I am no coffee sommelier. I was never the type of person who drank coffee often and never really enjoyed the taste of coffee. In high school, I always thought, “Instead of drinking coffee, why not just sleep more?” But as with many other aspects of life, for better or worse, college has changed me into a growing caffeine addict. Now I think to myself, “Why go to bed when I can live off of espressos and energy drinks?”
This weekend, I visited Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse to expand my coffee tastes. It is located near the intersection of East 32nd Street and Greenmount Avenue. After a quick trip to Waverly Farmers Market to pick up some fresh grapes, my friends and I made a very convenient, minute-long trip to the side entrance of Red Emma’s.
Red Emma’s is a radical worker cooperative bookstore that sells books on subjects like anarchism or social issues. A worker cooperative gives everyone in the collective an equal say in the business, eliminating any bosses by having the business run by the workers. The workers at Red Emma’s make their decisions by consensus to ensure no one is in complete disagreement on any actions.
Red Emma’s states that they want to use their successful, democratic business as an example that ideals for social justice are possible in the real world. They offer book clubs, exercise practices and free educational classes for adults and kids on a variety of subjects. Anyone interested in hosting a class can propose it and get it approved. Red Emma’s is also open to accepting requests to reserve its spaces or tables for public or private events.
COURTESY OF ELTON WANG
Upon entering, we were immediately hit with the earthy, woody scent of books. We stumbled upon the bookstore portion of the store first. Along the entire wall was a sprawling selection of books that filled the cavities between the dark wood frame. Their book selection was vast and from talking to other people in the store, they told me that Red Emma’s had a good supply of hard-to-find books. The store has a mandatory face mask policy, but don’t worry if you forget to bring one, because the store will provide you with a free one.
We soon took the stairs upstairs to the second level and found ourselves facing another wall of books and a small enclave meant for children. The view from the window overlooked the farmer’s market, and we could see vendors starting to pack up their stands into their trucks. I really enjoyed the architecture of the bookstore and the dark wood theme; additionally, the red bricks gave the store a real hole-in-the-wall feel that makes you want to cozy up in a chair with a good book.
We checked around downstairs and eventually found the coffee shop in another section of the building. The vibes were still on point and the place was quiet enough to be a decent study place. Fortunately, the seating area was spacious and the wooden tables were all clear of any food crumbs. An additional bonus is that the food in the coffeehouse is 100% vegan, but I barely cared because the taste was so amazing!
We ordered their most popular items: the cold brew coffee and a muffin, along with a slice of cheesecake. The coffee had a nice, strong flavor without being crazy bitter, and the cheesecake was velvety smooth with a crumbly crust and cherries on the top. My friend told me that her muffin was moist and flavorful. There are also Middle Eastern-inspired dishes like falafel pita and kofta kebab, and they have platter meals like Fishless n’ Chips and Chik’n Tender with fries (the menu has absolutely brilliant vegan puns).
The entire experience was very pleasant. The staff was very friendly and patient with me while I took forever to choose what I wanted. The cafe and bookstore make for a great place to talk with friends or take a couple hours for studying. Honestly, this place was so comfortable and laid back that I would return just for the vibes.