What: Independent Bookstore, Cafe, & Bar
Where: Dupont Circle, Washington D.C.
Non-native DCers, who dare to enter the complicated traffic patterns of Dupont Circle often become lost and end up wandering around the loop for some time before finding their way out. Fortunately, I didn’t have to take to the circle with my car (lord only knows I’d still be driving around it), but thanks to Kramer Books, I did get to wander and circle around quite a few bookshelves.
I don’t live in D.C., so I didn’t know, but Kramer Books is sort of the place to be if you’re anybody who’s anybody residing in the city known as our nation’s capitol. And with good reason too. Not only is it a fully functioning bookstore with a hearty selection of books, it also houses a bar and a cafe. Books, food, and drinks. There’s not much else you need in life, so once you step inside Kramer Books, you’re pretty much good to go.
While some have recently suggested that the good old paper and ink book is on the decline, others support that the so called “death of books” is a huge exaggeration. Judging by the amount of people (mostly twenty-somethings) that were shopping at Kramer Books during the middle of the day on a Saturday, I’m going to go ahead and confidently stand by the latter declaration. The store was crowded and people were buying books, lots of books.
As I browsed through the piles of contemporary literature I overheard a shopper recommended Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated to his friend. “It’s really funny because the main character’s grandfather doesn’t understand or speak English very well. But it gets pretty serious at the end. I liked it,” he told her. When I asked a store employee where Hunter Thompson’s books could be found, I was impressed by his knowledge of their exact location. “Second case to the left, on the second shelf from the floor,” he said. I asked specifically about The Rum Diary. He even knew what color the book’s spine was. These little novelties, browsing with and recommending books to friends and the expert knowledge of bookstore employees are not things that book lovers are willing to let go of and because of that, small independent bookstores like this one will continue to survive, even as e-readers gain popularity.
Another distinct detail, that is typical of many bookstores but always unique and appreciated, was the employee recommendation note cards. It’s always fun to get inside the heads of a bookstore’s employees and see what they’re reading and recommending. This is another example of an in-store novelty that technology and e-readers can’t replace. (Or at least they haven’t yet.)
Although the store owners have certainly turned Kramer Books into a popular hangout spot, I didn’t notice any chairs or areas that invited shoppers to pop a squat and start a book or open up their computers to hop onto the Internet. This doesn’t take away from the store, though. Some bookstores are better suited for seating areas, but Kramer Books is more of a browse and shop type store. They have a good thing going on.
As far as the food and drink aspect of the store go, most would expect that a cafe attached to a bookstore would be the type of cafe populated by patrons lounging around with their laptops. But the Kramer Books cafe is more of a full fledged restaurant. You’ll sit down and order a real meal that will be delivered to you by a waiter or waitress. You’re not going to come here to eat a muffin while you write your latest blog post or finish up those last pages of your book. That’s cool though, because its a different sort of bookstore business model and it’s working for them. I didn’t sit down to eat at Kramer Books, and it’s a little silly to judge food by the way it looks, but going by some of the pictures on their Facebook page, I’m going to guess their menu is pretty delicious.
Is this a good place for reading or writing? No. This is a popular bookstore that is often busy and crowded (not too crowded, though) and it wasn’t set up with the intention of having customers come in to read or write within the vicinity. That’s not to say you shouldn’t come here, though. Because you should. You should and you better.
Bonus points: Food & drinks and an excellent selection of contemporary literature. This store knows what books people are looking for and puts them at the forefront.
What: Locally owned Coffee Shop/ Cafe
Where: East Market Street, Leesburg, Virginia
Although renamed Dolce Cofee in the real word, if you type this coffee house’s address into Google, you’ll find that it was previously called “Greenberry’s.” Social Media Management people! Someone tell the owner of this place that they need to up their game when it comes to the their online presence. Just kidding! Does it really matter? Probably, not. Plus, I’m not here to judge their marketing strategies. Although, I guess I just did. Anyway…
When it was good ol’ Greenberry’s, this place was a franchise. During that time another blogger called it a “local Starbucks wannabe.” I don’t know what it was like before now, but I’m going to guess that it’s at least made a little bit of an improvement from being a chain coffee shop. It’s not the greatest or cutest or nicest place in the world, but I don’t see it as a Starbuck’s wannabe, which to me, would be worse than being an actual Starbucks.
The first thing that I noticed about Dolce Coffee, before I even walked through the door, was the window display to the left of the entrance, which promotes the coffee shop’s weekly, Friday night Open Mic nights. Any establishment that fosters a weekly open mic is good in my book!
