It is with heavy heart that we heard of the passing of Michael Seidenberg, the owner of Brazenhead Books – a one-of-a-kind hidden bookstore that charmed many a visitor who found a way to visit the quirky apartment-turned shop in an Upper West Side walkup. Books were piled high in every conceivable place, down hallways, on the back of doors, in the middle of rooms, stacked on bookshelves, but Michael knew where everything was.
Of our 2011 visit, when the bookstore was recovering from one of the regular late night “salons,” Untapped Cities writer Jake Schabas wrote:
A brazen head is said to be a head cast in bronze or brass capable of answering any question. For the last few years, one has been residing (secretly) in a second floor apartment of Manhattan’s East 80s in the form of a used bookstore run by Michael Seidenberg, an affable pipe-smoking ex-Brooklynite whose answer to any question – literary or not – quickly puts even the most tentative book buyer or social recluse at ease.
We left with the book Motherless Brooklyn, which Seidenberg autographed (he claimed both he and his dogs were characters), a vintage subway map which showed the old “Train to the Plane” at JFK Airport, Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Philip Lopate, and some other finds he recommended. We also included Brazenhead in the book New York Hidden Bars and Restaurants, which published in 2015 and will get a new edition in 2020.
Seidenberg signing Motherless Brooklyn
Also In 2015, the last salon was held in the original Upper East Side location of Brazenhead and a new location had opened up. Laurie Gwen Shapiro, author of the book The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica and an Untapped Cities writer, said of Brazenhead yesterday, “It was a one-of-a-kind place. Michael was one-of-a-kind too.”
Seidenberg suffered from a heart attack earlier this spring and was recovering upstate. We had been in touch with him in the last month, looking to include Brazenhead in a forthcoming article. Alas, it would not be. With Seidenberg goes another anchor of idiosyncratic New York City. Brazenhead was a special place, much more than a used bookstore. It was a place where the curious could come knocking, intending to stay for just a few moments, and stay for hours in deep conversation or delving into the myriad of books available.
Here are a few more photos inside the original Brazenhead Books:
Next, check out the Hidden Histories of NYC’s Independent Bookstores.