10 Bookstore Cafes Dedicated to Art and Social Change

There's nothing like a bookstore cafe.

Love books? Love coffee? Love music and love revolutionary social change? Then these bookstore-cafe-venue-movement incubator hybrid hotspots are for you.

Certainly there are thousands more radical multidisciplinary spaces that exist around the world, spaces on all different continents where extraordinary things are taking place. But each of these spaces has made the bookstore-cafe model unique, making possible the kind of revolutionary thinking our world so desperately needs.

COVID-19 has been difficult for each and every one of us, and times are not exactly easy for bookstores, so give them some love if you can—and enjoy learning about them and dreaming of the day when you'll be able to spend the morning drinking coffee and reading, the afternoon planning the revolution and the evening moshing to the latest queer folk band.

1. The Moon Singapore


The Moon Singapore

Over the Moon

Singapore's The Moon is dedicated to highlighting stories: "so many wonderfully talented authors, creators and makers who may have slipped under the radar of the mainstream." Focused on women and artists of color, this extraordinary bookstore cafe also offers an event space open to private bookings and free community events, some of which have included DJ lessons, cat adoption drives, theatre performances, meditations, Christmas movie marathons, clothes swaps, art therapy sessions, Lunar New Year gong baths, queer women's book clubs, zine-making and self-care sessions, sessions about writing and the climate crisis, yoga and tarot courses, and so, so much more.

The space also offers a communal lending library, a tarot reading station, and of course, infinite worlds within its selection of books.

The venue's staffers, referred to as Moon Maidens, "hail from diverse backgrounds" and "have included social workers, DJ's, psychology trainees, illustrators, film makers and even a budding aerospace engineer."

2. The Canvas Creative Venue

The Canvas Cafe Basement

The Canvas Cafe Basement

The Canvas Cafe was intended to be a blank canvas, a space where creatives and community members could come together and create. "At The Canvas Cafe, we galvanise Londoners to connect, and to create positive change," its website reads. This London joint was founded in 2014 by puppeteer Ruth Rogers, and has always focused on giving back. It began its efforts at doing social good by committing to supporting local farmers.

In 2015, the space began hosting weekly Tuesday night talks on mental health and well-being. They became a certified Happy Cafe, gifting a room next to their garden to the Museum of Happiness for a year-long residency and committing to Action for Happiness's 10 Keys to Happier Living, and soon began offering free health and happiness-based events such as pay-it-forward supper clubs.

In 2017 they launched a Community Hub effort, which provides space for people who want to create free events that benefit the community in exchange for a donation to a program that provides food to homeless people. The 100% vegan cafe also runs a Hot Meals for the Homeless campaign and hosts 50-60 creative events per month in their "secret basement space that supports artists and creatives."

3. The Housing Works Bookstore

Housing Works NYC

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

The Knot

Housing Works is a non-profit that fights HIV/AIDS, and their Soho bookstore and bar has become an iconic NYC establishment. Staffed largely by volunteers, almost 100% of the store's profits go towards fighting disease and improving the lives of New Yorkers through prevention, testing, community care and much more. The cafe/bar/establishment hosts nightly arts events (during non-COVID times) as well as weddings and many other events.

4. Cafe Con Libros

Cafe con Libros is an intersectional feminist community bookstore in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This tiny but beautiful space hosts reading groups for womxn (as well as specific groups for women of color), runs a podcast, and works to share its values with the world.

"We were born from and are guided by the lush cannon of Black Feminist thought producers and activists; the space endeavors to be intersectional, inclusive and welcoming of all who stand with and on behalf of the full human rights of womxn and girls," its website reads. "We seek to advance and uplift stories of womxn and girls around the globe who are redefining the word feminist and feminism with everyday, ordinary culturally informed acts of resistance and love."

Part of the space's charm is in its intimacy. "It's a space for folks to come connect and, with it being so small, community members need to be comfortable sitting with strangers. Conversations naturally begin, overlap, and intersect. On so many levels, it's an organic process facilitated by natural light, calm decor, and proximity," said its founder in an interview with LitHub.

