The wine bar, from Rucola’s owner, opened last week.
Photo: Hugo Yu
When a prime, brownstone Brooklyn corner space became available on Bergen Street in Boerum Hill, Henry Rich — who owns the trattoria Rucola, a block north — did what many restaurateurs do while brainstorming a new project. “We thought about what was missing from this area, where I live,” he says. A wine bar felt like a good fit; Rich says he’s long had an idea for one with lots of books: “I spent formative years of high school working at a coffee shop–slash-bookstore after school, so I wanted to create an adult version.”
He wanted to make it feel like a home. On the moodboards, “Anaïs Nin kept popping up,” he says, so he decided to name the space after the “legendarily fun salon-thrower” and author of 20th-century feminist erotica — Delta of Venus, Little Birds — who spent much of her life in Paris. Rich next called Jessica DuPont, the owner of Half Moon Books in Kingston, New York, and asked her to curate a selection of used books published during Nin’s lifetime that would speak to her interests: artist biographies, classic literature, Freudian psychology, works by Nin’s contemporaries, “plus, a few of her really noted influences like Proust,” DuPont says. (Yes, Henry Miller, Nin’s longtime lover, makes an appearance.) The list that DuPont ultimately assembled mixes Nin’s works in with vintage copies of Tropic of Cancer and Ulysses alongside more esoteric titles such as Sexual Maneuvers & Stratagems, a “sexual gamesmanship” manual from 1969.
The books — all available to purchase, with most titles hovering around $10 — are arranged on a wall near the bar in a loose chronological order. The idea is to offer “a small journey through 20th-century literature and through Anaïs Nin’s life and influences,” DuPont says. “This is something that you can do in a small space because nobody is searching for a title.” Instead, “You just get to experience an interesting selection of books.”
Rich hesitates to call Anaïs a salon (“We’re a bar that’s open to the public”), though he does hope it can become a go-to destination for readings and book-launch after-parties. “I have really good memories of going to readings at KGB Bar,” he says. Beginning early August, the space will open at 8 a.m. for coffee, and a day menu of sandwiches, salads and frittatas. (Laptops will be welcome.) But to start, Anaïs is open at night. The food leans light and snacky (anchovies, pâté, olives, a jambon beurre), while the wine list favors France since “that’s where you still find the best stuff for the best value,” says Rich, whose Oberon Hospitality Group also runs June on Court Street and Rhodora in Fort Greene.
To answer the obvious question, of course Anaïs is the kind of place where anyone is welcome to sit at the bar with a book — even one from the shop’s shelves, whether or not they intend to purchase it. “I did want to create a space for the vibe that was a bit more elegant and also gave a hard nod to that kind of party Nin was known for,” Rich says. “I and a lot of other people find her example inspiring.” Really, Rich hopes Nin’s greatest contribution is in inspiring a space that’s welcoming to its neighbors. “We never want to open a business next to ten identical versions of it,” Rich says, “because that doesn’t add anything to the civic life of New York at all.”
The shelves at Anaïs. Take your pick.
Photo: Hugo Yu