Washingtonians know Tryst as a longtime hub for the artsy, the under-caffeinated, and the first-date unimaginative. A spiritual cousin to Gen X’s Social Safeway, Tryst’s mission for 23 years has been — in a nod to the popular cafe’s signature starter — to “build meaningful connections, one animal cracker at a time.” But on Thursday, October 20, from 10 a.m. to noon, Tryst (2459 18th Street NW) will encourage its Adams Morgan regulars to speak with the Metropolitan Police Department — and some of its devoted customers, social media followers, and employees are not amused.
The MPD says its longstanding “Coffee with a Cop” meetup is a cornerstone of the department’s community engagement program. The ongoing event is historically hosted at neutral Starbucks locations throughout the District. But this week, Adams Morgan’s well-known haven for marginalized people of color and the LGBTQ+ community outwardly welcomes its patrons’ political adversary.
Tryst advertised its inaugural “Coffee with a Cop” event on its Instagram account this month:
Its followers immediately lashed out with a sea of angry comments and some calls to boycott Tryst and its affiliated establishments:
- “Why the f•ck would you think this is a good idea?”
- “By holding this event, you are telling your customers that you do not care about them.”
- “This blows and you should be embarrassed.”
- “Do the right thing and cancel this copaganda, and uhm … apologize.”
- “I was sitting at Tryst when I saw this and I got up and left.”
Some people on social media predict the event will be dead on arrival anyway. Writes one commenter:
“While the intent is to broker better community relations — which is a good intent on its face — the people who historically have been and currently are most harmed by police WILL self-select out of this conversation/not go to Tryst — most notably trans people … so as a result, the people who DO choose to engage in these conversations with the police over coffee do so because they ALREADY HAVE a positive relationship with the police.”
Tryst has since disabled comments and deleted the original post, replacing it with a rebranded version of “Coffee with a Cop” at the same date, time, and venue. Now advertised as “Adams Morgan Community Safety Forum,” Tryst captioned the new post with rationale for holding the event, saying that neighborhood businesses, employees (including its own), patrons, and neighbors are concerned about public safety. (Comments are also disabled on the revised post.)
Tryst Trading Co. owner Constantine Stavropoulos, who also owns and operates other popular D.C. cafes like the Coupe, the Diner, and Open City, tells Eater via email the name “Coffee with a Cop” eclipsed the purpose and importance of the forum. “A day hasn’t gone by,” Stavropoulos says, that his and other businesses haven’t called MPD on account of harassment, threats of violence, tip theft, and “destruction.”
Stavropoulos said he noticed a decline in foot traffic on its 18th Street NW artery this year and that COVID-19 is no longer to blame. He argues that ongoing neighborhood crime is the culprit.
“Neighbors and businesses have been vocal about this for months, speaking up at ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions], Community Association and BID meetings, and voicing concerns to our Councilwoman,” Stavropoulos says.
If voters’ voices at the ballot box are any indication of the community’s feelings on crime and policing, Adams Morgan residents largely disagree with Stavropoulos’ assessment.
Incumbent Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who represents Adams Morgan on D.C. Council, voted to decrease the police budget and defeated former MPD officer Salah Czapary in this summer’s Democratic primary. Czapary made public safety and police relations a focal point during his campaign — even winning the Washington Post editorial board’s endorsement — but captured only 30.94-percent of the vote to Nadeau’s 48.46 percent. ANC-1B’s Sabel Harris, whose public safety platform was similar to Nadeau’s, won 20.36 percent of the vote.
Czapary tells Eater the positive point of “Coffee with a Cop” is it offers face time with off-duty MPD officers in an approachable setting.
“I understand there are communities that have not had the best interactions with law enforcement,” says Czapary, who identifies as gay. “Just that uniform can be a barrier and so for sure there could be conversations about how we can create spaces or interactions where perhaps officers are not in uniform or it’s in another environment.”
MPD public information officer Sean Hickman confirms the event was coordinated between MPD, Adams Morgan BID, and Tryst. He calls such meetups a “key component of MPD’s policing strategy.”
“Our officers prioritize community engagement and outreach with all residents to create an environment in which community members feel comfortable sharing concerns and information with the police,” Hickman told Eater via email.
One Tryst server, who spoke on the record under the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, says they and other workers are extremely uncomfortable and that their feelings were not and are not being taken into account.
“The coffee with a cop event clearly shows that Tryst Trading Co. holds no respect for the communities in which it takes up space nor for the people it employs,” the server tells Eater. “Upper management gave employees zero notice or say in the event, and chose to listen to and uphold repressive power structures over the people whom it claims to serve.”
The server says their boss (Stavropoulos) made himself available to concerned employees over email but there has been no apology for the added stress of dealing with frustrated and confused customers.
“For an event that claims to build dialogue and community, neither appropriate dialogue nor community support were considered,” the server says. “Now there are way more cops coming in than I have ever seen before.”
Tryst’s first “Adams Morgan Community Safety Forum” will be held outside on Thursday, October 20, from 10 a.m. to noon. Future events with MPD are expected to follow.
Disclaimer: Eater DC writer John Besche is a former Tryst employee.