Washingtonians have long known Tryst as a hub for artists, decaf and unimaginative first dates. Tryst, a spiritual cousin of Gen X’s Social Safeway, has made it his mission for 23 years — to paraphrase the popular cafe’s appetizer — to “build meaningful connections, one animal cracker at a time.” But on Thursday, October 20, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Tryst (2459 18th Street NW) will encourage his Adams Morgan regulars to speak to the Metropolitan Police Department – and some of his loyal customers, social media followers and staff aren’t amused.
The MPD says its long-standing “Coffee with a Cop” gathering is a cornerstone of the department’s community engagement program. The ongoing event traditionally takes place at neutral Starbucks locations throughout the district. But this week, Adams Morgan’s well-known sanctuary for marginalized people of color and the LGBTQ+ community outwardly welcomes the political opponent of its patrons.
Tryst promoted his inaugural Coffee with a Cop event on his Instagram account this month:
His supporters immediately lashed out with a sea of angry comments and some calls for a boycott of Tryst and its affiliated entities:
- “Why the hell would you think that’s a good idea?”
- “By holding this event, you are telling your customers that you don’t care about them.”
- “That sucks and you should be embarrassed.”
- “Do the right thing and cancel this copaganda, and um… apologise.”
- “I was sitting by Tryst when I saw that, and I got up and left.”
Some people on social media are predicting the event will be dead on arrival anyway. one commenter writes:
“While the intention is to instill better community relations – which, on the face of it, is a good intention – the people who have been most harmed by the police in the past, and are currently being most harmed, WILL extricate themselves from this one Pick out conversation / don’t go to tryst – especially trans people…so the people who choose to have these talks with the police over coffee are choosing to 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 retitled version of “Coffee with a Cop” at the same date, time and location. Tryst, now advertised as the “Adams Morgan Community Safety Forum,” captioned the new post with a rationale for holding the event, saying neighborhood businesses, employees (including his own), well-wishers and neighbors are concerned about the public security are. (Comments are also disabled for the revised post.)
Constantine Stavropoulos, owner of Tryst Trading Co., who also owns and operates other popular DC cafes like the Coupe, the Diner and Open City, tells Eater via email The name “Coffee with a Cop” overshadowed the purpose and importance of the forum. “Not a day has passed,” Stavropoulos says that his and other companies have not called MPD for harassment, threats of violence, tip theft and “destruction.”
Stavropoulos said he’s noticed a decrease in foot traffic on the 18th Street NW Artery this year and that COVID-19 is no longer to blame. He argues that the ongoing crime in the neighborhood is the culprit.
“Neighbors and businesses have been commenting on this for months and are speaking to the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions]Community Association and BID meetings and raising concerns to our councilwoman,” says Stavropoulos.
If voters’ votes at the ballot box are any indication of the community’s attitude towards crime and the police, Adams Morgan residents largely disagree with Stavropoulos’ assessment.
Council incumbent Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who represents Adams Morgan on the DC Council, voted to cut the police budget and defeated former MPD officer Salah Czapary in this summer’s Democratic primary. Czapary made public safety and police relations a priority during his campaign—in fact, he won them Washington Post Editor’s approval – but received only 30.94 percent of the vote versus 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 that the positive point of Coffee with a Cop is that it offers face-to-face conversations with off-duty MPD officers in an accessible setting.
“I understand there are communities that haven’t had the best interactions with law enforcement,” says Czapary, who identifies as gay. “Just that uniform can be an impediment, and so there could certainly be conversations about how we could create spaces or interactions where officers might not be in uniform or be in a different environment.”
MPD Public Information Officer Sean Hickman confirms the event was coordinated between MPD, Adams Morgan BID and Tryst. He calls such meetings a “key component of MPD’s policing strategy.”
“Our officers prioritize community engagement and outreach to all residents to create an environment where community members feel comfortable sharing concerns and information with police,” Hickman Eater said via email.
A Tryst server, who went on record on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that she and other workers felt extremely uncomfortable and that their feelings were and are not being taken into account.
“The coffee-with-a-cop event clearly shows that Tryst Trading Co. has no respect for the communities in which it occupies a place, nor the people it employs,” the server tells Eater. “Upper management gave employees no notification or say, choosing to listen to and uphold repressive power structures over the people it purportedly serves.”
The server says their boss (Stavropoulos) made himself available via email to concerned staff but there was no apology for the extra stress of dealing with frustrated and confused customers.
“For an event that claims to build dialogue and community, proper dialogue and community support were not considered,” the server reads. “Now there are a lot more cops coming in than I’ve ever seen before.”
Tryst’s first Adams Morgan Community Safety Forum will be held outdoors on Thursday, October 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Future events with MPD are expected to follow.
Disclaimer: Eater DC writer John Besche is a former Tryst employee.