(Above image by Andreas Feininger)

In this small corner of cyberspace I seek only to pass on information about the independent shops and businesses that make our cities unique. I'm quite unfamiliar with this scene or that scene, and I won't pretend to offer the scoop on the latest openings or trendiest hotspots. My writing is based solely on my own discoveries, experiences and reflections as I amble through the streets, searching for places to go. But if my readers know of any fine establishments I've overlooked, by all means fill me in, and I'll do my best to check them out.

Because I spend most of my time in either New York or Washington, D.C., my posts may seem heavily skewed towards these two locations. But I'm always looking for excuses to travel, and will try to hit and report on as many cities as possible. Notify me of the must-sees if I'm about to pay your hometown a visit.

- Matt

Jul 25, 2010

Class Act, Cool Cats

(The Village Vanguad, still the vintage jazz-lover's Mecca it always was. Image from I Blog What I Hear.)

Continuing with my appraisal of those places that weathered Greenwich Village’s transition from low-rent bohemia to swank opulence – all while retaining their charm and distinction – I’d like to point out a tiny but internationally-renowned jazz club on Seventh Avenue near Sheridan Square.

To an unknowing eye, the plain red awning and neon sign outside might not seem worthy of much attention, being situated in an area bloated with must-see hotspots. But down the narrow stairs, in a tight basement space, 75 years of invaluable jazz history have transpired, during which countless giants in American music performed, recorded and debuted for the world.

The Village Vanguard, opened by Max Gordon in 1935, is for many musicians a jazz Mecca, having seen nearly every well-known name in the genre pass through its doors and wail on its cramped, barely elevated stage. (Black and white photographic portraits on the walls depict only a handful of the legends that once called it home.) It gives off that unmistakable Old New York vibe – dim, slight, and understated. A bit worn, but with taste, preserving a mélange of grit, class and intrigue that every jazz club ought to have.

And living up to its bold title, it has stayed inarguably relevant. A surprising number of people can squeeze into the main room to sit at the low tables and chairs, but the Vanguard usually fills up on a nightly basis, even when (or especially when) its stellar house band performs each Monday. Patrons should reserve tickets in advance. Shows generally cost $30, which includes $10 toward a two-drink minimum – not a lousy deal, considering the regular cocktail prices. In keeping with the music’s traditional practices, each night offers two sets from the same act – one at 9 p.m. and one at 11 p.m. – which the artist in question will repeat over a tenure of several days.

When the performance begins, be it a long-established luminary or promising up-and-comer, the room fills with a refreshing wave of silence. Popular music lost something over the past few decades, and it has to do with the how the audience receives the art that it pays for. Attend any medium-profile gig or open mic at a lesser-known venue, and bear witness to the sheer amount of talking that goes on while the musicians play. (Once, while checking out an open jam session at HR-57 in Washington, I suffered through a din so loud that it drowned out everything but the highest notes from a trumpet.)

I don’t want bash appropriate socializing, but certain mediums demand a certain degree of reverence. DJ nights allow for loud conversation. Not jazz. But with an ever-shrinking pool of aficionados and traditionalists, many ignorant (thought well-meaning, I’m sure) listeners treat frequenting a jazz club as they would a noisome wine bar.

This does not happen at the Village Vanguard, and I hope that this aphorism drives home the sort of landmark it is. In that dark, enigmatic room, where I imagine a cloud of thick tobacco smoke once hung over crowds of rapt enthusiasts, one pure factor reigns above all else. Even when I once saw Tony Bennett in the audience, checking out a Bill Charlap concert, the humbled, ordinary schmucks held their tongue until after the show. In the Vanguard, it is about the jazz happening right in the moment. And it is only about that.

Jul 24, 2010

Coffee, Café Reggio, and What the Village is All About

(Reggio's exterior at night. Image from FLIPIX.)

