Coin des Poètes: a Place for Artistes

A fresh-faced cultural hub in Adams Morgan

Hearing loud music as I walked up 18th Street, I poked my head around the corner of Wyoming, puzzled. “It’s a cafe,” a man with one long dreadlock yelled helpfully.

Always down to try out a new cafe, no matter how intimidating its soundtrack, I approached. The man introduced himself as Biniam as we both headed inside. As it turns out, he was the barista.

The cafe, Coin des Poètes (1800 Wyoming Ave NW), opened a few months ago in Adams Morgan. It is a French-inspired spot, nominally selling crepes and coffee — but, as owner Paris rightly admits, their real product is their vibe.

Inside the cafe, the music was so loud I couldn’t hear Biniam. The interior is painted a bright, cheerful green. Traces of art are everywhere, from the piano resting unplayed on the wall to the library of books in the corner. I spied a book of Nikki Giovanni poetry sitting on the top of a stack right next to an amp. A guitar leans against the wall. There are also canvasses set up on easels throughout the small space — some filled with paint, some empty.

I ordered a croissant and an iced coffee and went out to the patio to sit. In the garden, two men stood by a step stool, discussing the writing on the chalkboard wall in French. “Ah, she got the last croissant!” one of the men smiled at me.

This was Paris, the cafe’s owner-slash-visionary. Intent on creating a space with a Parisian aesthetic and a decidedly un-Parisian kindness, he found the property on Wyoming and immediately began planning to create an environment that might birth art. He does it all himself — even the garden, he says, was planted by him, though he is insistent that what we consider a “green thumb” in America is simply his heritage as a Cameroonian expat.

Coin des Poètes exists to give artists a space to create. The piano and guitar, the easels, the books — it’s all there for inspiration. And it seems like this type of openness is just what the community was looking for. Soon after they opened, Paris says that an artist who lives a few blocks away approached asking if she could display some art on their walls, to which he quickly acquiesced. Now, the same artist also runs their biweekly couples sip-and-paint nights. Food makers have come by asking to sell everything from pieces of cake to delicious vegan chocolate-covered dates. Piano students asked to have a recital on their patio. Paris says yes to it all.

Since inspiration might strike at any time of day, the cafe isn’t just open during regular cafe hours. “We’re trying to make this the latest cafe ever,” said Biniam, refusing to tell me what time Coin des Poètes closes.

And how has quiet little AdMo taken to this raucous new establishment? “So far the neighbors — ” Biniam paused, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “ — have been very nice. Sometimes, neighbors are not, you know. But so far they’ve been very kind.” And Coin des Poètes has been very kind back: currently, they’re offering “kid hours” in the mornings just for neighbors who live on Wyoming, when children can come get crepes and play around with the grand piano and no adults are allowed to buy anything.

As I walked away, I saw that the chalkboard Paris and his friend were facing had a question written on it: “What would you do if you didn’t need money to live?”

Indeed, the whole cafe’s existence seems to beg this question. This artist’s utopia is not bound by money. “Everything is five dollars,” Biniam told me. “Every drink, no matter how big or how expensive it is to make.” Same goes for the crepes — which is a product either of Coin des Poète’s free spirit, or the fact that they still have no menu posted in the store.

Go to Coin des Poètes while you still can, while it’s still burning bright. You’ll be welcomed with open arms and music.

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