Three weeks ago The Wydown coffee bar opened a permanent location on 14th and U Street, in an exciting development for both eager newcomers and loyal quaffers in the Washington DC coffee scene. Chad and Alex McCracken—brothers from St. Louis, Missouri—have been running a series of progressively more brick and mortar coffee pop-ups over the last year, and their new home, a multi-roastery cafe with in-house baking in the fancy Louis at 14th development, argues for their place as new leaders in the increasingly sophisticated coffee market.
The Washington Post described the brothers’ project as “a state-of-the-art coffee destination,” and you can see why: the open garage-style entrance allows a flood of natural light to slowly fade into a windowless interior, creating a moody, cozy, and inviting atmosphere. The small cafe is decked out in dark subway tile, herringbone hardwood floors, long communal tables and giant mirrors in back that reflect the light streaming in from the entrance.
Alex McCracken said he hired Edit Lab at Streetsense—a D.C.-based design firm that has also developed popular spots like Satellite Room, Daikaya, Red Hen and Dolcezza—to “go crazy” with the design while he and his brother oversaw every detail to make the place their own. McCracken said that the overall ambience was heavily inspired by the Ace Hotel in New York City.
Under the pourover bar sits a 1970s boiler from a Faema Milano espresso machine that’s been repurposed to replace a water tower that most coffee bars use. Alex McCracken explained as he opened the boiler vault that it was the work of Bruce White, a technician from Baltimore, who engineered a Teflon tube to allow water to draw from the boiler to a faucet on the front countertop. They’ve made themselves DIY pour-over stands to fit over their digital scales, complete with custom drainage. There is also a small kitchen tucked in a corner behind the front counter where most of the baked goods are made from scratch every day.
The Wydown’s current coffee selection includes Intelligentsia, PT’s, and Kaldi’s (the St. Louis coffee business where the McCrackens used to work) with a fourth guest roaster rotating for special pour-over offerings from time to time.
“We always try to have a special offering in the pour-over menu. It allows us to offer something out of the ordinary,” Chad McCracken told me. “Right now, we have Passenger Roasters for the guest spot.”
Even though the cafe doesn’t offer wifi—or perhaps because it doesn’t—The Wydown is a place that’s been designed to encourage a sense of community. Here, it’s pretty normal to see people hanging out at the pour-over bar catching up with the baristas. The communal table in the back corner is occupied by five or six white-collar workers who seem to be taking a coffee break from work. People constantly flow in and out while some choose to stay and read the newspaper accompanied by an almond croissant and a latte. It is, in a word, an idyllic cafe environment, progressive and familiar all at once.