When Kramerbooks opened the Afterwords Cafe in 1976, it was the first bookstore in the country to feature cappuccino, espresso, a full bar, and food.
It was an immediate hit. Considered “Dupont’s replacement ritual for church,” and the best spot “for bookish, dessert-addicted night owls“—according to the urban Bible Citywalks Washington DC —this neighborhood hub has been lauded by nearly every critic that ever stepped foot into the place.
The Washington Post reviewer explained: “The action at Kramerbooks & Afterwords starts with breakfast and the morning papers at 7:30 AM, and keeps throbbing until well after midnight, seven days a week, complete with indoor and sidewalk cafes, a full-service bar, and live entertainment. The sounds are diverting, the smells are delicious, the sights are tempting.”
Reviewers from The New York Times offered accolades, as well. “Kramerbooks is a cultural landmark of sorts. … Many people do not consider themselves true Washingtonians until they have received a phone call that begins as an invitation for drinks after work and ends with ‘I’ll meet you at Kramer’s.’ Kramerbooks & Afterwords is definitely an institution. There is no place like it here. It is known throughout the town, almost entirely through word of mouth. Of course, anything worth knowing in Washington almost always is.”
Having been regular customers of the book-friendly bistro for decades, here’s what we think:
1. The atmosphere: Well-lit and slightly romantic, this is a great place to have a first date. It’s not bad for business meetings, either, so long as you don’t mind sitting relatively close to the patrons at the next table.
2. The food: Yummy. The specials are always tasty and include what’s in season and fresh. What’s fun is that the offers, written like lovely book jacket blurbs, titillate you into ordering them. Recent lunch specials include:
Baked Half Lobster w/Crabmeat, $19
½ New England lobster stuffed w/jumbo lump crabmeat brushed w/sweet butter & fired under the broiler w/Maryland butternut squash, corn & lima bean succotash
Glass of Riesling, $5
Twin Food-Truck Duck Tacos, $15
Café slow-cooked duck—pulled from the bone with café kimchi slaw, Sriracha crème fraiche, fresh cilantro, onion, cracklins’ on grilled corn tortillas; guacamole; sour cream, salsa, market greens salad; Cafe ‘dirty’ rice & beans (black beans, sausage, bacon, garlic, onion, red pepper, scallion)
Mug of Lager, $5
Pumpkin Ravioli w/Fresh Lemon Thyme, $15
Roasted pumpkin in a pumpkin & sage-infused fresh pasta, sautéed in butter w/shallots & toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh lemon-thyme infused Café veggie stock & mascarpone cream, and dusted w/grated parmesan
Glass of Chardonnay, $5
3. The booze: We love that each entree is paired with a glass of wine, beer, or spirits. When it comes to choosing from some signature cocktails this winter, do check out the Café Hot Buttered Rum, and the Hot Apple Toddy, both $9. Our personal favorite any time of the year is the Secret Service Sidecar, $11 (Courvoisier VS, Mathilde peach liqueur, sour, and OJ, served over ice). Plus, if you can grab one, take a seat at the tiny bar that’s located just off the main bookstore. It’s a great spot to people watch.
4. The service: Classy, educated, friendly, and helpful. This place is located in the center of Dupont Circle, after all.
5. The extras: The bookstore itself is worth the trip, of course. So make sure to take the time to peruse the shelves. We never cease to find a book, or four, that catch the eye.
6. The price: For the quality, the food is reasonably priced and competitive with other DC hotspots.
Breakfast ranges from $10.25 (for a big plate of pancakes, french toast, a southwestern omelet or a salmon and bagel platter) to $15 for giant fancy omelets (Janes Island crab, the chili-filled Barack, and the Greek), which come with fresh fruit and potatoes.
Lunch ranges from $11 (for a large salad with grilled chicken) or a veggie quesadilla to $15 for the sushi tuna and avocado salad.
Dinners start at $15 for the Spaghetti Bolognese, and range to $20 for the BBQ rib platter, and $24 for the grilled filet mignon.
7. The bottom line: As their slogan goes, Afterwords has been “serving latte to the literati since 1976.” They ain’t kidding. From fancy coffee to crabcake pasta, there’s something to eat for everyone. Not hungry? Come anyway. This is one of the best spots in Dupont Circle to find hipsters, grad students, poets, book aficionados, and the occasional celeb. Even a president or two has been known to patronize the property. Then-President Bill Clinton reportedly purchased Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” there for White House intern Monica Lewinisky, and President Obama visited the store with daughters Malia and Sasha last November in support of “Small Business Saturday,” which falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Inkandescent rating: Three candles
out of 4
Where: 1517 Connecticut Ave., NW
Just above Dupont Circle; across from the Q St. Metro exit
Hours: Open early to late 7 days a week, and all night Friday and Saturday
Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and late supper
Live Music: Wednesday through Saturday nights.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more on the Mezzanine only. Handicapped access.
Click here for more information: www.kramers.com.
Reviewed by Hope Katz Gibbs, founder and publisher, Be Inkandescent magazine.