When I arrived at Georgetown Cupcake for the first of what would be three visits in two weeks, I was immediately disappointed. Where was the famous line? Since the bakery opened in 2008, I’d been reading about lines that wrapped around the block, obstructing traffic and drawing hecklers. People reportedly queued up in snow, rain and punishing heat. On a hot summer day in 2010, one woman even passed out — and then refused medical attention for fear of losing her place in line.
Local cupcake lovers, I bring you good news: Most of the time, you can now get your Georgetown Cupcake fix in about as much time as it takes to get a Starbucks coffee. (Still too long for you? Preorder online the day before and skip the wait, or try the Bethesda store.) Even during peak demand, at 6 p.m. last Saturday, I waited less than 30 minutes.
And yet, the myth of the epic Georgetown Cupcake line persists — perhaps because the M Street store is so small that any more than a few customers at a time causes a line to form outside. When I was in what turned out to be a 10-minute queue on a recent Friday afternoon, one woman shouted at us from her car, “Is it worth the wait?” That prompted a chorus of simultaneous, contradictory answers: “No,” said a middle-aged man in a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt. “We don’t know yet,” replied a young woman in an Army uniform. “Yes!” exclaimed an athletic-looking mom with two kids in tow.
The mom must have been answering on behalf of her kids, because she bought only two cupcakes when she reached the front of the line. “Are you all sharing?” I asked. “No, I don’t really like sweets,” she replied. Later, when she was taking a photo of her kids with their cupcakes, I asked if she wanted to get in the picture herself. “No!” she exclaimed, apparently unwilling even to be pictured with that many calories. “Thanks, though,” she tacked on.
After cupcake eating, picture taking is the second-most popular activity at Georgetown Cupcake. That’s because the store was at the center of a reality series called “DC Cupcakes” that ran on TLC from 2010 to 2013. The bakery has helpfully hung giant pink promotional signs in the windows for people to pose with, though details about the show have been covered up. The signs now read “DC cupcake All New #cupcakecam on TLC.” That hashtag refers to a website where people can watch the cupcakes being made and packaged live.
The old signs, and perhaps the store itself, are relics from a time when cupcakes were trending, spurring think pieces on the deeper meaning of the sweets. Were we craving cupcakes as a return to the simplicity of childhood? Or did they represent a single serving of sadness, the pastry equivalent of bowling alone?
Whatever the reason for the cupcake bubble, it seems to be over, and the pastry trends that have followed — Cronuts, doughnuts, macarons — never really took off. So now that the hype’s subsided, how do the cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake hold up?
In my opinion, they are definitely worth a 13-minute wait (my average across the three trips). I tried many flavors, and they were all good — except the banana-pineapple, which tasted like fruitcake mated with overly sweet banana bread. The best flavors I tried were the chocolate ganache, peanut butter fudge and butterscotch waffle cone cupcakes. These were all moist, flavorful and rich without being dense. I also enjoyed the Key lime cupcake, which had a nice tart edge to it.
What I don’t recommend is buying a dozen cupcakes and eating most of them yourself, which is what I did Saturday. In my defense, I brought them to a party to share, but it turned out to be a party of health nuts. Carrot sticks were snarfed up, the cupcakes went mostly untouched, and I felt compelled to pick up the slack. This led, predictably, to much moaning and stomach-clutching later that night. So while Georgetown Cupcake has proven the lasting power of single-serving cakelets, I think the party’s over for me. At least for a little while.
More D.C. adventures with the Staycationer