The Last Bookstore
Confession: I am a book junky. No apologies, no excuses.I give my father a lot of the credit. From a relatively young age, when I was old enough to read and understand the content, my nose was nearly always buried in a book of some sort. It’s not that we had a lot of books, but the few we had I devoured with a passion. We had the Enclyopedia Britannica which I loved leafing through and discovering all sorts of fascinating facts. I don’t know where they came from but we also had a few A.A. Milne books, but I yearned for longer stories like Mr Popper’s Penguins and Nancy Drew Mysteries.
My father and I were, literally, on the same page: he insisted that I read books and he got no argument from me! Every other week, we would drive to the library and then he would wait patiently while I sought out seven books (the maximum allowed) to take home for two weeks. And every fourteen days, like clockwork, we were back at the library for a refill. Today, with Amazon, I have to restrain myself. A little.
You could say we’re a book-centric family. My husband and I both share this sort of intense literary love affair and successfully transmitted it to both of our children. When they were very young, we would take them to the now-defunct Hunter’s Books in Beverly Hills, which opened in 1924 and closed in 1987 when the rents got too high. We would let them wander around for hours, finding books which peaked their interests. They were told that they could buy as many books as they wanted but had to read every single one. And they did.
Not long ago, I came across an article on the internet about The Last Bookstore, describing it as ‘a literary treasure trove in downtown LA.’ I couldn’t get to my car fast enough.
“The Last Bookstore is so unusual, it’s hard not to think of the place as one giant mashup of Captain Nemo, Indiana Jones and The Phantom of the Opera,” said our local public radio affiliate KCRW.
Located at the corner of 5th Street and Spring, the store just steps away from some of the grittier parts of Downtown Los Angeles.
But that doesn’t stop hoards of people and, tourists from looking, visiting, photographing, buying and hanging out at this bastion of books.
The Last Bookstore is a remarkable establishment, created and sustained by one man’s love of books. Josh Spencer is the owner.
Josh was a writer, surfer, and an energetic athlete until he was hit by a car on his moped. He then lost feelings from his waist down. It took him months of recovery. But in the end what did he want? A bookstore.
He started out by selling books online from his apartment downtown. Then he opened one bookstore, but when his shop outgrew its space, he acquired a larger location nearby, a 10,000 square foot former bank, which in 1915 opened its doors as Citizens National Bank. The original vault is still there and holds a collection of horror, crime and mystery books.
While I didn't don a deerstalker and cape, I thought I looked pretty cool in my Bristol Shirt by ComfyUSA from Artfulhome.com
The Last Bookstore is like no other. The first floor is jammed with shelf upon shelf of books.
The second floor is a labyrinth of used books, in nooks and crannies at great prices. Each genre has a label. You can get lost for hours discovering books you were not aware of.
There are shelves of rainbow coordinated books.
Books are used as flying buttresses to make a tunnel of books.
Gravity-defying literary archways.
Spelunking in a cave of books.
Everyone needs a basic white shirt. This is mine. I know it's not all white but it works like a basic. I chose this shirt to wear at The Last Bookstore because I loved the stripes against the solid color of the books. Once I thought about it I realized that the stripes reminded me of lines in a notebook. Just meant for writing a book. Perfect for the bookstore. The top is easy to wear, comfortable, stylish and has great movement in the cut of the fabric. I think this would also look great with a turtleneck underneath. All in all another winner for Artfulhome and their Bristol Shirt by ComfyUSA.
As much as I appreciate the tactile pleasures of holding and reading a printed book, I must confess that I have begun reading ebooks. Recovering from all my surgeries, I discovered that a Kindle was much lighter to hold while I was in bed. I also appreciate being able to adjust to larger fonts for my ageing eyes. So mea culpa, I do read ebooks but I also support the authors by buying tons of books online. In fact, we got an Amazon credit card to capitalize on our purchases. I also borrow ebooks online from our local libraries. It just seems that I’m always in full book mode with one or two books being read at all times.
As the day evaporated, that famous Omar Khayyam quote popped into mind, ‘A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread — and Thou… Well, we certainly had covered more than a few books and now it was time for that jug of wine (or at least a Diet Coke) and a couple of slabs of bread from that loaf, with something in-between.
My husband suggested a nearby spot, the Nickel Diner.
After feeding my soul it was time to feed my body.
Although it was well into the afternoon, I decided on a breakfast burrito which they served with a homemade biscuit and homemade strawberry preserves. The owner, Monica May, saw me slathering on the preserves and introduced herself. She was delighted that I had questions about the preserves, which tasted more floral than fruity.
She told me they needed to add quince to the preserves because strawberries aren’t as flavorful and sweet at this time of year.
What a great fix! And no hesitation on my part: I bought two pints to take home.
The menu has some standard items but prepared with ingredients of the highest quality and with flair and great culinary imagination. The chef, Kirsten Trattner, is a woman of great knowledge who really knows how to elevate the mundane to a truly exceptional and delicious level.
My husband ordered a turkey burger with french fries. They were possibly the best french fries I have ever tasted. They were thin, crispy and simply perfect. The dessert tray was next. Would you believe home-made pop tarts, home-made ding dongs, Mexican hot chocolate, smores cake and salted peanut cake made with peanut butter and potato chips. If that weren’t overwhelming enough, they also feature maple bacon doughnuts ( enjoy this video clip with Guy Fieri and a maple glazed doughnut) which could set anyone’s diet back a century. But, you know, it just might be worth it!
Body? Check. Soul? Check.
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Have you discovered a unique restaurant recently? It doesn't matter whether it's your corner hot dog stand or a Michelin four star restaurant. Did you saver some special dish that knocked your socks off? Love to know.
Oh, and while you're at it, what was your favorite book this year? Mine was "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman. Touching, humorous, a thorough delight.
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Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog,it's too dark to read.
• Groucho Marx