Antwerp-based and Antwerp-headed bookworms rejoice: upon closer inspection, this Belgian port city is found to be filled with charming homes for the literary-inclined mind. Old World antiquarians, snug libraries that double as coffee bars and Flanders’ only gay bookshop are just a couple of 10 diverse independents making Antwerp a better place.
For a lot of us, books and hot beverages go together like butter and toast, and Kim Hertogs agrees. The Belgian actress opened up the snug Buchbar in hip neighbourhood Het Zuid to combine quality titles with quality beans. The German name of her snug bookshop/coffee bar – with tranquil reading nook – refers to the inspiration Hertogs found in Berlin’s sea of concept stores.
A house of books that inspires reverence, René’s Franken’s shop inside a 14th-century building on the literary-themed Hendrik Conscienceplein square is an Antwerp treasure. His antiquarian and second-hand store Demian Books has existed for two decades, but only came to share a wall with the magnificent St. Charles Borromeo Church seven years ago. It’s an idyllic location that matches the ancient character of the shop splendidly. René specialises in both modern and classic novels, art and philosophy in Dutch, English, French and German, and has long been running a small publishing house on the side as well. Quaint wooden staircase and impeccable taste included, Demian Books is the answer to a bibliophile’s prayers.
Similar to many Antwerp locals, Copyright has an eye for aesthetics. The bookstore on shopping lane Nationalestraat focuses on art and design from an international point of view. Oeuvre retrospectives of visual artists, renowned architecture magazines and other great coffee table fare make up the bulk of Copyright’s stock; it’s a bounty too good to ignore, especially given the shop’s large, enticing window display. A must for the lover of beautiful things.
A reading at Kartonnen Dozen | courtesy of Kartonnen Dozen
Under the slogan ‘wij halen alles uit de kast’ – basically the idiom ‘we pull out all the stops’ but with a nifty, yet untranslatable, Dutch reference to ‘the closet’ – Kartonnen Dozen (formerly known as Het Verschil or ‘The Difference’) proudly serves as Flanders’ only gay bookshop. After a brief closing period the LGBTQ-oriented store reopened in March 2017 as part of what’s now a wonderfully queer corner on the Draakplaats square in Zurenborg.
The new location is mere steps from Het Roze Huis (The Pink House), Antwerp’s LGBT community centre, and its popular downstairs bar Den Draak. Besides Dutch and English novels, you’ll also bump into all sorts of rainbow paraphernalia, bookclubs and author readings at this welcoming bookstore. Open from Fridays to Sundays in the afternoon, and 24/7 online.
’t Stad Leest is intent on supplying city folk with reading fodder galore, and it certainly has the floorspace to make it happen. Underneath strings of fairy lights, cookbooks, travel books, DIY notebooks and top 10 fiction novels all get their time in the sun. The same goes for children’s literature and picture books, which are given their own corner that includes whimsical mushroom poufs. Speaking of whimsey, there’s incredible amounts of it to be found in Wunderkammer, the gift shop across the street (soon moving to a bigger place around the corner) run by ’t Stad Leest owners Sofie and Wouter.
Located in one of the cobbled backstreets in the historic town core, De Groene Waterman is engaged as can be. Besides bestsellers, the Antwerp fixture presents a whole array of philosophical and historical works, often from an international perspective. The Groene Waterman team can always be counted on to keep a keen eye on current affairs and carefully curates their selection as a result. The downstairs cellar forms a snug venue for many readings and other literary-themed get-togethers.
A reading at De Groene Waterman | Courtesy of De Groene Waterman
Boekenmarkt De Markies
Another literary centipede and an Antwerp oldie, Boekenmarkt De Markies (‘Book Market The Marquis’) has been around for ages. This slightly plain fellow, a stone’s throw from the St. Anna Tunnel, sells everything from literary fiction and biographies to cookbooks and gardening guides, often at discounted prices. Open on Sundays and known for stock sales that slash prices in half, if not more.
There’s something about an actual, physical travel store that has the potential to wake up slumbering wanderlust like nothing else. Alta Via on dockside neighbourhood Het Eilandje is one of those. Overflowing with globes, gorgeous maps and travel books covering unexpected nooks and crannies of the earth, Dirk Van den Berghe’s shop is a journey of the world unto its own. A seat at the wooden reading table, a cup of joe made on the spot and a talk with Dirk about his obscure favourites are a recipe for an afternoon filled with wanderlust bliss.
The other Antwerp antiquarian that comes heartily recommended is Erik Tonen’s shop in the Kloosterstraat. Sitting snug and unassuming between the avenue’s many second-hand shops and furniture stores, Erik Tonen Books fills the nostrils with that unbeatable fragrance of old pages known all too well by the dedicated bookworm. Rare art books and gems that have seen numerous previous lives are Tonen’s specialties.
The undeniable comic book temple of Antwerp, if not Belgium. When Mekanik Strip got put up for sale a few years ago, graphic novel enthusiasts from all over the country breathed a sigh of relief when the young local couple who took over the 30-year-old speciality store vowed to preserve its colourful character. The walls are still packed ceiling-high with European and American comic series, the figurine collectibles are still in large supply and the passion for this specific type of literature still radiates from every jam-packed nook and cranny in the place. The first floor even boasts a gallery dedicated to lesser-known artists that owners Jens and Kim feel are worth discovering.