Meet Madrid's Barbrarians: Used Books and Craft Beer at J&J Books and Coffee

On a sunny corner of calle Espíritu Santo in Madrid's Malasaña neighborhood, J&J Books and Coffee caters to the city's book, beer and bagel lovers, offering a selection of 15,000 used English-language books, 22 craft beers on tap, homemade bagels and quiz and intercambio nights that draw large local crowds.

With an international staff of English-speaking "barbrarians," J&J's wants you to feel at home, whether you're a traveler, expat or Madrileño.

Tell us a little bit about J&J's. What sets it apart from other bookstores in Madrid?

Our bookstore is in the center of Madrid, the capital of a very Spanish-speaking country, but we're known for our selection of used English-language books as well as our intercambio nights.

We display our classics, prize-winners and staff-recommendations upstairs in the bar-cafe when you walk in, but we've got a larger selection of children's books, cookbooks, fiction, biographies, sci-fi, fantasy, history and social and political science books downstairs.

How did J&J's get started?

Jamie and Javier, the original owners, opened J&J's in late 2003. Jamie is from the U.S. and after studying in Madrid and meeting Javi, she decided an English language bookshop would go over well. She and Javi gathered around 25,000 used books when they were living in L.A. They packed them all up and moved back to Madrid to open J&J Books and Coffee.

I'd been living in Madrid as an expat for four years when they opened, so when I heard out about an English bookstore bar, I was all over it! Not long afterward I became the general manager, and after Jamie and Javi decided to move back to the U.S. with their two children, they gave me the opportunity to take over.

J&J's seems to have become part community center, part bookstore. What's that like?

Our bookstore bar is definitely the center of a well-known community. We enjoy many regular Spanish customers but also offer something special to English speakers living far from home. The books are in English, and the Barbrarians (our bar-bookstore attendants) speak English along with a variety of other languages (they hail from from Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and England, and I'm from the U.S.), so we consider ourselves an international, rather than an American, community.

It also helps that we're located in Malasaña, one of the “hippest neighborhoods” in the world, according to the blogs and websites that make these types of designations. But it’s been a very popular neighborhood for years, and was home to the Movida in the 1980s, a counter cultural movement following the death of Franco and Spain’s transformation into a constitutional monarchy.

Tell us about your event schedule.

Our two big events are Intercambio Night and Friday Night Pub Quiz. They both take place downstairs in the main bookshop area, but they aren't actively literary in nature. Intercambio Night is a language exchange and a very popular event for us. So popular, we do it three times per week (Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights from 8pm to 11:30pm). People come to meet people from other cultures and ideally practice foreign languages, mostly Spanish and English. Other languages are represented as well, though to a lesser degree, and include Portuguese, Italian, Russian, French, and German, to name a few. We also do a British style Pub Quiz on Friday nights that brings in fifty to sixty people each week. We’ve done readings in the past and hope to do more in the future.

Any last enticements?

In nice weather, you can walk into our street-level cafe, sit in front of our open French doors and pick a book right off the shelf, all while sipping on one of our 22 craft beers.

Dave Cardillo, chief barbrarian


Want to learn more?

Follow J&J Books and Coffee on Facebook and Twitter.

c/ Espíritu Santo 47, Madrid, Spain+34 915 21 85 76