Looking for a good place to both get and feel the buzz? The Coffee Bar, Shaw's newest caffeine spot helmed by java pro Cait Lowry, is it. In addition to serving great coffee, Lowry’s cozy establishment offers an atmosphere that isn't your typical “Quiet! Can’t you see I’m reading Infinite Jest?” vibe. The shop is regularly filled with chatter, especially on the weekends, and people seem to like it that way.
You’ll find food bloggers perched at the end of the bar, the District's creative set pouring over projects on their laptops, and all manner of locals scrumming happily for open chairs, stools, and window perches.
Lowry, a D.C. native, headed up the coffee programs at Buzz Bakery, Baked & Wired, Pound the Hill, and Yola before striking out on her own — and she's serious about creating both types of buzz. Read on to discover what makes her tick, and get a peek at your favorite new spot to fuel up.
Photographed by Kate Hoffman
How would you explain your personal style, and how does the shop reflect it?
"It’s laid-back, classic, West Coast, with some funky touches here and there. Give me some jeans,
boots, layers on top, and a ton of accessories, and I’m good. Coco Chanel said before you leave the house, take one thing off, but I’m the opposite! My shop is the same way. I want it to be comfortable with little fun, funky touches everywhere. I always thought if Anthropologie was a coffee shop with an edge, that’s what my place would look like, and I think I’ve accomplished that."
Why did you choose this neighborhood, and how'd you get your hands on such a great space?
"[It's] a hot area, and it was a no-brainer for me to snatch up this spot. I had been working on a space downtown for six months, and the deal completely fell apart at the last minute. I was devastated. I regrouped and toured the city for months with my broker, and while looking at yet another space, I got a call from a friend who told me to drop everything, because his friend was putting his space up for rent. I was reluctant because I had been so defeated and just hadn’t loved any space I’d seen. I walked up to 1201, and it was love at first sight. The rest is history. I never put any stock into the whole 'things happen for a reason' mentality, but thank God everything went wrong for me for so long, because it brought me here."
What are some of your favorite places for coffee in D.C. or outside of the city?
"Baked & Wired can do no wrong in my book. With so many creative minds running it, they’ve
created such a cool vibe. It’s constantly changing and evolving, too, which I feel you need to do
to keep your place fresh and relevant. I love Dolcezza, as well, for the vintage flair they throw into their design. That’s definitely my design philosophy: reclaim!"
What do you think about the D.C. dining/bar scene, and what are some of your favorite places for bites and sips?
"I think the D.C. restaurant scene is catching up with other major cities. We have so much culinary
talent in this town, and because we’re not as competitive as say, New York or L.A., it gives people the chance to take a more relaxed approach to their menus. I’m a creature of habit, and I hit my favorite spots when I have a hankering for a specific dish: mussels at Bistro du Coin, pizza at Two Amy’s, pupusas at Judy’s. As for bars, I rarely go to a place where I don’t know the bartender. Must be that whole Cheers thing. It helps when you serve a large portion of the U Street bartenders coffee every day."
What is your idea of a perfect day in D.C.? How would you spend it?
"I’d be outside all day, sitting on a patio somewhere with a beer, and then hit my favorite spot in Georgetown to watch the planes come in by Key Bridge, which I’ve been doing ever since I moved here. Cheesy? Yes. Relaxing and entertaining? For sure."
Is D.C. a great coffee city?
"D.C. is becoming a great coffee city. Just like the restaurant scene, we’re catching up. D.C. baristas continuously take the top spots in the South East Regional Barista Competition (yes, there is such a thing). I think you can judge a coffee culture by the level of knowledge of the consumer, and there are a vast number of educated coffee consumers here. I have lengthy conversations every day with customers about coffee, which just tells me people are hungry for more of a coffee culture here."
What local producers are creating the best bags of beans?
"I love Ceremony in Annapolis. Andy Sprenger, their head roaster, is internationally recognized as one of the best in his field. Also, what they’re doing with their barrel-aged coffees right now is so cool and interesting."
What are your three top words of wisdom for coffee lovers?
"Water: Filter it! Black: Taste coffee before adding cream! Temperature: Steaming milk too hot
makes it sour!"
What are your biggest pet peeves in terms of coffee shop culture?
"Every time I hear 'give me the darkest, strongest coffee you have,' an angel loses its wings. Darker-roasted coffee actually has less caffeine in it. There are so many flavorful lighter and medium coffees out there that have plenty of body. Give ‘em a chance! And buying one coffee and sitting here for six hours doesn’t pay the bills. Just saying."
What are the really special products — your signature offerings — at TCB?
"I can’t wait to get our second espresso going. That was the point behind the 'Choose Your Own
Adventure' theme to our menu. You choose your espresso, and then build the drink from there. Also, we’re one of the few shops in the area that uses multiple roasters. It doesn’t seem like a particularly crazy concept, but in the industry, it’s an ambitious move. And Rip Van Wafels. If you don’t know about those, you better come by TCB and find out."