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Blogging From: Fresh & Organic

Much unlike my horrid experience, at Caribou Coffee on Monday, my time spent at Fresh & Organic in Ashburn was pleasant and enjoyable. A quiet little cafe tucked away in one of Northern Virginia’s many shopping strips, Fresh & Organic is the a perfectly quaint, locally owned cafe fit for even the most health-conscious, good-food-loving individual.

Organic & Fresh

Admittedly, Fresh & Organic doesn’t necessarily fall directly  into the typical bookish Coffee Shop/ Cafe standard that I’m constantly on the look out for, but honestly, Northern Virginia is sort of lacking in that area. I had debated on whether or not I wanted to spend my last weekend here making yet another trek into D.C., but after recalling my previous frustrations with parking on The Hill, I decided to hunt for something more local. I knew there had to be at least one more suitable place in good old Ashburn. So when I came across Fresh & Organic, I figured as long as they serve coffee (which, they do) they’re good enough for my blog.

When I walked inside I was greeted by a very friendly gentleman, the owner of the shop, who handed me a menu and told me to let him know when I was ready to order. There were two other customers already seated, both of which the owner was on a first name basis with; the first indication that Fresh & Organic would be worth my while. I eventually ordered the Black Bean Burger and then sat down at a table and read while I waited for my food. In stark contrast to the atmosphere at a much more detestable coffee shop earlier in the week, Fresh & Organic proved to have an impeccable taste in music, quietly sharing tunes via a My Morning Jacket Pandora Station. Beck, Led Zeppelin, Wilco? Why yes, sharing this good music with your customers at a reasonable volume is an excellent decision.

Mmmm!

In addition to serving up good music, I can also attest to the fact that Fresh & Organic serves good food. My Black Bean Burger and the organic salad that it came with were both delicious. This was one of the best meals that I have eaten out in a really long time, which I think goes to show that fresh, natural, unprocessed food is the way to go. As I was leaving, the owner said that he hoped I would come back. I told him that I was moving to New York at the end of the week but that I liked my burger and his little cafe so much that I would try to make it back for one more Fresh & Organic meal before my departure.

Conclusions

Is this place good for reading or writing? Most definitely. The environment is relaxed and quiet. Plus there’s good music and good food. It’s a done deal.

Bonus Points: From Fresh & Organic’s Website: “Our recipes combine healthy ingredients in order to provide you with the utmost in taste and nutritional value. We are organic wherever possible and always fresh!…We ardently believe that nature’s simple ingredients are enough… and you won’t need to be a biochemist to pronounce them!” Right on!

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P.S. Get ready to explore New York’s bookstores & Cafe’s! Next time you hear from me, I’ll be blogging from The Big Apple.

Blogging From: Politics and Prose

Also, Pretty & Purple.

There’s nothing like a big, bright bookstore to brighten up a rainy day. It’s dark and gloomy outside in D.C. today, but I knew that dreary, rainy-day feeling would vanish once I stepped inside Politics and Prose. I could tell that it was going to be a bookstore  well worth my trip into D.C. before even stepping inside. I think it was the big purple awning hanging over the store front that gave it away. It was either that or the name.

According to their website, the store opened twenty five years ago and the owners chose the name wanting to represent the D.C. area without being “pretentious.” I can understand not wanting to seem pretentious. Pretentious people are generally not enjoyable or friendly or fun. But bookstores, I think bookstores should be allowed to be a little bit pretentious. You know? They are bookstores. They provide the public with books and books are important. We need books. So if anything in this world could get away with being pretentious, it should be a bookstore. They never are though, which speaks a lot to bookstore’s personalities. They’re probably the only existing entity that could rightfully get away with being a teensy bit smug and proud, and yet they choose not to.

Community!

So, speaking of being unpretentious, Politics and Prose is friendly and welcoming and it offers an excellent stock of carefully selected books to its customers, just the way a good bookstore should. It’s neatly organized into easy to find sections and there’s something for every type of reader. When I first walked into the store I first stumbled into a table of books dedicated to books on current politics. How fitting. To the left side of the store I found the “New and Recommended” shelf, which features the current top ten bet sellers and a handpicked display of new and notable literature.

Politics and Prose is, without a doubt, a “Blogging from Bookstores” kind of place. They have plenty of chairs strewn all across the store that invite shoppers to take a seat and read for a bit. This idea is basically even a part of their business model. On their website they write:

“We see the store as a fun place to be, to shop, and to work in. We chat with customers. We urge them to sit down and look at books before they make a decision.”

