Sunday, January 25, 2009

Figaro Café

I'll keep this update quick, because Figaro Café is largely (if not entirely) foreigner-oriented, and raving on about it just doesn’t at all go along with the increasingly-ignored “Slums of Shaolin” motif. However, I'd like to give the place some quick ups. The main branch of the chain is near Xintiandi and the Huangpi Nan Lu Subway Station, on 160 Xingye Lu & Madang Lu. First of all, they serve coffee:

OK the horrible truth is I don't like coffee, and while sometimes I'll go to cafes in Shanghai, it's almost purely because I have time to kill and want a place to chill for a little while, reading and using wi-fi. Figaro charges 18 kuai for a normal-sized cup of coffee, or 22 kuai for a bizarrely large mug. Quality seems about average, to my undiscerning tastes.

The reason to go is that the place is the best spot for a foreign book nerd in Shanghai to be. Downstairs, it's a convenient place to pick up Shanghai's various free English-language magazines. Upstairs, there's a large number of bookshelves, where customers freely drop off used books, and pick up new books to take home and read, as part of an international club called Book Crossings. I'll guess there's somewhere around two hundred books available, mostly in English but some in Japanese and other languages.

These books do change, it's worth dropping by from time to time to see what's newly available. In all honesty the collection does have a serious tendency towards fluffy airplane novels, while my preference is towards serious literature and studious non-fictions. But there's almost always a few top-notch books available. I've had good experiences diving outside my normal genres – for instance, I thought the military history "Panzer Commander" was fascinating. Theoretically, the available books can be gleaned off the Book Crossing website – while that does give an idea of what's available, realistically, most people obviously don't register their activities with the site, and I'll admit I'm one of them.

The friendly manager also runs a number of book related club, either on a weekly or monthly basis – there's reading clubs and workgroups for authors. I don't do them, but I've seen them operate and maybe I'll join in, sometime in the future.

The number two café for booklovers? I'll give that title to Garden Books, on 325 Changle Lu & Shaanxi Lu, near the Shaanxi Nan Lu Subway station. Honestly, I've never had the coffee there, but it's a very nice bookstore with an attached café, I had their ice-cream once and thought it top-notch.

Update 2/17/09 - Oh man! Figaro Café lost their lease just yesterday, a bank is taking over the space. I heard the manager say she was looking for a new location nearby, and expects to open in about two months - I'll update this blog when it happens. There's a smaller branch with a smaller selection of books and a less interesting atmosphere, at 456 Nanjing Xi Lu. It's about a five or ten minute walk west of People Square.

Update 3/25/09 - Actually, the second branch at 456 Nanjing Xi Lu has also closed. The main branch is still set-up to re-open, I'll post the information when that happens.

No comments: