When Kramerbooks announced plans to move out of its Dupont Circle home amid a legal fight with one of its landlords, the masses were quick to mourn the 44 year-old neighborhood fixture. What got lost in the hubbub was that the beloved bookstore and cafe isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Owner Steve Salis says the move won’t happen any sooner than three years from now, and could be as far off as six years (when the lease ends). So in the meantime, he figures he might as well spruce the whole place up a bit with a new look, new restaurant, and new additions like a flower and barber shop. The business is also rebranding as just “Kramers,” while the adjoining Afterwords Cafe will become “All Day by Kramers.”
Salis, who also owns diner Ted’s Bulletin and Federalist Pig barbecue, originally had plans for a big $3 million dollar overhaul when he bought Kramerbooks in 2017. Then the entrepreneur and one of his landlords sued each other over the remodel. (Salis won a summary judgement, and the case has since settled). Then, the pandemic hit. Now, Salis is now working on a “very bootstrap, very scrappy” renovation at a fraction of his original budget.
“We did have grander aspirations in mind, but in light of the dynamics at hand we have decided we’re going to introduce a 1.5 version, if you will, to give everyone a taste of what our vision is for where we want to take the brand,” Salis says.
The once-24 hour cafe is now more of a restaurant and bar with a new breakfast counter along the kitchen. Chef Vincent Griffith, who oversaw the cafe and bakery offerings at Sidekick at Ballston’s Ted’s Bulletin, has put together a modern American menu with “touches of French influence,” Salis says. Among the highlights are all-day breakfast options including buttermilk waffles, avocado toast, and smoked pork hash with poached eggs. There are also salads, sandwiches, and entrees such as steak frites or citrus salmon. For dessert, try buttered popcorn pot du creme or Ted’s pop-tarts. (See the full menu below.)
Salis is also looking to add a barbershop in a second floor space that was previously used for private events. He says he’s working on a deal with a “very well-known” stylist from a barber shop that’s closing down because of Covid. Come fall, he also wants to add a plant and flower shop in the northern part of the building, which was part bar, part bookstore. (In the current phase of DC’s reopening, Kramers can’t use the bar anyway.) Salis says the goal is to find ways to bring customers in more frequently and make it more of a community hub. To that end, he may add other shops within the space going forward.
And, of course, Kramers is still a bookstore, though Salis is dropping “books” in the name. (“People call it Kramers anyway,” he says. “We did a whole study on this.”) Going forward, expect books to meld more into other components of the business. For example, the eventual flower shop will highlight thematic titles on architecture or gardening, while bookshelves will be added to the solarium dining room. Soon, diners will also be able to buy books along with their food when they order from a QR code menu at their table.
Salis says he wants to do more virtually, too. Kramers is already offering book delivery and curbside pickup via Postmates and is looking to regularly bring in authors for Zoom events.
Other changes inside the space include a brighter look and more greenery courtesy of DC’s Little Leaf. A new paint job includes icons that have been used on Kramerbooks’ posters, postcards, and other branding literature over its four decades years. Outside, the restaurant has expanded patio seating onto a “streatery” on 19th Street.
Despite all the work he’s putting in, Salis says it no longer makes sense to stay at the location longterm.
“I know I’m known to scale companies, and yes, I like scaling. But I was never planning on building another Kramers. When I bought this, it was ‘I want to restore this. I want to protect this,'” he says. But he adds the dynamics at play—between remodel obstacles and the Covid crisis—”are bigger than me.”
“I’m saying, look, let’s use the rest of the time at Kramers to the best of our abilities. Everything that people want out of this store, I want to to give it to them as best as I humanly can.”
Kramers and All Day by Kramers. 1517 Connecticut Ave., NW.