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.