Coffee lovers like myself enjoy a cup of Joe year round, but when the weather turns cooler as it is now, caressing a hot mug or cup brings a bit more enjoyment. Perfect timing then for some visits to coffee spots in Old Town.
Our food critic has previously taken a look at the mud stops, but this time we’re providing photos and have made more visits to each. We’ll get local passions stirred up with a ranking of our favorite Top Five.
Corner of S. Patrick and King
There are coffee places more modern and attractive in Old Town than Misha’s, ones with more parking and less noise, but we think this long time spot in the heart of the historic district is the best. No one else roasts the beans the way they do, with a great old time machine right there among the sippers, giving off that wonderful aroma.
The coffee drinkers stand out too. Sure, each place has its own set of loyals, but the regulars here seem particularly insistent this is caffeine Valhalla. I’ve talked with loyal customers who said they’ve been coming here for over 15 years, from distances you won’t believe.
King and N. Columbus
Currently celebrating their 25th year, and also located in the center of town, these guys are also a local institution. The weekday staff is fast and friendly, and I love the Kenya AA. Their smaller sized cupcakes are easier on the waistline, and how about those heart-shaped biscuits?
Alice works the floor, spreading cheer and warmth. Best of all, you can pour your own coffee, a delightful thing for caffeine addicts.
S. Royal Street near King
Particular about your coffee? Joe DiMaggio asked that question in a 1960s commercial, and we bet he’d love this cozy place on a particularly pleasing block of S. Royal, just a few steps from King. With a $11,000 Clover machine and baristas who know the trade, this is the place to be for the high-end coffee lover.
Next door is Lavender Moon Cupcake, a terrific sweet-tooth partner. Grape and Bean’s only minus is its small size, and they have shorter hours than the others. A nice plus, however, are the training classes they offer, as well as events. And hanging proudly on their walls is an article about them from the Washington Post written by Michaele Weissman, author of God in a Cup.
I remember walking past this place several years ago when they put up the “Coming Soon” sign. I was thrilled to see it, the only such place in the north part of town, but wondered if they could succeed in a location on the periphery.
The residents of Old Town Commons and elsewhere near Slaters Lane came and this nifty place has never looked back. The vibe is young professionals, families and dogs. Best overall menu of all the others, they serve illy coffee and have an area for pets. Great name too!
King and Union
Perhaps nowhere in Washington will you find a coffee place with more character than this historic corner spot. The staff is very efficient, handling the long lines in the morning and depending on who is behind the counter, they remember what the regulars want. The historic photos are a nice touch too.
The occasional flooding is the one drawback but the regulars never seem to worry.
This place could rank higher, but we have a soft spot for the smaller guys and what’s up with not having chocolate croissants?
Best of the Rest (No Ranking)
King and Harvard
Uptowner’s digs are a bit small too, but where else can you can sip your java beside a fireplace (ok so it’s fake) and hear the soothing sounds of classical music? You might even run into local authors such as Kristin Levine, book lovers from Hooray for Books!, and journo types from across the street.
The staff is friendly and efficient and we like their sandwiches named for 16 nearby streets.
Queen and N. Fayette
Nicole earns major points in our mind for rehabbing Sarge’s old place in the heart of Parker Gray, displaying Leisa Collins beautiful paintings of Old Town homes and the other nice touches to make her customers feel at home.
Plus, the coffee here is from Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company in Crofton, Maryland. 20% of sales goes to restoring the Chesapeake Watershed.
Stop by and see these guys.
S. Washington and Church
If you’ll pardon the expression, Perk Up has perked up within the last few weeks with new management and improvements in offerings and decor. Southsiders will be enjoy the ramp up, the new Bru Bar and it looks like the smoke has cleared if you’re sipping al fresco.
S. Union near King
The magazines on your left as you enter signal the slower pace here, a contrast to the smart phone crowd at Buzz and some of the other places. A room in the back provides a nice gathering place for small meetings.
Before leaving, grab a serving of tuna or egg salad for lunch, costing less than $4.
Wolfe and S. Washington
For the longest time, the Shuman family ran this corner spot facing busy S. Washington Street. Famous were their jelly cakes (“Thin, round layers of buttery pound cake separated by slathers of red-currant jelly, cut into tidy diamond shapes”). The Washington Post even ran a story on the time (1950s) Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth’s flight back to England was supplied with some of them.
After the time-strapped owner sold in 2004, Firehook moved in and the transition was smooth. Parking by the front door if you can get it and they will special order the jelly cakes.
822 N Fairfax
Tired of lethargic morning starts and feeling drowsy after lunch, more Americans are opting for a solid breakfast instead. When the hot new trend hits Old Town, Extra Perks will be way ahead of the game. Their breakfast menu includes all the usual items, as well as weekend brunch and a full British breakfast. Like Nicole’s, they use Chesapeake Bay Coffee.
Bread and Chocolate
611 King Street
Their farm baguettes leave a lot to be desire and there’s something unattractive about this side of the 600 block of King, but this place has a loyal following too.
King and Pitt
Outside hang out area is not as nice as some of the others but they do get the regulars. You might even meet a lawyer or a judge here.
Henry and Oronoco
Certainly convenient for the residents of Monarch, and they make a good Caramel Frapp but the ambience here needs improving.
King near Washington
Bagel lovers pile in here in the mornings. Try their “Softwich” for something for different.
King Street Café
1018 King Street
Been there just once, small and older but works in a pinch.
Old Town Coffee, Tea and Spice
S. Union near King
Not much of a place to drink coffee, but we love their souk-style presentations.
This is not an exhaustive list but I believe I hit the more popular spots.
As a test, I googled coffee for Old Town. Technology gets it right except for the Firehook on N. Fayette closed down several years ago.
Also, Fontaine Caffe and Crepery is listed, but I did not include them because it’s more about the eating. Same for Le Pain Quotidian and some others.