As I walked through the doors and toward the counter, I almost tripped on a huge bump in the floor, which I later found out from a sign placed oh-so-kindly on the front counter, is from water damage. The most annoying part about it is not that I did an awkward ooo-I-almost-just-tripped-but-I’m-going-to-pretend-that-no-one-saw-that dance, it’s that the girl behind the counter was waiting for it to happen. You know she just stands there all day waiting to laugh hysterically to herself over the unsuspecting customers who instantly become victims of the large bump in the floor. I know I would.
I ordered their Chicken Salad sandwich on wheat bread, which I can only say was an extremely disappointing excuse for chicken salad. It lacked any sort of taste and what little taste it did have was not enjoyable or chicken-like at all. Luckily, I also ordered a strawberry banana smoothie, which met and passed my extremely high smoothie standards. Although, it was no Shoes, Cup, and Cork Club Smoothie. But what can ya do? Not all smoothies can be the best smoothies, right?
Of course, now I am blogging and I do have to say that the environment here is very blogger friendly. Myself included, four people in this here coffee shop are currently situated behind Internet machines. The older man directly across the room from me looks like he’s reading the stock markets on his MacBook Pro. I say that because he’s bald, except for a few white hairs clinging for life on either side of his head, he’s wearing a white collared shirt, a tie, khaki dress pants, and suspenders, and just generally looks like an intensely stressed investment banker who just flew from Wallstreet to Leesburg in his private helicopter so that he could enjoy a diet coke at his favorite hometown coffee shop. Whatever, it could be true. Or maybe he’s just playing Farmville.
Another man who is across the room to my right is typing up a storm on his old-school IBM laptop. He look way too cool for a Mac. IBM all the way for him. From the looks of what little he has left of his greying hair, I’d say he’s middle-aged. He has a happy camper vibe going on. He is wearing a maroon T-shirt, dark brown cargo shorts, and hiking boots. He has sunglasses propped on the top of his head and looks just a little bit too happy to be here. He probably just came home from a long, relaxing, technology free camping trip in the woods and is just so ecstatic to finally be reconnected with his beloved Internet. Either that or he just really likes his frappuccino and is telling everyone on Twitter how much so.
There is a decorative tree blocking my view of the third coffee shop laptop-user present here and so I will never know who he is or what he’s doing here. There is another man sitting on one of the stools that are lined up along the counter facing the window and I can’t tell if he has a Bluetooth device in one of his ears or if he’s talking to himself. Either way, why do you gotta do that here, man?
Oh and let’s not forget me. I’m also here. Little old me sitting in my big green comfy chair, blogging away about all of the people in the coffee shop. Am I totally creeping, or what?
I was also able to get some quality reading time in here. I’m currently feasting my brain upon L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which is a total delight of a book that I would most certainly suggest to all lovers of young adult whimsy who have not yet read it.
Is this a good place to reading or writing? Sure. It’s quiet and they’ve got barely audible indie music playing in the background. You’ll find it easy to concentrate here. (Unless you’re me and have a terrible habit of watching, judging, and making up stories about people.) Also, they’ve got WiFi so you can write and publish all in one stop. What a concept!
Bonus Points: Random pictures of Audrey Hepburn that have nothing to do with anything else int he entire shop. I’ll take it.
What: Independent Coffee Shop
Where: Washington, D.C.
I’m sitting at a table in the back room of Pound the Hill, a small coffee shop located on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wasthington D.C. This is one of the more, reader/writer friendly coffee shops I’ve come across in the Northern Virginia area. Although, I’m sure there are plenty more here in D.C. Most people here have a laptop in front of them though, so I feel right at home.
The atmosphere here is cute and homey. They have a few big, comfy sofa type chairs in the back room, but the setup mainly includes your typical coffee shop chairs and tables. I ordered their Curried Chicken Wrap. I can gladly say that it is absolutely delicious, as I continue to blog and stuff my face simultaneously. Sorry for the lack of photos, but I was too hungry to even think about photographing my food before chowing down.
I also treated myself to a Honey Pear Iced Tea, (the barista convinced me!) which is the perfectly delightful blend of honey, pear, and of course, tea. The staff here is super friendly and the customers are mostly young DC-ers who are too cool to work within the confinements of their own home’s.
