City Lights Books
261 Columbus Avenue
Photo by Jeffery Cross, AFAR Media
City Lights BooksCamp out in the basement of this North Beach institution, the Beat’s former clubhouse, and try to think of a time when scandal came in the form of a book of poetry. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the obscenity trial that followed put this three-story independent bookstore and publishing house on the map. More than 60 years later, the shelves are better organized and smoking has been banned on the premises, but the spirit remains the same. Readings, lectures, and meetings are still held four or five nights a week in the poetry room, and the publishing arm of City Lights still puts out about a dozen titles a year. And don’t forget about the books. From lesser-known independent titles to collectors’ editions, City Lights has it all. Limited-edition signed copies of Van Morrison’s lyric book Lit Up Inside were a recent hot ticket, selling for $100 and some old-school deal making: The shop wouldn’t take orders online—Van fans had to place their order over the telephone or come into the shop. Talk about revolutionary.