Greenwich Village reached its zenith as an artistic, intellectual and progressive hub decades ago, and has since met the fate common to many urban neighborhoods of similar character. Traces of its onetime bohemia – notably its dingy taverns and cafés, where coffee and beer were cheap, performers made a living off tips, and oddballs and eccentrics chatted uninterrupted far into the morning hours – have largely disappeared, making way for condos and chain stores and high-end retail.

With the Gaslight gone, the White Horse pricey, and Bleecker Street filled with irksome out-of-towners – not to mention a cost of living unaccommodating to most young artist types – a sad void emerged in the area, though some entrepreneurs have tried their hand at filling it. They open new venues and taverns on the spots where Bob Dylan strummed and Dylan Thomas drank. They try to recall the intensely literate 50s, the fiercely left-wing 60s, the gritty 70s.

Frequently they fail, succeeding in only capturing an ersatz forgery of what the Village once was. The prices just seem too high, the patronage too run-of-the-mill, the bohemianism too contrived.

They cannot compare to the few longstanding Village staples left, like Café Reggio, a European-style coffee shop and eatery on MacDougal Street now nearly 85 years old. Amid the cacophony of bar-hopping tourists, Reggio stands out as a quiet haven with pastries, paninis, and late hours, making coffee in a style predating the ubiquitous assembly-line service popularized by Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

The goods here hearken to the area’s past as a settlement for Italian immigrants in New York. Not until Mulberry Street can one find cannolis and sfogliatella like these. A cup of the myriad of teas and coffees (not all of which are European) can cost anywhere from $3-$5 – granted, it’s a comparatively steep price for a single serving. But the fresh paninis don’t run much higher than that, and as a heavy tea drinker, I’ve refilled my cup a gratifying number of times from one order. With both food and drink offerings being top-notch, one can find a satisfying meal with a hot beverage for about $10 or less, and spend hours loitering in an unobtrusive environment besides.

Stepping past the sidewalk tables and quiet green storefront into the dim interior feels like stepping through a time warp to the Jazz Age. Busts of philosophers, composers and other historical figures line the walls along with busy Renaissance paintings. Antiques like a mammoth espresso machine, garish benches and a rustic cash register still in use delight even before any food arrives.

And it may take a while before it does. The one factor that some might consider a drawback is that an old-fashioned European café moves at an old-fashioned European pace – tantalizingly slow. But while the waitresses take their time, they also never hurry their customers through anything, be it a daytime meal or midnight cup of tea. The ambiance remains conducive to lengthy socializing or private thought, to group discussion or solitary time with a laptop and book. Don’t come to Reggio seeking a quick bite at lunch. Expect to linger and relax with an accordingly laid-back staff.

May 23, 2010

A Scoop from the Golden Age

(Eddie's exterior. Image from Yelp.)

Occupying a beloved corner space on Metropolitan Avenue for over a century, Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills maintains its reputation due to an old-fashioned approach to serving America’s favorite dessert. Antiquity radiates from within this ice-cream parlor, as everything from the marble countertop, to the homemade soda floats, to the vintage cash register seems embalmed in a long-gone era when sweets, prepared with a localized family-owned passion, felt equally splendid on the tongue and heart.

[Note: Let me acknowledge that the past, when viewed from posterity, always seems infinitely better than it in fact was. That’s beside the point here. When a store can in the present encapsulate the past’s ideal and keep it feeling genuine, it has inarguably achieved something great.]

But nostalgia for those chrome postwar years aside (how many Hollywood cameras have passed through its doors?), Eddie’s can still deliver on its renowned signature product. The ice-cream – and especially the beverages, be they milkshakes, malts or floats with the soda brewed right in front of you – is usually thick, rich, and poised to clean the most soiled pallet. Ice-cream scooped from a vat in a freezer, however, can be inconsistent no matter where it comes from, so I advise the uninitiated customer to stick with soft-serve. No other such shop in the immediate vicinity (read: all of New York City) could match it.

The milkshakes, though, hold a notable distinction among my taste buds. Every time, Eddie’s serves me what is easily the best milkshake I have ever tasted. I’ve slurped up some fine milkshakes in my day. A handful of anonymous diners come close. Marvel, a seasonal parlor out on Long Island, comes close. Larry’s, which I plan to profile once I return to Washington, can hold its own. But Eddie’s has invariably proven itself to reign high above the rest, and probably always will.

Rustic entities have a hard time avoiding obsolescence. Quite often they visibly decline, and the shop’s cracked floors and rickety metal stools might put off an unknowing patron. Admittedly, any old building comes afflicted with the petty nuisances of age. But should an ice-cream parlor that looks fit for James Dean appear pristine and squeaky-clean fifty years after the Eisenhower Age ended? For me, the shop’s archaic qualities, be they charming or inconvenient, validate its relevance and enhance the overall experience of frequenting it.

In a time when everything we eat and enjoy seems pre-prepared by dispassionate machines in a far-off factory, a taste of some down-home, simplistic, fundamentally humane ice-cream from a longtime local staple goes to show that we have done, and continue to do, better that what we are used to. Thankfully shops like Eddie’s, despite growing rarer with each passing year, are still around to remind us.

May 11, 2010

A Bistro at Once Cool and Unpretentious

(D.C. Bread & Brew exterior. Even the ampersand seems ingenuous. Image from dcbeer.)

The monoliths of Foggy Bottom start to give way to the smaller, more charming dwellings of Dupont Circle somewhere between M and N streets NW. It is amid this abrupt shift in architectural tone that a mesa-colored, one-story café called D.C. Bread & Brew appropriately cuts off the huge glass federal building preceding it on 20th Street, welcoming passersby going north to an altogether new neighborhood. Here, a government worker on lunch break can sit on the front deck or inside on leather chairs and sip coffee, eat sandwiches and temporally feel like a human being again. Or, Dupont Circle denizens can rendezvous and enjoy the cozy, conscientious atmosphere befitting to any good cosmopolitan.

Around noon on warmer days the few tables out front fill up quickly, but sitting inside when the fans run remains pleasant enough. Order at the counter choosing from a narrow selection of pizzas, paninis, quiche, salads, and a daily special or two priced around $12, the most expensive meal on the menu. A wider breadth of drink offerings boasts organic coffees, teas and wine along with some beers of varying obscurity. Depending on the order, a polite and obsequious server, who always addresses the customer using formal titles (my name was, a bit goofily, Mr. Matt) will carry out the dish anywhere from 5-10 minutes later. Some orders will take a while even with crowds absent.

The quiche, whether of meat or vegetables, is at least two-and-a-half inches thick with a firm crust and rich taste. Order sandwiches on crispy ciabatta bread and prepare to taste one of the better paninis in the District. A reasonable lunch special consists of half a sandwich and a salad with dressing temperately applied. Dishes come and go at a moderate pace, but rarely does one feel rushed by the staff. I’ve sat and read for hours at a small circular table in the dim corner without anyone trying to hurry me along, even after the plate before me had long since disappeared.

It’s not daunting task to find a cool, comfortable coffee shop in the area (see The District Java Roundup Parts I, II and III). Nor are locals hard-pressed for an organic eatery conducive to urbane time-wasting. But with superior food and a natural, welcoming aura, D.C. Bread & Brew rises to a higher level. It doesn’t seem to try in achieving sophistication. It simply achieves it, transcending expectations for an establishment of its sort in a neighborhood like its own. Anyone wandering up on the right street from the city’s financial district must get a fine impression.

Apr 14, 2010

The Entire World Stuffed Into a Truck

(The "Saucamobile," parked and ready to dish out the globe. Image from Sâuçá's website.)

