When Library Bar opened a decade ago there was very little around it. Businessmen and women flooded into the Financial District every day for work and left straight after, with no consideration toward staying in the city to reflect on the day with colleagues. “It was a very different place to what it is today,” says Jonny Valenti, principal partner and founder of ACME hospitality group, who own a number of bars downtown including Library Bar. “It was dangerous too, on many levels.”
Today, the area is a hive of activity, but Library Bar remains as it always has — the long, upward-tilting blinds and shadows cast by surrounding buildings creating an oasis from the year-round summer light. “Time stops when you come in here,” says Valenti. “There’s no clock, so you can’t really gauge exactly what time of day it is. It’s a nice little getaway.”
The mirrored wall behind the bar is partially obscured by rows of spirits and a hand-written menu, but the dimmed, overhead lighting offers enough reflection between the words to see a softly lit and becoming face staring back at you through the dark. The nature of the bar itself and its dependable patrons is approachable, with an extensive cocktail menu featuring creative literary titles such as the Big Bad Wolf and Femme Fatale. The decor feels stately yet familiar — the aging bookshelf on the back wall, small fireplace, and bust of Shakespeare at its core.
Patrons occasionally ask if they can check out one of the books from the small library, and while the bar is cool with people reading, they don’t let people take the books home too. “People get a kick out of that though,” says Valenti. “They pick up random books and read them and share them with their friends… People have definitely left notes for each other [in the books] and played little games with each other too.”
Many things have changed around the bar over the years, but one thing that hasn’t is the crowd. “We’ve had regulars who have been coming here for eight years during our happy hour,” says Andrew All, General Manger. “Ultimately, it still carries on the tradition the bar started with… But there’s a lot more competition downtown now and a lot more new bars opening up, so you stay relevant. You have to make sure you’re keeping up with the times.”
While tasteful and elegant, there’s a mischievous streak that emerges from the shadows each night around nine – when the crowd has settled into their drams and the energy of the room is reaching an energetic peak. This holds until the last secrets are being playfully whispered between lovers in the corner, by a 3rd edition A Farewell to Arms and tattered, hard-cover copy of East of Eden. Only then are the doors reluctantly closed for another night, and the romance of the quiet city streets becomes accountable for carrying the lovers home.