A hand-painted ceiling of celestial scenes caps the shelves of books on the second floor of Albertine, a bookstore in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
It’s a dreamy sight, where planets and zodiac symbols entice visitors into a world where science and poetry blend seamlessly. Impressive as it is, the work of art is eclipsed by the store’s true star: its vast collection of French books.
Albertine is physical proof of the French government’s dedication to fostering intellectual exchange between French and American people. It’s a haven for both francophones and bibliophiles alike. The bookstore, which is sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, was started in 2014 in the historic Payne Whitney Mansion. It contains over 14,000 books from 30 French-speaking countries and is the only store in New York dedicated entirely to books printed in French and English.
It’s a beautiful space, a quiet respite from the bustling city. In addition to its stellar ceiling, the bookstore is adorned with busts of famous figures from French and French-American culture, such as Descartes and Benjamin Franklin, and a floor-to-ceiling mirrored Venetian room. A replica of Michelangelo’s Young Archer sculpture stands in the building’s entrance. Its predecessor, which is believed to be an original Michelangelo work, was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art after decades of being ignored.
Visitors can pop into the store and peruse its expansive stock of literary titles. Albertine also hosts debates, discussions, and readings that are open to the public.
Know Before You Go
Reach Albertine by taking the 4, 5 or 6 subway uptown and getting off at either 86th Street or 77th Street (if taking the 6). From there, it's a short walk over to 5th Avenue.