Hello, D.C. I have arrived! I had never been to Washington, D.C. before, so when I moved here a few months ago (friendless, family-less and wingman-less), I had to figure out ways to discover the city alone, without looking/feeling like a fool.
People say it wise to judge a place by its black gold, its mud, its hojo, its java. While I can recognize good from bad coffee, I am no bean connoisseur, but I am interested in the rhetoric of cafe ambiance, and what it says about a neighborhood and its people. Experiencing a cafe is the best (and quickest) way to get acquainted with the soul of an area, so naturally when I moved to Bloomingdale, the first thing I did was hit the coffee shops.
Cafe Tour: Bloomingdale Edition:
Oh, what's that? You can't afford to live in Columbia Heights anymore, so now you live in Bloomingdale? I understand. Gentrification is raging here in D.C., and the cafes of Bloomingdale are a representation of the virus taking hold at alarming rates. Beware neighborhoods of D.C., you might be next! AHHHH run for the hills! Regardless of if you love or hate rising property values, it's happening, and the cafes of Bloomingdale make it impossible to ignore.
Start at Sankofa Cafe at 2714 Georgia Ave. So I realize this place is really on the outskirts of Bloomingdale in Pleasant Plains, but I still think it is a representation of the neighborhood at its finest. Let the jazz soothe you, as you sit with your journal and admire the African décor on the walls and skim the many books, music, DVDs and CDs, celebrating the people of Africa. This is the true untouched community, a primarily black neighborhood that is the proud host of Howard University. Students are here studying and a sixty-year-old black woman in her sunhat, '80s jacket, and baroque patterned leggings, is sipping her joe, taking it all in. This unassuming hole-in-the-wall cafe is a reflection of Bloomingdale, an underrated neighborhood filled with black history, culture, learning and music (Chuck Brown, anyone?). It is a testament to the preservation of the neighborhood, so (depending on who you are) you might feel simultaneously guilty for tainting it, and excited for experiencing it. Come back on a Wednesday or Friday for live jazz. Travel inward, Bloomingdale, and reach Windows Cafe.
Windows Cafe and Market
Windows Cafe (1st and Rhode Island) is a quaint (verging on dingy) neighborhood joint, that doesn't have too much character, but enough to make it a pleasant place to, I don't know, look out a window? Coffee is okay, food is okay, atmosphere is okay. It's all... okay, but it is great for studying/doing work because you will always get a seat and probably an outlet. Also there is a cute ass market attached to it. So how is Windows a representation of Bloomingdale? #1 it is neighborhood-y, just like Bloomingdale. #2 It exists in the limbo of being somewhere between "acceptable" and "adorable," just like Bloomingdale. #3 Hipsters trickle in when there isn't enough room at Big Bear, just like Bloomingdale (replace Big Bear with Columbia Heights). So Windows is the gateway cafe to full-blown "urban development," which you will find at...
Big Bear Cafe
What could I possibly say about the hipsters at Big Bear that hasn't already been said? Don't get me wrong, I really like this place and I'm not knocking it. It is fabulously cozy with its custom wooden birdhouses in front, garden, vine-covered walls and twinkle lights. Yes, it's all very precious, and when you walk over to your big comfy chair in the dimly lit corner to have your brunch, you will become cooler with every sip of mulled cider you take. It's good, and let's face it, if you are there, you are probably also wearing skinny jeans and a plaid shirt. So embrace yourself, the gentrification that surrounds, your hipster friends, and sit down and listen to the people next to you discussing David Foster Wallace as you fork at your veggie plate, and think to yourself, "Damn, I should've brought my mat and gone to that yoga class up the street later." So there you have it, Big Bear Cafe is the final phase of the Bloomingdale transformation into a "hip" town.
Basically, what I'm sayin' here is that the progression of Sankofa to Windows to Big Bear mirrors the direction the neighborhood is going. It is exciting, it is cool, it is hip, it is gentrifying, it is displacing, it is sad, it is happening, and all we can say about it is... It is what it is, but at least there's coffee.