Photo from Kramers/Facebook

By Luke Fatovic

I woke up this morning with a hankering for hearty breakfast food. In the search bar of my iPhone’s Safari app, I entered: ‘breakfast joint that ain’t skimpin’ on the eggs.’The top result was ‘Kramers.’ ‘Hmmm, Kramers,’ I thought to myself, ‘Pretty edgy name for a Seinfeld-themed brunch spot.’ Sure, Michael Richards is a racist, but I guess he deserves a restaurant? 

Turns out, however, that Kramers is not another one of Larry David’s creative endeavors. Instead, it’s a D.C. stronghold institution that’s been serving the community for near fifty years. D.C.’s ‘first bookstore/cafe,’ Kramers pioneered the way socialites spend their lazy Sunday mornings, and how groups of hungover college students get their necessary fats and carbs. 

Located at 1517 Connecticut Ave., Kramers occupies both street fronts. On 19th St. is All Day by Kramers, a lovely brunch restaurant whose offerings mainly consist of classic American cuisine with a slight French influence. With truffled artichoke and hickory smoked wings sharing a menu with avocado toast and ham benedict, there’s a dish for everyone. 

On the Connecticut Ave. side is Kramers Bookstore. After filling up on mountains of french toast and a few too many mimosas, patrons drift over to peruse the store’s offerings. What they will find is an endless book collection alongside unique puzzles, artisan stationery offerings and a 50s-style diner top that serves in-house pastries and coffee. 

Yet, Kramer’s did not always occupy the large space it does today. The store’s history begins in 1976 when founders Bill Kramer, David Tenney and Henry Posner originally dubbed the 24-hour store Kramersbooks and Afterwords Cafe. Its natural charisma attracted late-night wanderers looking for a hearty meal and the new page-turner. After initial success, the original owners undertook two minor expansions in 1984 and 1991, installing street-side seating and an extended bar, after acquiring a neighboring storefront. 

But after 40 years of accomplishment, the three men – Tenney, Posner, and Kramer – began experiencing the effects of successful imitations of their store. In a 2016 Washington Post article, Tenney said “I knew the business was viable, but I also knew the restaurant was beat up and tired. If we could find some way to resurrect and invigorate the restaurant, there would be a wonderful future ahead.” 

Thankfully for the waning businessmen, that wonderful future came in 2016. Steve Salis, co-founder of D.C. hotspot &pizza, outright purchased Kramerbooks and began his vision for the future of KRAMERS. He began with expanding the storefront: in that same year, he purchased the neighboring enterprise, Willie T’s Lobster Shack, which granted Kramers with an additional 800 square feet to create the magical children’s section we all once dreamed about. From there, tweaking architecture designs and reimagining the store’s interior decor overtook much of Salis’ mission. And in 2020, Salis finally renamed Afterwords Cafe to All Day by Kramers, with a renovated menu and brand new look. 

With that said, to walk into Kramers today is to appreciate one of D.C.’s most beloved institutions. It has garnered worldwide attention, serving notable patrons such as former President Barack Obama, Andy Warhol and Maya Angelou, and the slickest former White House Intern east of the Mississippi, Ms. Monica Lewinsky. Yes, you read that right Ms. Monika Lewinsky. And the story doesn’t stop there: in 1998, Kramerbooks was issued a subpoena during Clinton’s infamous Lewinsky Scandal. Lawyers sought after a list of the books Lewinsky purchased from Kramers during her time as a White House intern. After hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, Kramerbooks managed to avoid explicitly handing over the list. Instead, Lewinsky’s lawyers agreed to cough it up themselves, which the owners saw as pivotal to protecting the bookstore from further litigation and public controversy. 

But as I sat there this morning enjoying my Soho Omelet, I was naïve to this complex yet deeply fascinating history which I only now understand perfectly encapsulates Kramers spunky attitude. Had I known the very place I stood had been host to Toni Morrison, or that Julia Louis-Dreyfous filmed a scene of Veep where I took my post-breakfast shit, I would’ve at least stopped to take a few photos – wouldn’t we all?

Yet maybe that’s what’s so perfect about a place like Kramers: as casual browsers scan the backs of books and the aroma of chocolate-filled croissants wafts through the shelves, there exists nothing but the complex lives of characters trapped between covers, waiting to be plucked and explored by millions of readers to come. So next time you step under the iconic blue banner and into the warm glow of the neon ‘KRAMERS’ sign, forget who you are. Forget your titles, accolades, accomplishments, and failures, and forfeit yourself into the dreamy aisles of endless stories like all those who have come before.

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