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Posted at 3:25 p.m. on May 19, 2014
Call me cupcake skeptical. Some days ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or nothing to do on a Saturday, and nothing particular to interest me otherwise, I thought I would stand in line at the original Georgetown Cupcake.
“Do you have an out of town guest with you?” a friend tweeted at me.
No, but therein lies the nature of my quest — to visit the intersection of Washington tourism and pop culture and to do the things that no self-respecting Washingtonian would do, but perhaps has been tempted to.
“I’m guessing 22 minutes,” my companion, self-described disgruntled Washingtonian (and former Roll Call scribe) Amanda Becker predicted as we took our place in The Line.
The Line. It’s the first thing one notices about Georgetown Cupcake at the intersection of 33rd and M streets Northwest. The corner storefront itself is quaint. The Line, though, is anything but.
Uphill 33rd Street it goes, 50 or so deep.
I ask, “Is that 22 minutes to the door? Or 22 minutes from our place here to custody of cupcakes?”
“Cupcakes,” Becker said.
Becker is not someone I would describe as an optimist, but she seemed fairly certain of her outlook. In addition, her professional life as a journalist requires her to make cool-headed judgements on a range of tricky topics. Either that, or the The Line at Georgetown Cupcake was a test of Spartan mettle and hellish endurance she could not have imagined in even her most analytical calculations.
Lines are nothing new, particularly in a burgeoning city. During the heyday of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” people stood in line for hours at Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan’s West Village for the chance to indulge like Carrie and the gang. Some movies are worth it. In pre-Fandango years, part of the rush of seeing a blockbuster movie like “Star Wars” were the mini-societies that formed in its ticket lines. This happens with bands, too. It’s even happened for a Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.
But the persistence of the line at Georgetown Cupcake is bewildering, even if it is made up primarily of tourists who think this is One Of The Things You Do In Washington.
“They have their own TV show,” said one young man waiting in line for the chance to chomp on an offering from the mega-bucks, multimedia empire of sister cupcake-teers Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman.
Their TLC cable series “DC Cupcakes” has been on the air since 2010, a nice little run for a niche show.
Is it perhaps, “DC Cupcakes: One Ton Cupcake,” an episode from 2012 that helped capture the popular imagination? Maybe “Operation Cupcake” from the year before, or “DC Cupcakes: Mommy’s Birthday Bash” from 2012. There are as many stories as flavors. None, though, explain why people don’t order online the night before or head to Sprinkles Cupcakes or Baked and Wired, both also in Georgetown.
About 15 minutes into our wait, we came across the first instance of something we’d been warned about, which can be classified as bystander participation and general heckling.
“Cupcake! Cupcake! Cupcake!” a young man chanted from down the street as he walked the other direction, crossing the street with some of his bros, all of them adorned in either jorts or cuffed jeans, sporting nearly identical undercut haircuts. It wasn’t clear if he was serious. He and his bros did not get in line.
As we approached the 22-minute mark, we had moved about 10 feet and were still about 40 feet or so from the door. “I was way off,” Becker said.
An ambulance then trundled up the sluggish 33rd Street, its siren wailing away mere feet from us.
“I’m going to have to lie about what I did today,” Becker said.
It was about this time, after the ambulance had made its way past, that a middle-aged man in a late-model white van slowed his vehicle for a gander. He looked at us, then up and down the line, and took a bite of a fast-food burger. “Cupcakes can’t be that good,” he said.
Such rejoinders are part of the drill at Georgetown Cupcakes, part of the price one pays for a chocolate ganache cupcake from reality TV stars.
Some are still amazed that people waiting for cupcakes can unleash such passions in the posh confines of Georgetown. For me, I wasn’t as surprised. Georgetown is, after all, where the horrors of “The Exorcist” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” were set.
At the 44-minute mark, we’re almost at the door. Then the rain begins to fall. Out come umbrellas. People have come prepared.
“There are so many things not OK about this,” Becker said, not happy we’re double past her initial estimate, and we’re still mocked by the sign on the door reading, “please keep door closed to keep cupcakes fresh thank you!”
“The real reason the door needs to stay closed is so people can take pictures of it,” Becker said, not inaccurately. Our fellow line-standers have surely taken thousands of photos by now.
While we wait for the door of freshness to open, an elderly woman who has steered her hatchback car up 33rd Street stops.
“Is this all for cupcakes?” she asked.
“It sure is,” Becker said.
“Now I’ve seen it all,” the old lady said, shaking her head.
A conservative estimate of her age would suggest she has seen the orbit of Sputnik, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Americans landing on the Moon, the resignation of Richard M. Nixon, the Iran hostage crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the advent of the Internet, the 9/11 attacks, the Boston Red Sox winning a World Series and the United States electing Barack Obama as the first president of African-American descent.
Now she’s seen it all.
At the 54-minute mark, we’re inside. There’s still a line of at least 10 people ahead. No matter. It provides time to study the flavor options. You have to make this part count.
Cookies & Creme? Always a winner. Peanut Butter Fudge? Check. Salted Caramel? A new one but a good one. Vegan Carrot? Possibly the two saddest words in the English language.
Another friend, Noah Black, spies our plight on social media and tweets: “Need me to bring umbrellas and spirits?” Now this is how to measure the strength of a friendship!
Finally, at the 1 hour, 22 minute and 48 second mark, we take custody of our box of six cupcakes, costing $16. Black is outside, umbrella in hand and with the promise of beverages to wash down the desserts.
And so it comes to this: Was it worth it?
They were fine. They were cupcakes. What’s not to like about small, sugary cakes on a lazy afternoon?
But it was the people in the line, that in their 82-minute wait, only found another cupcake.