Restaurants and stores will go to great lengths to get you inside. There are discounts, deals and specials, all designed to entice.
That’s why the new “D.C. Disloyalty Card” intrigued me. It’s a a punch card that you can get checked off at six participating indie coffee shops all over the District – rewarding disloyalty instead of loyalty.
The purpose is to get coffee-lovers to explore the burgeoning local coffee scene and get out of their own neighborhoods. This is definitely a mission I can get behind. My hometown of Seattle has created some of the most avid coffee drinkers of the nation, and I’ve missed the vibrant coffee culture of my hometown.
So I brought along two valiant friends – who will be referred to as L and G throughout this story – who were ambitious enough for the quest. On a sunny and blessedly warm Saturday afternoon we embarked on a journey not meant for the faint of heart.
Chinatown Coffee Company (476 H St. NW)
Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown
Drinks ordered: two black coffees, one latte
“I only ever drink black coffee, so as far as black coffee goes this is good coffee.”-G
We started in this small coffee shop that screamed hipster more than any of the later stops. Exposed brick, aloof barista…this place had it all. The average customer was a young professional settled in doing work for the afternoon, which gave it the feeling that you could stay for a long time without getting dirty looks. While nothing particularly special, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest this place for meeting a friend for coffee after work. It’s got individual tables and enough space to get comfortable.
Strength: there’s a bar with wine, beer and absinthe
Weakness: slightly unmemorable
The Coffee Bar (1201 S St. NW)
Drinks ordered: black coffee, macchiato, chai
“I feel like I would either meet my soul mate or the worst people ever here.”- L
I am of the not-oft-stated opinion that GW students should make it up to Shaw more often, if not just to admire the picturesque row houses. Walking to The Coffee Bar was a real treat, as it appears out of nowhere in this residential neighborhood. It was so crowded with hipsters and normals, after we got our drinks, we had to stand outside. But the atmosphere wasn’t unwelcome, and on a rainy day I would love to come back and sit in one of the window nooks filled with old coffee table books.
Strength: rad metal music. “No One Like You,” by The Scorpions was a good Saturday morning pump-up.
Weakness: The café itself is one large room filled by crowded raised communal tables, so if you want some personal space, privacy or silence while doing work, this isn’t the place for you.
Blind Dog Cafe (944 Florida Ave. NW)
Metro: U Street
Drinks ordered: two black coffees
“This is the best black coffee of the day.”-G
“I think it’s kind of flat. It’s meh.”-L
As evidenced above, my guinea pigs were conflicted over this place. I’m prone to side with L. A slight meat smell permeated the café, as they sell soups, salads and sandwiches. This can be a positive or negative factor depending on the customer, and for a longtime vegetarian, this definitely detracted from my experience. However, the space was super cozy, with vintage rustic mirrors along the walls and bohemian and lovingly worn-out cushions in the nooks.
Strength: size. The café had two rooms filled with communal and individual tables, so there is lots of space if you need to camp out for the day.
Weakness: prices! My small baby mozzarella salad was delightful, but worth the $8.80 price tag? Considering I could get twice the return at Whole Foods, I wouldn’t buy food here again.
Peregrine Espresso (660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 1718 14th St. NW; 1309 5th Street NE)
Metro: U Street, Eastern Market, Noma-Gallaudet U
Drinks ordered: black coffee, mint tea, Pu Erh Tuo Cha tea
“I haven’t had a really cathartic ‘f*ck!’ in a long time.” –G, angry upon spilling half his tea.
Since we were in the neighborhood already, we went to the U Street location. However, I recommend the larger Eastern Market location because the layout of this place was truly horrendous. The counter shared space with a long row of raised chairs, so customers waiting for their drinks stood with their backs directly up against those who were sitting. When hot liquids and a cramped space so poorly planned mix, disastrous results are inevitable- a woman backing her chair up bumped into me, resulting in a freshly-poured open cup of coffee ending up all over me. One minute later, G discovered the trick step at the exit, and most of his drink hit the ground.
Strength: amazing snickerdoodles and Pu Erh Tuo Cha tea, a delicious green tea G hadn’t found since he studied abroad in Beijing.
Weakness: Unwelcome atmosphere. Because it was so small, you could immediately tell that the patrons and staff wanted you to take your drink and run.
Filter (1916 I Street NW; 1726 20th Street NW)
Metro: Farragut West, Dupont Circle
Drinks ordered: one chai tea
“Damn hipsters.” – all of us
I’ve been to the Dupont Circle location before and I’m definitely a fan. The decor is essentially identical to Chinatown Coffee Company, and the patrons and baristas fit the same non-obnoxious yuppie/chilled out hipster profile. The drinks never disappoint, and the music is easy to tune out if you need to focus but enjoy a slight hum while you work.
Strength: cozy atmosphere. The space itself is slightly lowered into the ground off the sidewalk, which makes it slightly hard to find and feels like a secret only you discovered.
Weakness: the size. This place is such a destination for coffee-fans and always busy with customers who keep their tables for hours.
La Mano (304 Carroll Street NW)
Drinks ordered: two iced chai teas
No quote, just the sound of my half full chai hitting the bottom of the garbage can
One hundred feet from the Takoma Metro stop, this place gets its business from commuters rushing on their way to work. The space was tiny, but had a warm atmosphere, thanks to the bright green walls. The staff was very friendly and there were brownie samples, which is an obvious plus to a cheap college student. However, it really was nothing special and definitely not a destination worth the long trek out to the near-end of the Red Line.
Strength: good food. La Mano is stocked with sweet and savory hand pies, frittatas and a smoked trout bagel sandwich.
Weakness: bad drinks. Our iced chai teas might as well have been chai-flavored waters. I didn’t think that was a drink that could be done wrong.