Showcasing both books and beverages was an innovative combination never before seen in Washington, D.C. when Kramers (then Kramerbooks) arrived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in 1976, flaunting a full-service restaurant and bar a few months later.
“It was a popular after-work, happy-hour spot and [it] stayed open late,” beverage director Larry Weaver says of the bar, “but if you didn’t look for it, you didn’t know it was there.”
On the heels of a recent remodel, which brightened and expanded the 26-seat bar, more D.C. denizens are discovering it, seeking out Kramers not just for bestsellers, but to unwind over Old Fashioneds laced with DC Brau’s Penn Quarter Porter.
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Creating a Destination
Steve Salis, the founder and CEO of Salis Holdings, which is behind local establishments Ted’s Bulletin, Federalist Pig, and Honeymoon Chicken, bought the bookstore in 2016; its 2020 rebranding offers a signal of ambitious plans to come.
There is the revamped restaurant (Afterwords Café is now All Day by Kramers), for example, as well as the spruced-up bar that previously felt “trapped in the 1990s,” Weaver recalls. “It was dark and featured televisions, but this should be a nice place to have a drink and read, not to watch sports.”
With new wallpaper, updated lighting, and red stools, the original layout exudes a contemporary look matched by a cocktail menu that departs from the prior “old-school, sweet-skewed” incarnation, as Weaver puts it. “We decided it was time for something more modern and interesting.”
The result is uplifting drinks like a spicy Margarita infused with Federalist Pig’s made-from-scratch hot honey, the vodka Murakami with cherry blossom aperitif that nods to D.C.’s legendary annual spring festival, and winter’s best-selling hot cider with Avuá cachaça, bourbon, and a hint of butterscotch schnapps.
A Resourceful Approach
Despite the bar’s spatial limitations, Weaver has found thoughtful solutions. Consider the Cold Brew Martini, which takes the place of an Espresso Martini because it can be made using a nitro cold brew tap. “Because [of] where our espresso machine is located, it would have been a crush on service,” says Weaver.
Weaver was initially hired to run the coffee programs throughout the Salis portfolio, but the pandemic thrust him out of his roasting comfort zone into overseeing cocktails, too, when he started turning surplus inventory at Kramers into to-go libations. Pre-batching Kramers’ drinks proved so efficient that the technique stuck even when on-premise dining returned.
“[Prepping ahead] eliminates the need for speed rack space the bar doesn’t have,” Weaver explains. It also simplifies cocktail construction for a staff that is largely new to the industry. When setting out to make, say, an English 75, they look at the directions on the bottle containing a mixture of Earl Grey-infused gin and simple syrup and are reminded how much lemon juice should be added and to top it off with Prosecco.
For the Community
Naturally, there are guests who slide into the bar after making a purchase, “but there’s not as much crossover as you would think,” says Weaver, noting that many patrons pop into Kramers just for drinks or weekend brunches at the restaurant.
The recently debuted event hub is bound to bring in even more guests for comedy and jazz nights while providing an in-house platform, adds Weaver, for “bartenders across the company to have a pizza night and experiment with cocktails.”
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Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktails from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels (Hardie Grant) and her work has appeared in Architecturaldigest.com, Dwell.com, Penta, Vogue.com, BBC, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.