They serve good coffee. Their breakfast sandwiches are warm and toasty. I once had an incredible bowl of gingery, garlicky congee there on a bitterly cold morning (and, to be honest, have been waiting for that dish to show up on the specials menu ever since). They have high chairs! For kids! But the real reason I am obsessed with Court Street Grocers is: they have a superior sound system, and they are always playing music that is unexpected and lovely. The sound system: Sure, most cafes and restaurants have music playing in the background, but how often does that music sound good? Court Street Grocers has the right speakers placed in the right spaces. It's not like when you're in a room with the left speaker in one corner and the right speaker in another and all you hear is phasey bass bumps or a really loud guitar and no vocals. What a pleasure to hear music that sounds good in a public space!
The music: This is the kind of joint where you might hear a classic rock record one day (ah, Fleetwood Mac), a long-forgotten indie gem the next (Stereo Total! Flashback to 1995!), some D.C. hardcore, something local that I don't yet know, or the weirdly compelling Bob Dylan Christmas album (I had to ask who it was, his voice was so unrecognizable and bizarre and wonderful). And it's all good. And it all make sense. Because it's all chosen by someone who likes music.
I mean that sincerely. You know what it's like to drink or dine at an establishment where the background music is selected by an algorithm? Where branding specialists ran numbers and decided which songs would result in the desired clientele purchasing more food and more expensive drinks? It sucks. I'd rather eat while listening to music selected by the cooks, bartenders, dishwashers and waitstaff, which means I have enjoyed cavatelli at The Pines with Biggie Smalls and lychee gelee with Van Halen at Momofuku Ko and once had several beers to the croons of a full Billy Joel album at Moonshine, before it was Jalopy Tavern, and I don't even particularly like Billy Joel. But I totally enjoyed his music that evening. Because someone else liked it and chose to play it. The best collisions of music and food are like running into old friends at a neighborhood bar, unexpected, familiar, heartwarming.
Today the folks at Court Street Grocers were playing a live Johnny Cash album. I strapped my daughter into a high chair, handed her an olive bread twist, kicked back, and enjoyed my coffee. I'll probably be there on Thursday too.