A new addition to the fleet of mobile food vendors prowling the District for customers started its engines two months ago. Sâuçá, a yellowish truck with a rotating and ever-expanding menu pasted on its side, serves its sizable title dish – a flatbread wrap encircling world food from any of all six inhabitable continents – for less than $10 each. On a single day, Sâuçá can conceivably cook up pork banh mi from Vietnam, croque-monsieurs from France, fish tacos from Baja, and some old-time American BBQ beef, depending on which global region the customer craves a taste of.

The truck appeared with little flare on campus one day last week. Passers-by stopped to look, but this vendor has not yet amassed a following like the multitudes that flock whenever the purple tidings of Fojol Bros turn the corner. I placed my order after the state of propane availability became ambiguous (growing pains – we understand) and waited around for a short five minutes before carrying away a heavy container holding my beef shawarma, a Middle Eastern dish treated with Chimichurri and Tahini sauce.

An appropriate mélange of vegetables accompanied the tender meat. The seasoning gave character without immersing everything to unreasonable levels. Sâuçá claims that its food is exceptionally healthy – a singular quality that, if given the right attention while dining, one can usually taste. As a meat-eater who buys organic, grass-fed beef every chance he gets, I attest that the multicultural wraps from this vendor taste the way they’re marketed.

Finger foods can get messy, and the staff did not provide a biodegradable spork to fish up all the fallen bits from my order as the pita unraveled. (I didn’t see if any utensils were available at the window). But, after unashamedly using my hands, I devoured everything in the container, and it left me content. A partnering drink would have been nice, but the choices were few and prices somewhat steep ($2 for water, $1.75- $2.50 for tea or coffee). But a brand new urban food vendor can have its minute drawbacks so long as it delivers on what it promises – cheap, unique and appetizing delicacies, without which the city it serves would be a little blander.

Sâuçá delivers. I foresee it conquering this town, one avenue at a time.

Mar 20, 2010

An Orange Feeding Den in the EV

(At right: S'MAC's interior. Image from their website, http://www.smacnyc.com/home.html)

It was mid-afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day in New York, and we were getting agitated. Already an unmemorable uptown bar had denied us, presentable fakes notwithstanding. It played bad music anyhow. So we made the trying journey downtown, enduring a crowded subway and then block after block in the sun. Our breakfasts of hot toddies and car bombs steadily wore off. Hangovers started to set in. And we were hungry.

Some in our party just wanted to get to the next pub and put our setbacks behind us. But in others, hunger began to override even the anticipation of further bacchanalia. I thought and thought as we emerged in the East Village, my longtime stomping ground. Our situation demanded good drunk food – dishes that come in large quantities, are inexpensive, and are filling but not overwhelming. Then I remembered a very dear orange eatery over on 12th Street and First Avenue that sells macaroni and cheese.

S’MAC (short for Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese) has beckoned to passers-by from adjacent dine-in and carryout storefronts since 2006. Therein, one finds a simple menu featuring 12 variations on the classic pasta/dairy mashup and little else. But no matter how peculiar (and they go pretty far out there), these renditions reign supreme in the New York area. Not many respectable establishments could pull off a mélange of the eponymous dish with buffalo chicken. But S’MAC does. And that warrants my utmost respect.

Should you choose to stick around, the staff will bring out your order in the skillet in which it was cooked, available in four sizes; I ordered the second-smallest ( Major Munch ) and it filled my famished stomach with ease. I couldn’t imagine what Partay, the largest, possibly looks like. A gargantuan pot, maybe, filled to the brim with cheesy elbow macaronis?

Reasonable orders don’t strain the wallet. Pasta can be normal, multigrain or gluten-free, according the company’s website. Additional shreds of cheese and, if you so choose, breadcrumb line the top with a crust in a serving style increasingly scarce. The staff wasted little time behind the counter, and prepared our order with remarkable speed considering the amount of other customers before us. On my last visit, at a time after lunch but not quite evening, the place was moderately full. I’ve seen nights when a line spills onto the street. Understand that this is a neighborhood favorite, and attracts a coinciding crowd.