5. Politics and Prose

Politics and Prose

Politics and Prose

The Southwester

Washington DC's Politics and Prose is an independent bookstore and "cultural hub" that promotes independent thought. The now-famous store is a pit stop for famous authors, and is popular for its author events and Q&As. The gigantic space frequently hosts a wide variety of events. It also features an Espresso Book Machine, which is capable of printing self-published or out-of-print books on-demand.

6. Red Emma's

Red Emma's

Red Emma's Bookstore Cafe


Red Emma's is a "worker cooperative behind the restaurant, bookstore, and community events space...dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace."

    It describes itself as a "radical" project; it's a bookstore with a commitment to revolution. Inspired by "the DIY anarchist spaces that have started to spring up like mushrooms across the globe in the past few decades," its website reads, Red Emma's builds "on long traditions of underground bookstores, hobohemian hangouts, and Utopian alternatives." As an "info shop" it's dedicated to interrupting "filter bubbles", exposing people to new ideas, and above all helps to bring people together to dream and scheme on how to turn information into a weapon in the fight for a better world."

    Red Emma's is organized as a worker's cooperative, meaning there is no boss—everyone who works for the collective has an equal share in its future. It relies on a consensus-based decision-making method and supports its individual factions (like its bookstore and cafe) as individual factions.

    Since its inception, the cafe has branched off into other spaces, including a community arts venue called 2640 as well as the Baltimore Free School, a place that offers 100% free courses to anyone.

    The store is named after Emma Goldman, an anarchist, feminist, and revolutionary who played an important role in developing anarchist philosophy in North America.

    7. Monkeywrench Books

    Monkeywrench Books is an "all-volunteer event space, literature distro, and social hub in Austin, TX." Describing itself as "a unique community resource within Austin for anyone who's ever questioned the status quo," it hosts countless events, reading groups, and speakers, and aims to be a progressive hub for Austin thinkers.

    8. ​More Than Words

    More than Words Boston

    More than Words

    More than Words

    More Than Words is not only a bookstore—it's also a nonprofit enterprise that directly empowers kids who are homeless, involved with the foster care system, or court-involved to gain experience and skills working and managing a bookstore and event space.

    Located in Boston, MA, More Than Words offers paid jobs to kids, who work 20 hours a week at the stores learning customer service and technology and who also work a second paid job attending workshops and site visits that help them plan out future schooling, work, and life courses. The kids work on sourcing and selling used books for the shop and learn marketing skills that help the business thrive while also helping them gain valuable skills.

    In addition, the organization's South End space is available for rent for screenings, events, and more, which the youth employed there help run and coordinate.

    9. Moon Palace Books

    Moon Palace Books

    Moon Palace

    Publishers Weekly

    "Moon Palace Books in south Minneapolis was one of few businesses spared Wednesday night as some protesting over George Floyd's death turned into rioting," reads one recent new article about Moon Palace Books, so you know this place is a good egg. The bookstore may have been spared in part because it was displaying a large sign that read, "Abolish the police," and its resident cafe, Geek Love Cafe, was making pizzas for protestors throughout the week; it also has begun refusing to allow police officers to use its parking lot.

    Moon Palace is a cafe-music venue-bookstore-consignment store. Its dedicated local following helps maintain its music venue, cafe, and of course, book haven.

    10. harbook




    The city of Hangzhou, China has seen a rise in bookstore-cafes over the past few years, and harbook is one of its most striking. Elegant postmodern design defines this bookstore, which is a combination of a "bookstore, café, and contemporary Scandinavian furniture showroom by way of Normann Copenhagen," a place that "blends aspiration with tradition."

    Hangzhou's wave of bookstore-cafes are part of gravitation to what Roy Oldenburg calls a "third place," a place that is neither home nor work but something else, something in-between or neither, something where people gather and congregate, something entirely new and full of possibilities.


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