After a long morning of lectures, I was eager to escape the suits, politics and rush of the District, so I caught a crowded 4 p.m. Blue Line train bound for King Street.
Old Town Alexandria is a tourist hub on the weekends, but on a weekday afternoon, there isn’t a fanny pack in sight. I found locals jogging with their dogs and overheard waiters making thoughtful dinner recommendations. If you can look past the Bertucci’s, the overpriced candle boutiques and the gentrified faux-indieness of stores like Anthropologie, Alexandria is an ideal place to leave Foggy Bottom behind.
The afternoon of pleasant surprises began when I took an alternate route down Prince Street (OK, I was a little lost). The street with colonial townhouses and a rich history is more residential than its royal parallel one block south, King Street.
I turned left on South Patrick Street and entered Misha’s Roaster and Coffeehouse, the first business on an otherwise quiet road. Misha’s is housed in a bleached brick building, and its mismatched tables and chairs give the place a haphazard aesthetic but create an inviting atmosphere.
I expected to find coffee brewed hours ago, served by a barista wearing Ray Ban frames with a Williamsburg attitude. Instead, I met an easygoing guy with tattoos behind the counter, who addressed the man behind me by name and was quick to fill a paper cup with his regular order: a freshly roasted medium coffee.
The crowd of friendly locals at Misha’s made conversations about internships on the Hill seem a world away. I eagerly joined a lighthearted discussion between two regulars about endangered honeybees and nostalgia for Vietnam War protests.
After a flawlessly foamy $3.40 cappuccino, I turned right on King Street to find Current Boutique, a shop with an unassuming storefront tucked between a law firm and a hair salon. I satisfied my shopping impulse with modern designer picks that looked just slightly worn: royal blue Steve Madden pumps cost $30, and I paid $40 for a polka-dotted BCBG dress.
Current is a shockingly organized vintage shop with an updated selection and racks arranged by price, sleeve length and season. Two women in their mid-20s steamed new items behind the counter and started dressing rooms for a dozen or so women who looked like they were on their way home from work.
I continued down King Street, turned left on North Saint Asaph Street and entered King Street Blues, where the bartender looked surprised to see a face she didn’t recognize on a Monday. Two men lounged outside the bar sipping plastic cups of beer, and though I wasn’t there for a pint, the hush puppies were just $5 and tasted like they were homemade in Louisiana.
Now that I was hungry, I turned right on South Royal Street in search of something sweet.
Lavender Moon Cupcakery has pink walls, pink accents and tiny iron chairs and tables. The little store, which appeared to be just another shop with a colonial-style storefront, looks like the tea party from “Alice in Wonderland” inside. The Irish whiskey coffee-cake flavor was a sugary shot of espresso, and the lemon raspberry cupcake was jarringly tart. Lavender Moon cupcakes are $3 each, and they taste much fresher than Baked and Wired’s $3.65 treats.
But before I scarfed down the cupcakes in their pink to-go box, I ventured inside Red Mei, where a genial older couple who own the Thai eatery offered me a seat and took down my order for a $4 bowl of soup. Red Mei doesn’t have the curb appeal of other King Street eateries, and it may just be typical drunken noodles and spicy pad Thai, but entrees are only $6.79, and there’s plenty of space to sit.
I ended my afternoon staring longingly at the display in Book Bank, a used bookstore that holds more than 25,000 works on its teetering shelves. Classics like “The Great Gatsby” and “Catch-22” were propped next to a book about beat poets and an anthology of treehouses. A peek inside revealed rows of books I would have loved to sift through, but the 13-year-old bookshop closes at 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Maybe next time. Besides, I was out of money.