My other companion who took a detour to S’MAC that day is now among that crowd. I was coming down from a St. Patrick’s Day reverie, he abstains from alcohol, and we both enjoyed our All-Americans (standard order – American and cheddar) on an equal level. No matter what sort of hunger afflicts you, S’MAC is here. It’s waiting.

Mar 15, 2010

Mobtown's Own Private Megastore

Note: College life can trap a student into a narrow geographical location for many weeks on end, so it is with pride that I present my first profile outside of Washington, D.C. More from other cities to come.

(Photo by Mike Unger at About.com. Available at http://baltimore.about.com/od/neighborhoods/ss/FellsWalk_3.htm)

Occupying a large storefront in one of Baltimore’s quaintest and most culturally immersive neighborhoods, The Sound Garden has been a Fells Point independent music bastion for over 15 years. Its name was the first music-related term I heard uttered upon my arrival in the city, and repeated suggestions made it seem inevitable that I would eventually visit this local treasure trove. So while strolling with friends on the cobblestone streets through a light rain, the taste of my first experience with Old Bay seasoning (it treats everything from eggs to crab cakes to chicken wings) lingering in my mouth, we took a detour down Thames Street, and entered the renowned enterprise.

Crowds welcomed us – unexpected sizable crowds of the sort I haven’t seen in music stores since the early aughts. Granted, it was Saturday night. But Virgin and FYE once drew crowds this big, not your esoteric music and video shops. In fact, The Sound Garden resembles the behemoths of the business far more than it does the nook-and-cranny reserves of obscure records that collectors hold dear.

It has an enormous interior – one huge room extends maybe 50 feet back, incorporating a stage for live performances and endless racks filled with CDs, DVDs, Blue-Rays and posters both generic and unique. In the front, to the left of the entrance, one finds a smaller space holding an extensive vinyl collection, among which I found albums of the highest caliber in rock, soul, R&B, hip-hop, psychedelic and folk. Their cost was the only setback – with a disappointingly miniscule used section, prices generally fell between $15 and $20. I haven’t paid that much for vinyl since I naively shopped in the megastores.

It matters little, though, because the Sound Garden doesn’t specialize in old-fashioned records. Uncharacteristically CD-based, this small business seems to support itself with an endless cache of the shiny discs. Many music stores that embraced CDs, including the most towering giants, could not survive into the Internet age (see a previous post discussing the issue here). Baltimore’s premier shop, however, with DVDs wholly lining an immense wall, and jewel cases arranged into entire archipelagos of shelves, soldiers on magnificently.

What’s responsible for its longevity? The CDs remain pricy – $8-$14, something I wouldn’t pay for an album with so many available alternative means of getting it. A few $1 bins up front and a decent deal on movies (two for $10) couldn’t possibly bear the continued success on their own.

No, the distinguishing factor here is content. Though the megastores boasted comparably vast CD collections, they also maintained mainstream pop sensibilities. They never took risks with arcane titles. One could conceivably scan the racks and name every artist listed on the narrow paper strips jutting above the cases. Such an unremarkable approach would fail to attract the favor of serious music fans, those customers who will provide much of the business.

But The Sound Garden could ensnare the snootiest hipster, the obsessive collector, or the cynical Gen-X pop culture nerd with the breadth of its offerings. Sure, The Beatles have a huge section allotted to them, but so do the indie bands that only a handful have heard about. Jazz, folk and country lovers have more options here than anywhere else. Completists could actually complete their many discography quests here.

What The Sound Garden has done is eliminate discriminatory stocking practices. The staff will put, it seems, literally anything on their shelves, refusing few based on popularity or standings in the charts. Employees who drink Jim Beam from the bottle while behind the counter and in full view of customers, as several did during my visit, probably don’t care much for mainline pretenses. If an album sounds good – if at least one person will listen – it’ll take its place somewhere on the racks. And the clientele, more diverse than lesser establishments would imagine, is thankful for that, and will express its gratitude with support.

