When people think about mashups, typically they’re referring to music. The whole point of a mashup is to take two or more great things and creatively mix them together to make something even better. While the Seacoast hasn’t produced any notable pop hits utilizing the technique in recent memory (or ever?), there is a great cultural “mashup” located a block away from Market Square in Portsmouth.
Book and Bar combines a used bookstore with a café and bar. Greater than the sum of its parts, Book and Bar is all about community in a world full of infinite online shopping possibilities, big box bookstores and generic cafes that think a macchiato belongs in a tall plastic cup.
The books are all lightly used, usually cost $2.95-$7.95 and cover topics ranging from gender studies to works of contemporary fiction. The official inventory might not be the most efficient (hint: it doesn’t exist) but the owners’ love of books and the eager staff more than make up for it. The element of surprise works in Book and Bar’s favor. You might not find that copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls you always wanted but there’s a 99% chance you’ll find something else. You might not have even known you needed that travel guide to Morocco or that French pastry cookbook.
Barnes and Noble might have the café/bookstore combo down but Book and Bar goes the extra mile and offers beer and wine at its centrally located bar. That’s right; you can read Camus and sip pinot noir at the same time. Many of the beers offered on tap are locally sourced and always diverse. You can find anything from sour ale to hard cider or a good old Hefeweizen. Last summer, they even offered all-you-can-drink mimosas and Bloody Mary’s on the weekend for $15. There are also some great food offerings to pair with your drink: breakfast all day, hearty salads and delicious paninis.
Besides being pretty much the best idea since sliced bread, Book and Bar is housed in a handsome building that used to be Portsmouth’s custom house. The restoration work to the interior is fun yet tasteful. In addition to the general ambiance, the brick patio opened up a few weeks ago so you can enjoy your boozy literature outside. There are also musical acts multiple nights a week. I’ve seen a Spanish folk duo, a local psychedelic rock band, poetry readings and much more over the past year.
Book and Bar epitomizes what mashups can do in the real world. Books, beer, wine, food, music and community are woven together to produce something unique. The place is formal enough to sit down and get some work done but informal enough to feel like it’s Portsmouth’s public living room. You never know who you’ll run into, what’s on tap or what book you’ll find tucked away in the shelves.