field report: Georgetown, Washington DC

credit: Elite Image Photography by Chad McDermott

I wanted to do a deep dive on third wave coffee shops in a DC neighborhood, so I picked Georgetown. I didn’t need provisions or a boarding pass for this one, as I can leave home and be at any of these places within 20 minutes. That is, depending on traffic, which is a big caveat.

Georgetown is a breathtakingly beautiful, historic neighborhood in Washington, home to some of its oldest houses and commercial buildings. Long a trading and economic center of the city, it rises above the Potomac River east of downtown, the Monuments, and government buildings. Rock Creek and its eponymous park form Georgetown’s eastern border, Georgetown University its western border, and it is bisected by the C&O canal with its towpath and series of old wooden locks.

Georgetown’s main retail arteries are Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. Along these thoroughfares you’ll find all the shopping, food and drink you want and then some, much of it in older buildings or newer construction made to look old (with varying degrees of success).

OK, sure, that’s tasteful enough…..

… but this faux art deco monstrosity?

Many Washington area residents have a love-hate relationship with Georgetown. To some, its quaint, quiet narrow streets of gorgeous, slender old brick, wood, and stone townhouses, interspersed with the occasional imposing mansion or two, make for a beautiful stroll on which to ponder possessing the great riches it would take to live amidst such splendor. Despite some ponderously ugly brick monstrosities of 1970s-1990s vintage between the river and M Street, there are charming boutiques, B&Bs and restaurant conversions of old carriage houses and homes. There are taverns and eateries that have been in place for generations, and a rich variety of ethnic cuisines. It’s easy to picture oneself leading a glamorous life of dignified privilege in this exclusive little village, which is reminiscent in its own way of older precincts of Philadelphia, New York and Charleston.

Then there are others who see Georgetown as an overcrowded tourist trap of overpriced chains, mediocre restaurants, and boisterous bars serving the under-aged frat boy demographic. And don’t you dare speak of that…. place. <<shudder>>

Not worth the traffic, not worth the impossible parking, and not worth fighting through swarms of tourists loaded with shopping bags from the exact same chains they can find back home at better prices, even if it has charm and brick coming out the wazoo.

Me? I think both views are correct. Sometimes I love cutting through the back streets and seeing the beautiful old houses; sometimes I despise having to go near the place; and sometimes I’m somewhere in between. Overall I’m happy to dip my toe in now and again, so long as I don’t have to come through all the time.

Oh, wait, where were we? Right, coffee. So the reasons I chose to review the offerings in this particular neighborhood are:

  • there’s an interesting mix of independent local shops and very well regarded national roasters
  • all occupy attractive spaces (though for some that’s true only once you’re in the door), and
  • they’re all near each other, so there’s a nice concentration of quality providers to chose from in a small area

So whether you’re a visitor to our fair environs who will inevitably end up in this neighborhood (maybe you loved St. Elmo’s Fire, or want to climb the Exorcist steps), or are a local looking forward to some retail therapy and a drink at Martin’s Tavern, or are a DMVer *really* unhappy to be stuck in your version of the seventh circle of hell, I’ve got some recommendations for you.

Just do yourself a favor, and get there on foot, by bus, ride your bike, pull up in a taxi, hail a lyft or uber, take a boat to the Georgetown waterfront, whatever it takes. But by all means, leave your car at home! You’ll drive yourself nutty fighting through traffic and trying to find a parking space that won’t get you ticketed or towed. And please don’t come in riding one of those shared electric scooters; you’ll look like a total weenie, there’s too much pedestrian and car traffic, and you’ll end up dumping it in a sidewalk and inevitably pissing someone off.  Don’t be that guy/gal.

Here are my highly unscientific, wholly unreliable, and completely subjective rankings. I’ve visited some of these cafes in the past, between one and five times, as well as sister outlets in the same chains, while I am very unfairly judging others off a single visit. Another time through these shops could and probably would jumble the rankings in all kinds of directions, so as always please remember: taste is a very personal thing, there are no hard truths here, and your mileage may vary. 

As with my Denver report, I’ll let this post serve as the overall guide and link to individual reviews. I’ll add a review a day, working my way up to number one, Casey Kasem-style.

Until then,

No thanks, not for me
6 7. Dean & De Luca Market my review closed as of August 2019

*late addition* Good, with room to improve
6. Café Georgetown my review

Very good, well worth a stop
5. Corridor Coffee my review closed as of 9/22/2019
4. Bluestone Lane my review closed as of August 2021, 5 other DC outlets are open

Excellent, make it a point to go here
3. Grace Street Coffee  my review

Top o’ the line
2. Blue Bottle  my review
1. Baked and Wired my review

2 thoughts on “field report: Georgetown, Washington DC”

  1. I LOVE Baked & Wired. It was my go-to spot when Tess had regattas on the Potomac. (And what a lovely DC scene that was: regatta on the river with Georgetown behind me and Baked & Wired just up the hill waiting for me. Unfortunately, I was a terrible regatta fan and could never tell what boat Tess was in.)
    I’m glad my assessment of B & W meets the Mattie test. I look forward to the review and I hope you talk about the unbelievable pastries.

    1. Rachel, we’ve gotta have a chat about the correct spelling of Matty. 🙂

      – Matty

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