Mar 12, 2010

Need No Carpets on the Floor

(Portrait of premier wordsmith, Baltimore native and acerbic harlequin H.L. Mencken.)

The sudden reality of spring break fell upon me like a welcome shower of golden ribbons: I was overjoyed, but motionless with shock. In my paralysis, a modest indecision appeared for all the petty nuisance it was. Should I return home immediately? The notion showed itself too quickly. I wasn't up to the task. I felt unprepared and sought a diversion.

And one arrived, in the form of old friends wishing to share my company. So, I will spend this weekend in Baltimore, stopping by to bid tidings to some old high school cohorts, and kill some time before I once more descend on my hometown most ambiguously. I trust my comapanions will provide stellar entertainment. Expect some posts detailing the landmarks of this port city in the near future.

Feb 24, 2010

Dining in Southwest

(Top-tier eating: City Zen's interior. Image from https://www.ewatravel.com/)

As I've indiscreetly mentioned (read: shamelessly prostituted) in the past, I intern as a copy editor for The Southwester, a monthly, all-volunteer community newspaper serving the District's smallest quadrant. This week, our belated February issue hits the stands, and therein one may find a comprehensive dining guide to eateries within the boundaries of Southwest and Capitol Riverfont (hitherto known as Near Southeast).

Since many of the entries profile establishments unique to the city and neighborhood - including the renowned City Zen and its newer, more casual counterpart, The Sou'Wester, both helmed by James Beard award-winner Eric Ziebold - I'd like to link to our latest issue here. It's in PDF format, so scroll down to pages 7-9 to read our short takes on all the area's fine restaurants:

The Southwester Dining Guide 2009

Happy browsing, and happy dining.

Feb 13, 2010

The District Java Roundup, Part III

(There's a new café in town. Image from the Washington City Paper.)

It felt good hiking down to the southern quadrants after the snow trapped me in my Foggy Bottom dorm for a week, fomenting cabin fever like I’ve never experienced before. Both Southeast and Southwest appear in this final post wrapping up the series (for now). The tea has been excellent, and the locales interesting. Hope I can repeat something of this sort in other cities after the semester ends.

Big Chair Coffee n’ Grill – 2122 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE – With good reason, District press paid much attention to this café’s opening a month ago. Previously there had been no coffee shop anywhere east of the river, and on a main street dotted primarily with barber shops and bodegas, the community lacked an adequate space to gather, eat and socialize.
Big Chair assumed that role, and both neighbors and neighborhood leaders seem grateful for it. As I sat down to my tea and French fries (a better combination than you might believe), I saw the garrulous barista look towards the door and suddenly cry out:
“Mr. Mayor!”
Making his way to the counter was not our current triathlete, but a solemn, slow-moving Marion Barry. I never thought I’d sit less than five feet from the Ward 8 councilmember infamous former mayor, especially in such a modest room.
The storefront lacks any affectation whatsoever, save a few political posters, and the orange interior barely holds what’s more than necessary – two tables seating four each, a counter with several stools, and a television switched to CNN.
Food stays simple, too – American breakfast and lunch options, conventional coffee variations and about five or six teas. Beverages are quickly served in generously-sized mugs. Food takes some time, an apparent symptom of the new establishment’s growing pains. Many items listed on the menu were unavailable. I eventually settled on the aforementioned French fries, which turned out to be a crisp, greasy and completely inadvertent treat. At times, the vibe seemed to fluctuate between café and luncheonette.
Not bad for a newcomer, and already popular with the locals. Big Chair seems to have success cornered. All it needs to do is pounce.