Before I began to blog, I also got some reading done here. It’s a calm, quiet environment. An ideal place to read, write, study, or do whatever it is you need to do that needed to be done in a public setting without being bothered.
Is this a good place for reading or writing? Yes! It’s quiet, almost every customer has their nose buried in a book or their face entranced by a laptop, and the diverse menu of good food makes it almost so you would never have to leave (blog & eat forever!), except maybe for a shower. My only criticism is that even though it’s cute and coffee-shop-like, there’s nothing specifically unique or characteristic about the physical space. You know? There’s no shoe chandeliers or anything like that.
Bonus Points: Their coffee comes from a highly rated micro-roaster and they promise that it’s organic, sustainable, and fair trade. On their website, they even claim to be able to tell you the names of the farmers who harvest the beans that they use. If I ever return, I’m quizzing them! Oh, and they’re pretty tech savvy. Ever seen a cash register in the form of an iPad? Yeah, they have that.
What: Local Shoe Repair Store turned Coffee Shop/ Miniature-Restaurant
Where: Downtown Leesburg, Virginia
The first time I walked by Shoes Cup and Cork Club, it fooled me. It was all, look at me, I’m a shoe repair shop! (And in my head, I was all, What the heck? Who still gets their shoes repaired? Talk about keeping the history in a historic town.) But that was only the first time. The second time I walked by it, I was able to see past the giant “Shoes” sign (mainly by looking through the window) and realized that it is actually one little kick-ass coffee shop. I knew that it was kick-ass before even walking in because it also had a sign pointing to the alleyway next door that said, “This way to our secret garden.” Which really leads to their outdoor sitting area, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a secret garden.
This is my second time at Shoes Cup and Cork Club. My first visit was with my best friend Tara and one of the cool things about it that she pointed out to me right away is that they have a shoe chandelier. That’s right, a fancy, old-fashioned light fixture that has early 1900’s style shoes dangling from it’s arms. Yes, It’s as cool as it sounds. (Or as stupid as it sounds, depending on who you are.) The rest of the decor here is just as unique. All of the tables and chairs are wooden and no two are the same. There is a bench with cozy pillows that spans along the left wall and the wall on the right side has a rather large chalkboard that anyone can draw on. So DIY!
Shoes Cup and Cork Club boasts that they have the best coffee in Leesburg and all of Loudoun County (voted by Loudoun Living), but I cannot confirm or deny these statements because, one word: SMOOTHIES! You would have to pay me large sums of money to come to this establishment and order anything besides a smoothie. These smoothies here are unlike any smoothie your little blended-fruit-beverage-loving heart could ever dream of. During my first visit here, I ordered the Pina Colada smoothie and let me just say, that was the end of me ever ordering another smoothie from any other smoothie-making business ever. Today I ordered their Very, Berry, Berry smoothie and it is all of the fruity goodness I ever could have imagined and then some. If I were President of the World, I would make it mandatory that every living person have a SCCC Smoothie every day for their entire life forever. Except, if they didn’t want to, because, free will, freedom, etc.
When I first got here, I got distracted from blogging and played Words With Friends for like 20 minutes. As a result, I found out that this is a great place to sit and play Words With Friends while enjoying a smoothie. I was about to take out my laptop and start blogging, but first I checked out the WiFi situation on my phone and it turns out that they don’t offer any free, wireless connections to the Internet. I take that as a sign that maybe they wouldn’t really appreciate their Number One Smoothie Fan hogging one of their tables with her laptop. (Even though I am their Number One Smoothie fan and all.) So I decided to partake in all of my blogging activity via my phone and then took out my book to test out the reading environment.
It’s nice to read here but it’s also not the quietest place either. If you can concentrate over other people’s conversations than you’ll get along fine, but if you prefer mostly silence when you read than this is probably not the place for your public reading endeavors. More than anything, it seems like Shoes Cup and Cork Club is a perfect little place to come to with your best friend when you want to drink lots of coffee, perfect smoothies, and maybe even some wine (Yeah, they have wine too. I know, right?!) while you sit and talk about everything and nothing for hours at a time.
Is this a good place for writing or reading?: Maybe. Writing only if you’re doing it the old way. You know, with paper and ink. There’s no WiFi so blogging is sort of O-U-T, out. Reading if you can tolerate moderate amounts of other people chatting. It’s not a spacey place so you will hear all about how your table neighbor’s week went.
Bonus Points: +1,000,000 points for their Smoothies! Also, shoe chandelier, fake-out storefront sign, and secret garden.