Berlin came into my life last year when my friend Dani told me about some New York Times coverage of fun spots in Long Beach. I assumed the article was basically a Homeric poem extolling the virtues of 2nd Street; totally wrong. The article pointed newcomers (and know-it-alls like me) to 4th Street, a slowly gentrifying hipster enclave of second-hand stores and independent restaurants…and Berlin. I’ll trade damaged pride for a new bookstore any day, though, so all is well. Except that Berlin is a combination bookstore/music haven/coffeehouse, so all is actually great.
LBC Love: Berlin
The books & music part of the establishment is technically a separate store called “Fingerprints,” but the whole thing is one messy conglomeration of awesome togetherness. (Except for a hypothetical scenario in which, high on finding a copy of Cutting for Stone for two dollars, you run the wrong way through a metal detector into the coffee shop and they think you’re a book thief. Not that this ever happened, I’m just saying….be aware of physical boundaries.)
The books are all used, and 95% are in fantastic shape. There’s fiction, art, children’s books, biographies, local authors…I always walk in wanting to swallow it all whole, so I just start on the left side, tilt my head 90° to the right (have to read all the bindings!) and do a slow shuffle around the perimeter, piling books in my arms until I can rest my chin on the stack. (Why does M agree to be seen with me in these places?). I have to go in with a budget; that’s key. There’s too much greatness in here to buy everything all at once, even though the prices are usually good. I try to hold myself to $15 per trip, which means something like 2-4 books.
I’ve spent less time in the music section (because: books!) but it’s pretty comprehensive and staffed by people who are into it. I pulled out an obscure Dylan LP while shopping for my brother, and an employee was immediately at my elbow, intoning, “That’s a strange choice.” He was funny and weird, and basically the indie version of the grouchy waitress at your favorite Italian restaurant. I bought it anyway (along with a George Carlin comedy album) because dude, you don’t know my life. (But thank you for trying).
In case you get hungry while perusing, the cafe is great: fresh-pressed organic juices, tea and coffee for days. They also have the fresh-baked versions of your normal stale coffee-shop snacks; the brownies and zucchini bread in particular look incredible. I haven’t tried them, but at this point I feel pretty competent at judging baked goods based on appearance alone. (Every time I pass them, I have to be like, “Lemon squares, are you amazing enough to make me abandon everything I know and love about paleo for five minutes in your company? “) And if seeing me standing in front of the glass case conducting this internal monologue gets too weird, they have an outdoor patio.
Berlin Coffeehouse and Fingerprints Music & Books, 420 E. 4th Street in Long Beach. Stop by when you’re in town!