Hogate's Café – 800 Water St. SW – Long before a bar named H2O impeded its quadrant’s continual development, or its owner was arrested for tax evasion, Hogate’s Restaurant stood as a classic staple on the Southwest Waterfront. Years later, it reopened with the same name in a larger space across the street, encompassing not just several dining areas but also a café on the southernmost side. This is the first location in many years where area residents can fetch a cup of coffee without trekking to another quadrant.
Many tables and narrow booths fill the dim interior and don’t fill up except on the busiest of occasions. A bar with sparse stools serves hard drinks, and numerous televisions are usually switched to sporting events (lots of Redskins). Overall a very relaxing aura. I could see it as a venue for pre-party cocktails.
The wait staff is friendly enough, but moves too leisurely too often. This is fine when a weekend needs to be killed, or mountains of work need to be completed. But distracting cravings usually return faster than a server. It would help if the food was exceptional, but it really isn’t – basic American cuisine, very typical, and slightly above par at best. I’m sure one would find higher-quality courses in the formal dining room, but for a quick bite Hogate’s has very little to offer.
Coffee, I’m told, is good. Tea selection isn’t bad – waitpersons will present the standard box with 6-8 choices. Wireless works well, and I’ve spend whole afternoons working with my editor. (Oh, be sure to pick up a copy of The Southwester off the stands outside. It’s free, and features my reportage.) The café is a decent place that would not have risen above mediocrity had the surrounding neighborhood not been screaming for such a coffee shop for ages. That alone demands my wishes for the best.

Bourbon Coffee – 2101 L St. NW – Dwarfed by federal buildings in one of the remotest, most anonymous areas just south of Dupont Circle, Bourbon’s storefront is easy to miss. Only a miniscule sign distinguishes it from the architectural monotony and less-than-stellar chains up 21st Street. Inattentive eyes wouldn’t penetrate the windows to make out the cozy décor within. An unknowing pedestrian might be inclined to just gravitate towards the familiar green Starbuck’s sign several blocks down.
But entering Bourbon is like stepping from the arctic into the tropics. Its windows look larger from the inside and let in enough sun to make it one of the most well-lit coffee shops I’ve ever frequented. Furniture consists principally of couches and padded chairs, assuring comfort. Rugs add a degree of homeliness, and coffee-themed paintings grace the walls. Jazz plays from a (somewhat out-of-place) flat-screen television switched to a music-only channel.
Bourbon serves Rwandan coffee, which means little to me but sure made the room smell rich. I believe it’s organic, and supports independent African farmers. I found the tea list impressive – a good mix of conventional blacks and herbals, as well as all sorts from eastern nations and three specially-listed organic flavors. I couldn’t imagine ordering anything larger than a 12-ounce cup, but the store offers 16-ounce servings and larger. The menu also lists cider, Mexican hot chocolate and horchata. Sandwiches and fruit salads seem pre-packaged and run-of-the-mill, but the baked goods are far superior. The croissant was the best I’ve had in the District so far.

Side note: A peculiar instance nearly soiled my exchange with the barista at Bourbon. I heard him say that my order came to about $2.60, so I handed him three singles. He looked at me dubiously, and asked for an additional 60 cents. He must be aching for exact change, I thought, but I didn’t have it, and told him so. “If you find 60 cents, let us know,” he said, and put my payment in the register and closed it up. Now I’m the passive type who wouldn’t raise a fuss over such a paltry amount, but thought it unprofessional – criminal, even – to deny me my change. Maybe five minutes later I realized that he must’ve said $3.60 , not $2.60. I apologized and made amends, but miscommunication really ruins server/patron encounters more than it should.


Here the District Java Roundup series concludes temporarily. I’ll no longer seek out coffee shops to profile and review, since after these posts I have almost more options for hot drinks in this city than my mind can process. But I know I didn’t hit them all. If an assiduous reader wishes to alert me to a favorite shop I may have overlooked, forgotten or otherwise disregarded for any reason, leave a comment and I’ll seek it out. In the future I’ll make a post of reader suggestions that can grow gradually and continuously so long as I keep getting suggestions. Look for it in the future.