Bards Alley blends literature with libations

New Vienna bookstore offers books with a side of beer or wine

bards alley
Photo by Robert Merhaut

After 15 years in the corporate world and five years as a stay-at-home mom, Jen Morrow craved a new career path. “My son was in kindergarten, and he learned how to read,” she says. “I watched that process, and it really inspired me.”

Morrow opened Bards Alley—a nod to Shakespeare’s sobriquet and Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley—in mid-July on Vienna’s revitalized Church Street, hitting the ground running with near-daily events for both children and adults. Readers aged 35-55 are the bookstore’s largest demographic, but the shop also offers book clubs and activities for toddlers, middle readers (third to fifth grade) and middle schoolers.

“It really was the community that I lived in that gave me confidence that I could do it,” Morrow says of the daunting task of opening an independent bookstore in an age when many big-box bookstores have shut their doors. “I know what I missed about buying books in a bookstore, and I knew I could leverage a space where people could come, face to face, and celebrate it as an art.”

Shortly after opening, the shop hosted a creative writing workshop with writers from the quarterly online journal Deaf Poets Society. Bards Alley marketing and communications director Sarah Katz, who is deaf, created the journal in 2016 as a platform for work by artists and writers with disabilities. The store is also home to author talks, including readings by Vienna memoirist Anna Whiston-Donaldson on Oct. 13 and by novelist Alice McDermott and poet Terry Winch on Oct. 29.

Photo by Robert Merhaut

Along one wall of the cozy store is a sprawling bar with a robust all-day menu of locally sourced food options. Readers can sip warm broth from Herndon’s 100 Bowls of Soup, savor cheese from Maryland’s Firefly Farms Creamery or dig into a treat from Lorton’s Little Miss Whoopie. There’s also coffee from Caffe Amouri right down the street. And then there’s wine.

A sommelier from The Country Vintner selects national and international wines for the shop, sold by the glass or bottle and easily enjoyed either at the bar or outdoors on the patio. Customers can also pick up “book buddies”—half-bottles of wine ready for pairing with a favorite book—as gifts. And come this winter, expect to see wine cocktails on the menu.

“My tagline is books, wine, kindred spirits,” Morrow says.

Morrow, who has lived in Vienna for more than 10 years, says she misses old book shops, where she could surround herself with literature and like-minded folks. “For me, people wanted something other than an algorithm.”

(October 2017)