Open City at the National Cathedral (The Herb Cottage)
When we moved to Cathedral Heights to be close to my job, I fretted over the fact that there were no coffee shops in walking distance (the three Starbuckses within 15 minutes don’t count); it was the one thing my husband said he wanted when he moved to the US. I was already stripping him of reliable, government healthcare-- I didn’t want to deprive him of coffee, too
But on the first week he was in town (the same week as our wedding), he and his parents went on a tour of the Cathedral while I was at work. “There’s a coffee shop at the Cathedral,” he told me that evening. “It’s a really cool place!”
Tucked behind St. Alban’s Church and nestled in the shadow of the National Cathedral is an octogonal building with a bright teal door, completely hidden from the street. It’s Woodley Park’s Open City’s latest outpost, serving breakfast, lunch, and excellent coffee.
In 1916, the All Hallows Guild formed as the official stewards of the National Cathedral grounds. They sold seeds and plants to raise money for the Cathedral’s construction, and kept their supplies tucked away in the baptistry. Once the Cathedral had completed its own baptistry, the building was given to the Guild; because of their presence, the building was nicknamed the Herb Cottage. The Guild opened a gift shop in the Herb Cottage, with all profits going to the care and keeping of the Cathedral and its grounds.
The 2011 earthquake (which I felt all the way in my Brooklyn dorm room during my first week of freshman year), though it damaged the Cathedral itself, left the Herb Cottage unscathed. Instead, it was the during the restoration following the earthquake that the Cottage and its beautiful garden were affected, when a crane fell and caused extensive damage. The cab flipped backwards, lifting the operator three stories into the air and sending tons of metal onto the Cottage and the surrounding trees.
Forced out of the building, the Guild operated its gift shop in the Cathedral’s parking garage. Finally, they closed after a few years, unable to keep the business running in their new location. The Cathedral had long wanted a cafe on its grounds, and they found a perfect match in Open City, a Woodley Park restaurant with an emphasis on community.
Open City at the National Cathedral opened its doors in 2014, and is consistently packed with locals like us who were in need of a local coffee shop. Their baked goods are delicious, and there’s a good selection of gluten-free items (get the Magic Bar). My luck hasn’t been as good with their mains-- one bland and thin smoothie bowl, one lackluster soup/salad combo-- but my husband has enjoyed all of his gluten- and lactose-full meals. While my go-to is a Magic Bar and an almond milk latte, I do love their iced green tea/lemonade and their gluten-free cornmeal waffles with smoked salmon for lunch-- perfect for a paleo off-day.
The atmosphere is so special that a lame salad isn’t enough to detract from it. Open City at the National Cathedral is the most charming place in the neighborhood, and I’m glad to have it so close to home.
3101 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Monday to Friday: 7 am to 6 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 8 am to 6 pm
History and Photos, All Hallows Guild of the Washington National Cathedral
Gifts Gallery, All Hallows Guild of the Washington National Cathedral
Herb Cottage, All Hallows Guild of the Washington National Cathedral
A Pillar Imperiled at the National Cathedral, Washington Post
Now Open: The National Cathedral's First Cafe, WTOP
Open City at the National Cafe, Lonely Planet
Open City is Opening a Location on the National Cathedral Campus, Eater DC
Visit Us: Cathedral Cafe, Washington National Cathedral
Open City at the National Cathedral, Open City
For the Ages, Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral, Call to Holiness