When Silent Book Club started in a little French bistro in San Francisco, Laura and Guinevere would belly up to the bar with our books and order wine and moules frites (or steak frites, or salad... with frites). But as more and more friends joined us, we outgrew our bar stools at the bistro. We tried a couple of neighborhood bars—too dark, too small, too crowded. We looked at private dining rooms in restaurants—too expensive. We met outdoors in the park—too cold (SF fog is legendary).
Then we found The Palace. Soaring glass ceiling. Crystal chandeliers. Comfy couches. Wine and fries. It was our Goldilocks moment, we had found our spot. For several years as the San Francisco chapter grew, we met up each month on a quiet Monday evening after work in the lobby of the Palace Hotel. Some evenings, a handful of us would tuck into a corner nook. Other nights, we'd take over every seat in the house.
As new SBC chapters formed in other cities, we would recommend they seek out hotel lobby bars for meetups. In 2019, the local chapter in Seattle found their home at the Graduate. The lobby had a literary vibe, with pair of long, facing couches perfectly suited for reading with friends.
Then, pandemic. Hotels closed, SBC meetups went virtual, and two years spiraled into a murky swirl. Most of us survived, but no one was unscathed. Our brains were rewired. Our books were reshelved into the Before and After. Today, some of our favorite lobby bars look the same, some have been renovated. But we're different readers.
As an introvert, I never liked crowds, but I now fear them. What was once just socially awkward now feels physically threatening. I am wary of the unmasked, I avoid getting close to others in public spaces. I am always on guard.
These days, I have an even greater appreciation for hotel lobby bars. The anonymity offered to passing travelers with seating for one. The artfully arranged sofa vignettes spread out through the room. In a lobby bar, you can order a drink and read a book and sit six feet away from the next customer and you don't have to talk to anyone. It's glorious. You should try it sometime.
Inspired by our Seattle chapter, we've teamed up with Graduate Hotels to bring Silent Book Club to 20 more locations across the US and UK this spring. If you live in these towns and are looking to dip your toe back into the water with in-person events, check 'em out.
Cambridge, UK (coming soon)
Evanston, IL (coming soon)
New Haven, CT
Oxford, UK (coming soon)