Pore and pour

By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  August 31, 2007

Just more than a mile up Mass Ave, toward Porter Square, you’ll find PORTER SQUARE BOOKS (25 White Street, Cambridge, portersquarebooks.com). Don’t let its strip-mall location deter you: it’s a serious, independent book shop. Although there’s a mini coffee shop within the store (all Fair Trade coffee served), you’d do better to sneak across Mass Ave to TOAD (1912 Mass Ave, Cambridge, toadcambridge.com) in the early evening for a drink. Tiny (truly) and dark, it’s got that intimate, neighborhood-joint feel without an outsiders-don’t-belong-here oppression. And it’s worth letting the nightly live music (there’s never a cover) distract you from your reading pursuits.

Across town, Inman Square is home to LOREM IPSUM BOOKS (157 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, loremipsumbooks.com), which, we’d argue, is the coolest bookstore in Cambridge or Boston. The floors creak, the books are used and cheap, sometimes there’s pie, sometimes brownies, sometimes live music. Founded by an MIT Media Lab grad, the place is also working to make sure indie bookstores don’t go extinct, by promoting software designed specifically for small booksellers. The Lorem Web site describes the software as “an invention of necessity whose ultimate goal is nothing short of saving the independent bookstore by incorporating technological innovation into the small business model. (We’re not exaggerating!)” This is about as far away from Barnes & Noble as you can get. Pick up a couple paperbacks for a buck or two and head to the heart of Inman and the DRUID (1357 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, celticweb.com/druid), another small, dark bar. This one features a ghost-like form hanging from its ceiling (which replaced a giant, less benevolent-looking serpent). Also near Lorem Ipsum is the B-SIDE LOUNGE (92 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, bsidelounge.com), ever-popular for its spot-on cocktails, delicious food, and old-time-modern feel.

Newbury Street’s been called a lot of things, though we’re not sure “relaxed” is one of them. While your trust-fund classmates wine and dine at Sonsie and the Armani Café, duck into TRIDENT BOOKSELLERS (338 Newbury St, Boston, tridentbookscafe.com). And ah-ha, finally, you’ve found a bookstore with beer: the adjoining café and bar serves up local brews, coffee, and fresh juices. The Trident belies its address and avoids the poshness and pretensions of its neighbors. It’s got a great selection of underground magazines and journals, a comprehensive gay-and-lesbian section, and a linger-as-long-as-you-want atmosphere. If you want to buy a book and scram, walk a couple of blocks up Newbury Street, cross Mass Ave, and settle in at the OTHERSIDE CAFÉ (407 Newbury Street, Boston). It’s not quiet (as the menu attests), and the wild painted walls (and inked arms of waiters and drinkers alike) can distract, but tables are peopled by book-readers, note-takers, and lap-toppers, eating veggie-friendly fare and sipping craft suds.

In Kenmore Square, COMMONWEALTH BOOKS (526 Comm Ave, Boston, commonwealthbooks.com), below street level, makes you feel as if you’ve entered a bookshop in London, circa 1900. They sell antique maps and prints, and all kinds of used books, both fancy-pants and not. Head up the stairs on your way out and the first thing you’ll see is the BU Barnes & Noble tower. Turn left, and it’s EASTERN STANDARD, another spot where you’ll feel like you're going back in time. This time, though, it’s Paris, in the 1920s: a long grand bar, leather booths, and gracious staff. Most of all, it’s elegant and sophisticated, so pull out the Djuna Barnes or the André Breton you just picked up next door. For a slightly more collegial feel, take a right out on Commonwealth and descend into the LOWER DEPTHS, with its pages-long list of beers and super-cheap food, and see if you can name the European, mid-century, hard-living artists and bohemians painted on the walls. Here’s where that book learnin’ really comes in handy.

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