A bracing wind chilled a recent Sunday night in D.C., but inside Licht Cafe on U Street, the atmosphere was warm and cordial. Gathered around a corner of the burnished wood bar, a circle of friends celebrated some occasion, while, cozy on a couch behind them, a gay couple appeared to be deep into their date night.
A pair of friendly bartenders kept beer and cocktails flowing, serving up mules, mojitos, and Negronis to the dozen or so patrons enjoying the relaxed vibe. The ambience, somewhere between low-key house party and after-hours at your neighborhood coffeehouse, seemed exactly as owner Spencer Hurd had intended.
“My target audience when I was conceiving this was queer professionals like me that just want a space they can come and chat and relax,” says the entrepreneur, who debuted Licht with a soft launch in early December, before opening to the public later that month.
Elegantly filling a snug 600-square foot floor-through above Big Planet Comics, its walls adorned with alluring homoerotic art, Licht’s look and character were inspired in part by gay bars and cafés Hurd experienced while living and working in Germany. The ex-Mormon Air Force vet, originally from northern Utah, later moved to D.C. for a job with NASA. But his dream was to start his own business.
Hurd’s first retail venture, men’s fashion boutique Whiskey Ginger, which also was on U Street, closed in 2018. “My husband and I actually had our daughter in 2018,” he says. “And when we found out that she was coming, it just didn’t make sense for me to have the shop anymore. I still wanted to be in the small business realm and do something entrepreneurial, but I knew I had to be a parent first.”
Remarkably, everything came together for Hurd’s new venture — the location, concept, and all-important liquor license — just as COVID-19 blew up the world’s plans. Opening a venue designed for human interaction during a pandemic has posed its share of difficulties. “For us to have to impose the city’s regulations, it’s a little bit problematic,” he says. “But, of course, we support and are going to do it because that’s what’s required.”
Undaunted by the challenge, Hurd appears more focused on perfecting the Licht experience, clearly a labor of love. The team is set to install a compact oven for turning out their prospective signature offering, flammkuchen, a super-thin tarte flambée with crème fraîche and different types of toppings. And he plans for Licht to host events soon, when “I have a full staff complement in order to do them.”
For now, Licht is still getting acquainted with the community. “It’s been really great, because I’ve seen a lot of repeat customers,” Hurd adds. “So I’ll see them several times over, which is awesome, because then it means it resonated with them and that they enjoyed it and they want to come back.”
Licht Cafe is located at 1520 U St NW. Visit www.lichtdc.com.
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