So basically, it’s perfect. Perfect for book shopping. Perfect for reading. Perfect for writing and working. It seems like it couldn’t be any more perfect, right? Wrong. What really takes this bookstore to the next level is it’s Modern Times Cafe. It’s located in the store’s basement and is well equipped with plenty of tables and chairs, free WiFi, and of course, coffee and food! The menus are written in chalk on chalk boards in classic cafe style  and everyone here is either working on their laptop, reading a book, or engaged in a deep conversation with friends.

Underground, so indie!

When I entered Modern Times, it was packed. It didn’t look like there was one seat open, yet I still ordered my Iced Tea to stay because I was determined to find somewhere to set up camp with my laptop. I spotted a space where two older women were seated and noticed an open chair next to them. “Is anyone sitting here?” I asked. “Just my books,” one of the women responded as she smiled at me and moved her pile of newly purchased books to the floor. She cleared the space and I thanked her as I snagged the last available spot in this Bookstore Cafe Heaven. As I’m writing, I just overheard one of the baristas say to a customer, “Yeah, everybody’s doing double trips today.” I don’t blame them. If I lived closer to Politics & Prose and their Modern Times Cafe, there’s a good chance I’d make it here at least three times a day. Hell, who am I kidding, I’d just live here.

Is this a good place for reading and writing? I believe I have already made that clear, but just to reiterate, YES! YES! YES! Come here and bring your books (or better, buy some from them!) and your laptop and read and write away!

Bonus Points: A built in cafe, a kick-ass name, and noteworthy contributions to the local community by hosting tons of educational events and supporting local book clubs! Other highlights also include, fairly priced books, a cheap cafe menu (my iced tea was only $2!), an extremely knowledgeable staff, and a fantasy land kids section complete with a beanbag nook! (See slideshow for photos!)

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Blogging From: Busboys & Poets

What: Coffee Shop/ Restaurant/ Mini-bookstore

Where: Arlington, VA

Ring the bell, sound the alarm! We have a winner! OK, I guess this was never really meant to be a contest, but Busboys and Poets  definitely wins the prize for being the best establishment I have found so far that meets all of the things that I look for when I’m on the hunt for the perfect places conducive to reading and writing in public. Busboys and Poets is an independently owned restaurant and cafe that now has four different locations all around the DC Metro area. It was founded in 2005  by Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist, and restaurateur, with the intentions of creating a “community gathering place.” He named the establishment for Langston Hughes, who once worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel prior to gaining recognition as a poet.

Before entering Busboys and Poets, I was expecting it to be a little more bookstore and a little less cafe. However, it happens to be much more of a cafe and restaurant than it is a bookstore. This was not a disappointing turn of events, though. The atmosphere inside was busy and buzzing. If the tables full of people that I noticed in the outside dining area prior to entering weren’t enough of an indication that this was an Arlington hotspot, then the amount of people I found inside certainly was. Customers have the choice of either being seated to a booth, pulling a stool up to the bar, or plopping down at one of the communal tables where you’re welcome to dine, work, write, and read to your heart’s desire.

A picture of my blog, on my blog. So meta.

I set up camp at one of the large communal tables, which was empty when I arrived but eventually became home to other laptop toting, cafe-lovers who came to B&P to get some work done. I’m the kind of person who takes an agonizingly long amount of time to decide on what I’m going to order whenever I’m out to eat, but when a restaurant has a menu as diverse and appetizing as Busboys & Poets’, it will take me three times as long. When I finally decided on what to order, I chose the Harira, which is a flavorful Moroccan bean soup, and it did not disappoint. The cool thing about B&P’s menu is that it has a lot of options to offer and it also specifically points out which dishes are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. Their menu also boasts the following:

  • 100% Fair Trade & organic coffees and teas.
  • Organic wine and beer. And Biodynamic wine.
  • Boycotting of Canada’s seal hunt by “no longer purchasing any seafood from Canada.”
  • Primarily sustainable seafood.
  • Grass-fed, free range beef from local Virginia farms.
  • Local, organic field greens from the Engaged Community Offshoots Farm Network.
  • Conservation of water by only serving it upon request.

Show the planet some love.

Aside from providing good food and a great place to work, Busboys & Poets also supports local artists, musicians, and activists by hosting tons of different events like open mic poetry nights, independent film screenings, author readings and book signings, and talent showcases. You’ll also find several paintings by local artists available for purchase decorating many of the B&P walls.

