Summit Avenue—and there’s delicious irony to be found in its current location.
Common Good’s elegant store at Snelling and Grand is in the 1923 Lampert Building. Leased from Macalester College, which will continue to operate its campus textbook store on the second floor, the storefront (at 38 N. Snelling) is just half a block from where Hungry Mind/Ruminator operated for 34 years.
And one more perfect twist: the former Common Good space in Nina’s now is home to yet another great indie bookstore, Subtext.
- Magers & Quinn Booksellers | 3038 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis | 612-822-4611 | Hours: Sun-Thurs 10-10; Fri-Sat 10-11 | Store motto: “A Bounty of the World’s Best Books Assembled by Biblioholic Booksellers.” | Also check out M&Q’s engaging blog.
What’s to Love: Addictive and deeply pleasurable, the frumpy-funky M&Q is a browser’s delight, curiously enhanced (really!) by the very faint wafts of cigar smoke from the tobacconist next door. Beckoning tables of new releases open onto many marvelous rows of used, remaindered, and collectible books, all of them well-culled, high-quality, and remarkably well-organized. Gems are waiting to be discovered in every aisle. The staff is smart, quirky, knowledgeable, welcoming. Corners and nooks abound.
Our Chicago pals have repeatedly visited M&Q and always can’t wait to come back (and that’s saying something, because they live around the corner from Hyde Park’s wonderful Seminary Co-op Bookstore).
- Common Good Books | 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul | 651-225-8989 | Hours: Sun 10-7; Mon-Sat 9-9 | Store motto: “Live Local, Read Large.”
What’s to Love: This elegant and airy biblio-oasis is the antithesis of the mega-chains. Its front tables are heaped with thoughtfully chosen new fiction and poetry … as well as splendid nonfiction with nary an Ann Coulter or Dr. Phil in sight. The store is packed with books, with selections both wide and in some cases (poetry, for instance) surprisingly deep.
Modernist in design, with a clean simplicity to its rows of tall shelves at odd angles, the store is also warm and comfortable. Section titles are eccentric: “Quality Trash,” for one, and “God/Adventure/Travel” is another. The staff, friendly and well-read, treat customers like old friends. The store sends e-mail deals, and a “frequent buyer’s card” brings a free book every now and then.