Urban Roast DC, a new cafe and sangria bar in Penn Quarter with an attached mini food hall, District Bowls, next-door, opened after a month-long delay this week, right as huge groups of protesters and police flooded the streets.
The 4,000-square-foot shop finally arrived at 916 G Street NW on Monday, June 1, after a day full of nationwide turmoil following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last week. While opening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and chaotic demonstrations wasn’t ideal, the timing makes for “a week to remember,” managing partner Kamal Azzouz says.
Hours after serving its first sangrias, Azzouz watched surveillance videos on his phone of people smashing windows between midnight and 1 a.m. Because its facade was boarded up in time, the day-old business didn’t sustain any damage.
“Day one was great, day two, we had to bolt down our doors,” says Azzouz, who’s leading the project with his two brothers. “Day three, things are kind of getting peaceful — the streets aren’t blocked off [anymore] and there’s not as many cops around.”
The two-part venture sits at the base of an art deco-era condo building that’s supplying some of its first customers. Urban Roast uses Italian Segafredo coffee in an Astoria espresso machine. The cafe, which houses a neon-lit bar in the back, is discounting its sangria to $6 a glass from 2 p.m. until close. Food options include bagels, breakfast sandwiches, quiches, cheesy meatball baguettes, salads, and sweets like baklava and chocolate eclairs.
Next-door, District Bowls serves fruit bowls with three bases: açaí, banana, or greens. A “Rock the Red” bowl includes strawberry, raspberry, granola, coconut flakes, and honey. The space also sports sections devoted to gelato, wellness shots, juices, smoothies, and whimsical waffle sticks loaded with fruits and powdered sugar. One variety comes with bacon crumbles, peanut butter, banana, and honey. District Empanadas, an offshoot of farmers market vendor DMV Empanadas, sells flaky, Latin American pockets at a separate counter holding a display case.
A lengthy 30-seat patio is part of the opening setup, capitalizing on recently allowed options for outdoor dining in the District. The businesses are open for patio service, takeout, or delivery via Grubhub and DoorDash from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Expanded hours and weekend service likely won’t start “until this pandemic is over,” Azzouz says, or at least until restaurants can being accepting indoor customers at more than half capacity.
An attention-grabbing design at Urban Roast offers something to look forward to when the project opens for sit-down service inside. The dimly lit cafe, accented with street lamps and twinkling string lights, is splashed with Venetian streetscape murals from D.C. graffiti artist Christopher Lynch. There’s also live-edge wooden tables, lots of power outlets for (future) remote workers. District Bowls has walls decorated with colorful, geometric art.
The third piece of the project — an upstairs barbershop called the Hound — will meet pent-up demand for haircuts, with an opening planned for late July. There will also be facial products with ingredients sourced from the Dead Sea in Israel, which calls back to the family-run group’s roots in Jerusalem.
The restaurant group is already in expansion mode. Azzouz says the family just signed a lease for another District Bowls location in Centreville, Virginia.