Some art & trinkets in the bookshop section.

The books section of B&P is not what a true bookstore lover would call a “bookstore.” It’s more of a gift-shop-like area where you’ll find some pretty cool gizmos and gadgets that are actually worth buying. Of course, for all intents and purposes you can rightfully call it a bookstore since there were four or five shelves filled with a good deal of really great reads.

I spy Howard Zinn.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? 100% yes. This place was made for people like me who tote their laptops and books around with them everywhere they go. This is the type of place that public Internet users live for. Good food, good service, and good books. There’s not much more you can ask for.

Bonus points: Busboys and Poets is a proud member of DC Local First and are a Certified B Corporation. Also, their Hyattsville, MD location will be holding a very special event on Wednesday, September 21 (which is International Peace Day) where they will be dedicating a room to Howard Zinn. Check it out if you’re in the area!

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Blogging From: Kramer Books & Afterwards Cafe

What: Independent Bookstore, Cafe, & Bar

Where: Dupont Circle, Washington D.C.

GPOYSF: Gratuitous Picture of Your Storefront

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.

The most books.

The most food & drinks.

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.

And drink.

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.)

Thanks, Gus!

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.

Conclusions

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.

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Blogging From: King Street Coffee

Looks like a house, acts like a coffee shop.

What: Local Coffee Shop

Where: Leesburg, Virginia – South King Street

Right now, I’m at King Street Coffee in historic, downtown Leesburg. This isn’t my first time here. I just so happen to work around the corner from this quaint little coffee house. I have to say, that it’s hard to resist giving them all of my money in exchange for coffee, tea, and the privilege of sitting at one of their wooden tables in the seating area that feels like your mom’s kitchen. It’s very authentic. I’d blog from here forever if I could. It’s like blogging heaven. A small, quiet independent coffee shop with free WiFi and tables. How is Starbucks even still in business? Why would you choose that over this? Wake up, people of the world! Starbucks coffee doesn’t even taste good! That is a fact.

Opposite of Starbucks.

The building, like most of the buildings here in downtown Leesburg, is and old house. Like, I’m literally sitting in what was probably some early American colonist family’s living room. (OK, I don’t know if it’s that old. But let me just pretend.) I bet their ghosts are hovering over me right this very moment. They’re wondering what on earth this alien contraption that I put on their table is. “Why does she keep pressing all of those buttons?!”

Normally when I come to King Street Coffee I order an iced coffee with milk and sugar because I like consistency and am also in love with iced coffee. But watch out world! Today I switched it up. I got the Moroccan Mint Iced Tea as per recommendation of the King Street Coffee barista. It’s a unique blend and the mint gives it a nice little kick. Add a tiny bit of sugar to it and you’re good to go. A perfect 115-degree-weather-I-need-something-cold-in-the-form-of-liquid-now beverage. (Yes, as I am writing this, the heat index outside is about 115. Ew.)

Honestly though, next time I’ll probably get an iced coffee again because the coffee here is 100% delicious, 100% of the time. That’s expected though. I mean, it is a Coffee Shop (hence the word “coffee” in their name) and they use locally roasted beans. Everyone in favor of supporting the local economy say I. “I!”

As I write, I’m sitting at a small table next to a window that looks out to South King street. Across the street there’s a huge pink house that is an antique shop and gift store called The Pink Shop. It’s like, really pink. Almost too pink. But since it is called “The Pink Shop,” I guess the building really can’t be too Pink. In fact, I think this might be the only time that a building can acceptably be completely pink and have a bright magenta door. Nobody else try this. I don’t want to see any other buildings this pink ever.

Attack of the Pink!

I’m looking out the window and watching people walk by. This one guy that I just saw hates The Pink Shop. I just watched his girlfriend lure him in. She ran up the stairs to the door faster than he could say “But, babe, I don’t wanna!” He walked up the first two steps, paused, took a deep breath, sighed, and then hesitantly dragged his feet up the remaining steps as if he were walking to his overly-pink death. Watching people is fun. King Street Coffee is a good place to do this.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for writing or reading?: Yes! It’s quiet and I’ve never seen it overly crowded. The employees are friendly and the coffee is Delicious with a capital D. They have free WiFi and cute wooden tables with cute wooden chairs to sit at. Really, what more could a writer or reader ask for?

Bonus points for: Good music, use of local products, and pink scenery.

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