Sapho Bookshop, Café & Wine Bar:
Lyrical and poetic. Dark and sexy and sophisticated. Sort of like Paris, or ripe black cherries.
Want more? I thought so. But I’ll try to stay brief...
Sappho was one of the great lyrical poets of ancient Greece. Though she may not survive millennia like her namesake, Sappho Books, Café & Tapas Bar is also a gem of particular note. She’s shabby-chic, a reluctant flirt, her air of general insouciance one of her greatest charms, it’s sort of Parisian.
Peering down from ceiling high shelves, tidy rows of fiction make up most of the ground floor, efficiently carved up into popular, historical, young adult, kids, crime etc. There’s a small but comprehensive travel section, which combined with a well-selected range of foreign literature will square you away for most journeys. Looking to tick off a few of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, this last section is a good place to start- extensive, tattered and affordable. Wedged between the shelves you’ll find a basket of mildewed Orange Penguins, a reading desk, a cabinet of recommendations and a table touting new releases, postcards and homemade pins.
Up the rickety staircase are two further floors. Up top, the infamous Philosophy Room- a wall of French and German philosophy set in a bright little music room (complete with piano). Next-door houses pop bios, composition books, scores and sheet music by the binder. It made me wish I hadn’t been so dreadfully useless at all things musical. I tried the recorder and the flute and the piano; for a brief period I sang alto in a gospel group. Unfortunately, I’m tone deaf. Maybe that’s why I like country music so much. But I digress.
In the room sandwiched between the floors two large windows invite the sunshine to pierce the gloom that romanticizes the rest of the shop. Within are Antiques, gender studies, gardening, politics, shipping and everything in between. Including their delightful sale box and some brilliant Biographies, cleverly organized by subject rather than author. Then there’s the poetry selection. In honour of the shop’s namesake grab some classic poésie and make your way back down to the Café – Ted Hughes or Emily Dickinson, or the less celebrated Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
Carved out of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy room back on the ground floor, you’ll find a cosy space with a couple of tables. But most of the seating is actually outdoors, covered by plastic sheeting. The courtyard walls are splashed with graffiti creating a delightful urban oasis; Potted plants and trees, tall grass and multicoloured fairy lights, broken mirrors and clay Buddhas, and old pastel lampshades on living-room lamps. It’s crumbly and lively and unpretentious.
Over the dulcet tones of Tracy Chapman and classic jazz, there’s an ever-present hum of chatter. Students sip at coffees and munch away hangovers, older customers in tie-die tap away at laptops and buttoned up academics tackle assignments. Midweek, and enjoying the heat, a surprising number of twenty-somethings were lounging about barefoot. This struck me as odd, but the staff seemed utterly unphased.
A visit to Sappho’s promises great books, tasty food, cheap tea and cheerful staff. Usually posted at the front desk, owner Meredith (and her big black dog) always offer a warm welcome and some interesting suggestions. In the evenings you’ve got wine and a good chance of some quirky live music, or a poetry reading.
If only the Scottish weather had been conducive to such a space, I might’ve spent my uni years in an establishment such as this. Perhaps with a few heaters and an elaborate drainage system I could export it home? Food for thought. Speaking of which, my Greek salad’s arrived. Scrummy.