Inside Lin-Manuel Miranda’s New NYC Bookstore That Takes Design Cues From Broadway

updated Jun 10, 2021
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Credit: Drew Dockser

The Drama Book Shop, an NYC-based bookstore beloved by the theater and literary communities since 1917, has reopened its doors under new ownership and location. The store had been home to resources for people looking to break into show business, but it had been under threat since 2016 because of a flood and rent increases. And now, it’s being brought back with a new look that pays tribute to Broadway — and it only makes sense, considering Pulitzer-winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda is the new owner, and Emmy-award winning set designer David Korins, who worked on “Hamilton” among other shows, designed the space.

Over Miranda’s career, the Drama Book Shop helped him make sense of the world, introduced him to unshakable characters, and ushered him into new experiences through written works — he even held the first reading of “In the Heights” in its basement. Alongside his “Hamilton” colleagues Thomas Kail, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander, Miranda purchased the bookstore in 2019, and they asked Korins to helm the interior design for the space, which was a no-brainer “yes.”

Credit: Drew Dockser

Korins decided to honor twentieth-century European cafes and reading rooms in the 3,500-square-foot space, who hatched the idea with the owners. “Lin, Tommy, Jimmy, and Jeffrey are people of the people. They’re looking to create an experience that they’d want to have. This is meant to be a space where people can first and foremost gather and have a good time, and this steered me in the direction of warmth and hospitality,” Korins told Apartment Therapy. “The places where you can sit down and eat or read a book are super comfortable, and you can see this with the well-worn leather furniture and bedding pads.”

Upon entering, patrons will encounter what Korins affectionately calls “the bookworm.” It’s a “massive” 140-foot-long metal armature, made up of over 2,400 books, scripts, and score manuscripts arranged in chronological order. Korins shared that “it’s picked up by pick points, so it kind of twists through the air with very minimal architecture holding it out and that it’s spiraled down to essentially a bank.” 

“From every single part of the bookstore, you can see this thing. If you see the titles from the ground, you know, it makes you smile, it makes you feel at home. It’s a piece of art, but it’s also lots of fun,” Korin said. Not only does it look incredible, but it further cements the store’s legacy by providing all of the tools and resources for anyone looking to break into show business.

Credit: Drew Dockser

Korins and his team set about incorporating green carpet in the back of the store, reading nooks, antique mirrors, and elements with warm-toned wood throughout. Korins also decorated this inviting space with two replicas of the gold chair George Washington uses at one point in “Hamilton.”

It was vital for him to balance what this New York City institution wanted to be with its current place in history. “It’s all about trying to make an experience for tourists and New Yorkers alike to enjoy themselves. We honor the historical aspect of it by putting beautiful old handmade posters and modern-day posters and mix them in,” Korins said, adding that some are from Kail’s collection given by the late theater agent Gilbert Parker. 

Credit: Rebecca J. Michelson
David Korins at The Drama Book Shop press event on Tuesday, June 8.

The pandemic shifted the construction timeline as they finished in November 2020, but “the rendering of the design didn’t change. They [the owners] only wanted to open when they could open safely.” 

A new generation of theater enthusiasts, designers, choreographers, and composers is front and center in this space, each of their stories offering affirmation and discovery in a city where in-person theater is returning and the industry is ripe for change. “The opening on June 10 is almost the first major thing that’s happened in New York, and the art community that’s signaling that we’re coming back,” Korins concluded.

The Drama Book Shop is now officially open to the public at 266 West 39th Street in Manhattan.