Like some booksellers before her—and a few authors—Nicole Sullivan decided to mix booze and books. But in her case it was to make her bookstore, the BookBar, stand out and help give it a more solid financial footing when it opened in Denver at the end of May. “I just thought it was something I’d like to go to,” she says. Her vision was a place where people could sit with a book in one hand and a glass of wine or an hors d’oeuvre in the other. “If you’re going to be small,” says Sullivan, who attended culinary school and has a wine certification, “I think it’s hugely important to have a focus. That’s the beauty of a smaller store.” The BookBar caters to book clubs, and offers those that meet at her store a discount on both wine and books.
Sullivan devotes most of the store’s 1,500 sq. ft. to the bar. Books, primarily literary titles, the classics, and book club picks, as well as children’s, take up a little less than half of the space, or roughly 700 sq. ft. She purchased the building, where the BookBar is located, and less than a year after opening is already looking to expand by adding another 700 sq. ft. from an apartment in the building.
Even though the space she devotes to books is relatively small, Sullivan plans to use the additional square footage for the bar, which has maxed out on the number of book clubs that can meet there. Some nights she’ll have two book clubs and more clubs will show up; other times people will request private space. The expansion would enable her to accommodate more clubs and private dining. Every month Sullivan holds a BookBar book club with a special wine pairing and invites the whole community. Coming up in January is a book club on John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk, which she is pairing with a sherry that was given a 100 point rating by the Wine Advocate.
That doesn’t mean that nondrinkers or children aren’t welcome. The store is located in a neighborhood with a lot of young families, and children’s constitutes about a quarter of the BookBar’s inventory. “I try to make it clear,” says Sullivan, “that kids are welcome. It’s kind of like going into a restaurant with your parents.” She specifically created a storytime/wine time on Thursday afternoons to encourage parents to come in with their kids. During that period kids get to participate in a happy hour of their own, with stories and discounted juice.