When Libraire De France shuttered in Rockefeller Center five years ago, the U.S. lost the only French bookstore of its kind—but that’s all about to change. On September 27, the French Embassy’s cultural counselor, Antonin Baudry, will open the doors to a new Francophone-focused bookshop and reading room on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The sole bookstore in the world to be operated by an embassy, Albertine—which gets its name from a character in Marcel Proust’s tome In Search of Lost Time—will be housed inside the 1902 Stanford White-designed Payne Whitney mansion.
Upon entering the rotunda, you’ll instantly be transported to a bygone era. A replica of Michelangelo’s Marble Boy sculpture (the original was discovered in the mansion in 2009 and subsequently moved to the Met) and majestic columns greet you. Upstairs, a painting that depicts constellations and planets—inspired by Lorenzo de Medici’s 16th-century bedroom—dances overhead, evoking the Renaissance idea that art, science and literature are one. Pristine marble busts of Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin and Descartes, plush sofas, a chandelier and Versailles-style wood flooring round out the private, grand French library motif. French architect Jacques Garcia, renowned for his designs of New York City’s NoMad Hotel to Chateau du Champ de Bataille in Normandy, France, outfitted the two-story space with that model in mind.
Bibliophiles can expand their own libraries with more than 14,000 titles—novels, nonfiction, art, comics, children’s books, comics, poetry and more—from over 30 French-speaking countries around the world. And while the majority of the selection is in French, English translations are also on-hand. Follow a radical Soviet poet’s new life in New York City in Emmanuel Carrère’s award-winning bestseller Limonov, read all about the construction of a suspension bridge in a fictional California city in Maylis de Kerangal’s Medici Prize-winning novel Birth of a Bridge, turn to René Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia or peruse one of the rare editions that date back 400 years.
And Albertine is more than just words: the shop plans to host lively debates surrounding politics, economics, art, literature and science. Curated by American critic and author Greil Marcus, the inaugural six-day festival beginning October 14 will welcome French and American thinkers including Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, novelist Emmanuel Carrère, Paris, je t’aime director Olivier Assayas and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, among others. Bookmark it.