David Adamson stops for a spot of tea in the not-for-profit bookshop and café
The rarefied air at the top of King St is usually reserved for more conspicuous consumption, with the likes of Rosso, Lucky Cat and All Bar One oozing pretence and profit.
But sat comfortably amongst them, like the hippy at a high-end cocktail party, is House of Books and Friends.
Not Mansion of Tomes and Acquittances or Abode of Opuses and Confidantes - just a simple name for setting out its stall; books, hot drinks and a welcoming atmosphere.
House of Books and Friends has no doubt improved the area, lending a sense of something meaningful to a street flush with cash
For those of us that have seen Black Books there’s often the assumption that bookshops can be forbidding, judgemental places ready to sling you out for daring to be curious.
Well fear not, you’re more than welcome, despite the grand nature of the building. This was built as the Reform Club for the Liberal Party and opened in 1871.
I walked into the inviting and high-windowed main room and felt that familiar sensation you want from any good bookshop - of time seeming to slow, the world outside now some other reality, and the woody, heady smell of printed pages.
The space inside is flooded with light thanks to those windows, but the sense of openness doesn’t lend the room that chill that can be hard to shake off. Instead the furniture warmly invites you to park your bum with a book to hand and while away the hours.
However if you’re looking for a cosy corner then they have those as well. The next room is small but in that comfy, cocooning way. The one after that - having hosted Winston Churchill’s victory speech on joining the Liberal Party- is grander but no less cosy. I bet they threw some great parties in here.
I sat in the middle room with a pot of lemon and ginger tea (£2.80), something called a Biscoff Cookie Cup (£2.80) and settled in amongst the comforting near-white noise of instrumental hip-hop.
The tea was a delicate infusion that grows with brewing rather than flattening out into a slightly clarty, coppery mixture, and needed no sugar (speaks the smoker).
Time passes differently over a pot of tea. In my mind coffee is drank to achieve some purpose, or at least gives you that jangly sense that you should be doing something, while tea is just for being. The size of the pot here also means it could genuinely last you more than two chapters.
The biscoff cookie cup - plant based and courtesy of Silver Apples Bakery in Stockport - was a crunchy, caramel delight, dancing on the delicious side of salty and topped with a disc of dark chocolate the size of a two guinea piece. The whole thing has to be prized apart with the help of a lovely three-pronged golden fork. Winston would love it.
Before I left I caught five minutes with manager Naomi Self, who explained a little about their ethos.
“We're not for profit,” she said. “We're a community interest company. So all the money we make goes back into the social mission of the shop, which is trying to alleviate loneliness and social isolation in the area.
“We were set up by the founders of the law firm Gunnercooke, who are both big readers and passionate about the cause of social isolation and loneliness, so they wondered if there was a way they could marry those two passions - to do corporate social responsibility in the local area in a meaningful way; that actually improves the square mile around your business rather than draining resources.”
House of Books and Friends has no doubt improved the area, lending a sense of something meaningful to a street flush with cash but perhaps lacking in something more enriching. Who needs wealth when you’ve got wellbeing.
House of Books and Friends, Ground Floor, 81 King St, Manchester M2 4AH
8/10 for a warm, welcoming cafe with beautiful books
Get the latest news to your inbox
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email by signing up to our mailing list. This is one of the ways that Confidentials remains free to our readers and by signing up you help support our high quality, impartial and knowledgable writers. Thank you!