For the avid reader, environment can be everything. Some people prefer to read in the silence of a library while others prefer the ambience of cafés or parks; different readers have different conditions that must be met for them to truly lose themselves in a book.

But what would it feel like if you sat, with book in hand, in the third-floor balcony of a renovated theater-turned-bookstore with high painted ceilings and crimson stage curtains still intact? That’s exactly what El Ateneo, the world’s second most beautiful bookstore, offers readers.

Our correspondent Photographer Koach recently traveled to Avenida Santa Fe in Buenos Aires, Argentina where El Ateneo is located to see the bookstore for himself.

Originally opened as a theater house in 1919, El Ateneo has housed a variety of performances by local legends such as tango artists Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo. During this time, Argentine Tango was taking Europe by storm and it said El Ateneo helped play a part in popularizing the genre.

In 1924, the fourth floor of the building was turned into a radio station and later recording studio from which some the greatest names in tango recorded their albums. In the late 1920s it was converted into a movie theater and in 1929 became the first theater in Argentina to screen movies with sound.

Finally, in 2000 the theater was purchased by an Argentinean bookseller and converted into the bookstore that it is today. Much of the theater seating was removed and replaced with bookshelves though there are still plenty of chairs for customers to sit on. Original architectural detail can be found wherever you wander and the entire building retains an atmosphere of magnificence. And while you won’t see any tango performances, the stage has actually been converted into a café where you can sit down with a cup of coffee and a book and bask in the splendor of it all.

Over a million people are said to visit El Ateneo annually and after being left breathless by the fresco paintings on the ceilings and delicate decoration adorning the walls, I can see why.

Original article, photos: Photographer Koach

▼ View of the front from the 3rd floor: awe-inspiring

▼ Vestiges of the theater remain throughout the building

▼ The stage cafe

▼ You can almost hear the crowd applauding

▼ A reader’s dream

▼ Looking out from the balcony
[ Read in Japanese ]