Booze, Books and Brazenhead
From the outside, the brick apartment on East 84th Street looks like a typical living space, but within those brick walls and blocked windows lies a secret labyrinth bookstore. By day the mysterious bookstore sells an eclectic collection from rare Japanese literature to World War II memorabilia. By night, it's a literary hub for poetry nights, hookah bars, and loose liquor extravaganzas.
A select number of discreet patrons know the address to this literary salon and spread it strictly by word of mouth, or by appointment with the owner himself: Michael Seidenberg. Seidenberg, 65, created Brazenhead books nearly 20 years ago, initially starting as an established bookstore in Brooklyn then evolving into a pop-up, illegal salon in apartments around Manhattan.
"Every time I get evicted, I just pack up my collection then scout another apartment. Brazenhead never dies, the party must go on.”
Seidenberg built Brazenhead from the ground up, and contributes his success from being one hell of a host. If he's not standing in the doorframe with his pipe and whiskey in hand, he's welcoming in guests showing them where they can put their coats and have a drink. For such literary appeal, it's ironic that most of Brazenhead’s visitors are merely looking for a good night out and free booze.
“Even though it’s 95 percent filled with writers, there’s definitely a nonacademic vibe,” Saidenberg said in an interview with The New York Times. “And that starts from me — I set the mood.”
Every week consist of a plethora of events from Poetry night Tuesdays, to Shakespeare Saturdays, but despite what topic of literature is being discussed, people are always guaranteed a free drink in hand and a great night out.
"I've been coming to Brazenhead for four years now and let me tell you if these books could talk," said Randy Hardison a Brazenhead enthusiast and friend of Seidenberg. "Michael makes the place a party hub for everyone, not just literature junkies."
His current location is a cavern that hosts 500 square feet of books. It remains a hub of late night lounging and conversation on literature, politics and culture.
Brazenhead hasn't always been a booming successful literary salon. This hidden literary wonder started when Michael Seidenberg established Brazenhead as an official, legal bookstore in Brooklyn in the 1970s. This is where the novelist Jonathan Lethem became close with Seidenberg, when Lethem, then fourteen, worked at the Brooklyn shop, doing grunt work and retail in exchange for books.
As rent nearly quadrupled in the 1980s, Seidenberg moved his collection of books to an apartment on the Upper East Side. He started his apartment hop around the city moving truckloads of books with him, and during this monetarily scarce time, Seidenberg ended up selling books off of the streets in an attempt make ends meet.
Brazenhead was hanging by a thread until 2007 when Seidenberg’s friend George Bisacca, a conservator of paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, stepped in and revived Brazenhead with funds. Bisacca transformed the muddled storage space into the secret-bookstore-in-an-apartment that it is today. With the help of some family money, donations and a monthly rent of $750, the shop doesn’t need to rely on book sales to stay afloat.
Brazenhead books currently resides in it's newest home on East 84th Street where an overflow of books rises in stacks the crimson red carpet to the ceiling, even spilling into the bathroom. The next chapter for Brazenhead lies in finding a benefactor with space in Manhattan to help preserve what he says has become a cultural institution.
“It’s larger than a bookstore — it’s a rare community of writers,” he said. “Dylan Thomas is not drinking in the West Village anymore. Kerouac and the beats are not hanging out. So this is a place people can come. You don’t even have to be a book person; we are preserving something rare here at Brazenhead.”