Kramerbooks and Afterwords in Dupont Circle

24 Feb
February 24, 2011

With the recent announcement that Borders is closing a third of its stores, including a very large one in Northwest D.C., it’s easy to bemoan the decline of the printed word and books in general.

But not far from the soon-to-be shuttered Borders on 18th and L Street is a bookstore that keeps the written spirit alive and well.

Kramerbooks and Afterwords, right off Dupont Circle, is the perfect place to find your favorite novel and then settle in and read it.

The space, which opened in 1976, and has been independently owned ever since, stands in stark contrast to the Borders and Barnes & Nobles of the world. The store straddles two streets, with one entrance on Connecticut Avenue, just a few steps north of the circle and another on the opposite side of the building, on 19th Street.

Head inside the Connecticut Avenue entrance to visit the bookstore. While it’s not a large store, it is nonetheless jam packed with books. The bookstore itself is divided into two rooms. The first room has drab, thin, grey carpet and the second a faded pine floor. The contrasting floors imply one thing. We aren’t here for looks, we’re here for books.

The same goes for the signage above the literature. Some sections, like mystery novels, are demarcated by bright pink neon signs. But for other sections, like American Classics, there’s just a sign printed on computer paper, taped to the wall, high above the shelves. And those shelves are high, taller than most people, making up for the lack of floor space.

There’s no lack of selection, though. Customers would be hard pressed to find a novel in a mega-bookstore that isn’t inside Kramerbooks. Yet that’s only a small part of the store’s allure and charm.

Just beyond the bookstore, toward 19th Street, is a full-service coffee shop and bar. Behind the counter, bartenders can pull top-notch espresso drinks or serve you a draft beer from the wide-ranging selection of quality microbrews. The bar always has 18 beers on tap, and the selection constantly rotates.

There are also liquor drinks available, as well as a very long, impressive and reasonably priced wine list. The bar space is narrow and only contains about 20 seats, but the message is clear: loiter or linger as long as you’d like. No one eyes you to leave after your drink is finished. So sit back and finish the entire book you bought, if it pleases you.

Beyond the bar is Afterwords, the bookstore’s café. The space is unique, all the walls and ceilings are glass, giving it the feel of a giant terrarium. The café serves large appetizers that they call “Sharezies.” Among the standouts are the “Thai Water Buffalo Wings” which come doused in a chili-garlic sauce and the Pizza Oaxacito, a Mexican take on the Italian staple.

While you enjoy your food, there’s also free entertainment. Dupont Circle is one of the busiest areas in the city, and the glass enclosure allows customers to sit back and enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life.

Four nights a week, Kramerbooks shows its groovy side. From Wednesday to Saturday, there’s live music, with acts ranging from jazz to folk rock. As the week progresses, the shows start later. They begin at eight on Wednesday, nine on Thursday and ten on Friday and Saturday. But the late start times on the weekend don’t cut the show short, because from Friday night until Sunday evening, Kramer’s doesn’t close.  And it may be one of the only bookstores in the area that never closes, meaning you can enjoy Kramer’s whenever you’d like.

- David

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