Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Coffee/Riot: Tryst

Coffee shops, cafes, whatever you prefer to call them, DC has its fair share of spots that serve up the caffeinated, addictive beverage in some form or another. Some are bakeries, others more restaurant-like, and others are self-identified coffee shops. I'll take on the dubious task of chronicling some of my favorite coffee spots in the city. Of course its not a dubious task, but in order to really examine the reasons behind their greatness (as decided by me) of any specific location, I'll deliberately visit each one, including a couple I've never been too, on a quest to uncover what's so unique and cool about them. If you have suggestions, well, suggest away. I know DC residents are sometimes fiercely loyal to their favorite coffee joints, so I'll mostly be heaping praise, and being posi. On the other hand, I appreciate coffee of varying quality, so all you purist can start your own blog. Previous Coffee/Riot posts: Sticky Fingers, Baked & Wired, Dos Gringos, M.E. Swing, Grape and Bean, Crumbs & Coffee, Open City.

I had put off writing about Tryst since I know so many people have strong feelings about this place. It enamors and infuriates equally. Laptop owners love it, but not on weekends. Its a great place to do homework, unless the band's playing. You can go there to people watch, or to be stalked. Ok, the last one was kind of a joke. But, Tryst is so popular its hard to make a case against it. Its a quintessential coffee shop and lounge. Its not familiar in the way Open City is; clean, sharp and out-of-town-visitor friendly. Its not as intimidating as a specialty coffee shop embedded in a trendy neighborhood (like Grape and Bean). I guess that's the rub, Tryst is so good at being all things to all people. And I'm one that really likes it.

Start with the coffee. Its great! Both Tryst and Open City use Counter Culture Coffee. Its almost a given now that a respected alternative coffee shop should serve fairly traded, organic etc coffee. If you have read the blog before you know that I LOVE soy latte. They make a great one here. The in-house latte is the size of your head and I often have a hard time finishing it before it gets cold. Similar to Open City, Tryst baristas make a mean soy cortado. They have a fairly sick tea menu as well. Great presentation when you order the loose leaf tea. If you do get a coffee and want to stick around, the downside is that there is table service. If you ever feel guilty about running a $3.00 tab for an hour sitting, don't come here. They serve alcohol so table table service is not optional.

The service is fine by my standards, but don't expect an in-and-out breakfast, lunch or dinner. The servers are usually oh-so-attractive, knowledgeable, generally kind and serve just fine: its just hard to find them on occasion. They definitely put the "wait" back into waitstaff. But the large letters on the front door do say 'lounge,' so I'm not inclined to complain. There is always some sort of art on the walls, many times begging the question "but is it art?" Check out the amusing bathtime photos of the staff behind the counter. The atmosphere is laid back. Couches and mismatched armchairs share room with community coffee tables and night stands turned place setting. Its a sort of free for all as far as seating. If you can find a seat and room for your plate or cup, great. If not, you may need to improvise.

There are no hosts so actually finding a seat is up to the patron and can be nerve racking. I never attempt to eat at Tryst with more than one person. Finding a seat for a group is especially challenging. On the other hand the lighting and single seating model can lead to a little privacy and intimacy; great when you don't want to be bothered by others, or just want to get away for a spell and bury yourself in food or coffee. The food menu is nothing special, but the salads are particularly full and filling and I've heard great things about the desserts, but few are vegan friendly, so I can't say from experience.

Tryst has much to offer and I can't get into all the nuance in one post. Its almost too perfect. Sort of like the smart know it all kid in class who was just nice enough, or attractive enough that you couldn't really get on his case. A tough shell to crack. I learned a long time ago if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Tryst is located at 2459 18th St, NW, just south of Columbia Rd.