Now open: The National Cathedral’s first café

Something is brewing on the grounds at the National Cathedral. The historical site is getting its first restaurant and it opens today.

WASHINGTON — Constantine Stavropoulos is the owner of several D.C. restaurants — including Open City, Tryst, Tryst at the Phillips, The Diner and The Coupe — and on Dec. 10, he will open his sixth.

The space for his new project is considerably different from the large, cafeteria-like layouts of his other Northwest D.C. restaurants: It’s smaller and in the shape of an octagon. The cafe’s unique location also sets it apart from the others: It’s on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral.

“A little gnome hut is what we call it sometimes,” Stavropoulos says. “It is so cool here. We have the high ceilings … I’ve never opened an octagon spot. We have eight little corners.”

Open City at the National Cathedral, the sister café to Stavropoulos’ popular Woodley Park restaurant, occupies the space that formerly belonged to the Herb Cottage. Prior to the shop’s 80-year tenure, it was the Cathedral’s baptistry.

But ever since the 2011 earthquake, the National Cathedral has had different plans for the odd-shaped stone hut.

A crane brought in to help repair damage sustained from the earthquake fell on the small building. The damage forced the Herb Cottage to move to the B-2 level of the parking garage and forced the Cathedral to rethink the future use of the space. The idea for a food concept took center stage.

The Cathedral approached Stavropoulos about the idea, and he says that at first, he was hesitant to jump on board. But a visit to the grounds changed his mind.

“I was about to go back to my car, and I was walking around on the pavement, and [a staff member] was like, ‘Please, walk on the grass. We want people to experience the Cathedral close. We want the cathedral to be a third place for locals,'” says Stavropoulos, who describes all his restaurants as “neighborhood gathering places.”

He adds, “They’re very open to being more focused on being a community gathering place and bringing people together, which is what our mission is … They’re on the same page as we are.”

Open City at the National Cathedral will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will serve a variety of baked goods, paninis, salads, small plates, soft-serve ice cream and Tryst coffee.

“So you can expect great espresso, cappuccino, teas,” Stavropoulos says. “That’s what we’re opening with, and then as time goes on, we’ll be introducing specials for the spring and over the course of the year.”

The café, equipped with tables, couches and a community eating area, will seat 47, and an outdoor patio will double the seating.

Stavropoulos says the Cathedral has been trying for many years to open a restaurant on its grounds. “And they finally succeeded in getting their own café,” he says.

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