On January 14, City of Asylum held the grand opening for their bookstore at Alphabet City, 40 W. North Ave. Henry Reese, co-founder and president of City of Asylum, said the weekend went “swimmingly,” with an outpouring of community participation and support during the event, which hosted over 1,000 people.
Reese said the bookstore has been receiving praise from booklovers in the city, as the store is home to the largest number of translated books in the United States. It also boasts the entire collection of the Library of America and books from publishers such as New Directions, Archipelago, Dalkey Archive, the New York Review of Books, Copper Canyon, and Ugly Duckling.
The books are mostly new, but there is “a selection of ‘pre-owned’ with low mileage. They will also offer a selection of first editions, including many Nobel Prize winners dating back 100 years,” according to an email sent out by COA.
“We’ve been trying to do this for a long time; it’s the realization of a dream,” Reese said.
The bookshelves are on tracks, to be moved out of the way and open up the 9,000 square foot space that can be utilized for meetings or private functions of up to 225 people.
“It’s different from other [book] stores in the city, and is complementary to City Books [located in Allegheny West],” Reese said. “The restaurant offers something different as well.”
Casellula, the wine and cheese restaurant that shares the first floor space with the bookstore, followed suit on January 28 after a series of soft opens. Owner Brian Keyser centers Casellula’s menu on cheeses that can be paired with fine wines, similar to the restaurants first location in Manhattan. Keyser said during Friday and Saturday night, the restaurant was full and the “responses to the food was ecstatic.”
“I couldn’t have been happier,” Keyser said.
Reese said the partnership between Alphabet City and Keyser was sparked when Keyser was visiting friend Evan Mirapaul.
Keyser was on his way back from Nashville where he was looking at a second location for Casellula.
Mirapaul, the artist behind the Troy Hill art houses, introduced Keyser to COA co-founder and Reese’s wife Diane Samuels at an event, who in turn told Reese about Keyser. The next day, Keyser said he was getting ready to leave Pittsburgh when he got a phone call from a 412 number, and thinking it was Mirapual, he picked up and on the other line was Reese.
Instead of driving east back to New York, he went north and stopped to meet Reese and check out the Masonic Building, which was “a shell” of what it is today, Keyser said. With that meeting, the partnership was sealed.
City of Asylum now has its offices in the Masonic Building as well as a conference room below the first floor where community organizations and other groups are able to rent meeting space. Free Wi-Fi is available in the building, and Reese said new programs and events are being added every day. Above the first floor of the building are apartments for rent, two below market rate and six at market rate.
Casellula is currently open from 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5-12 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Come spring, Keyser said the restaurant will open for lunch and brunch.