For us 90’s babies, the cupcake boom reverberates throughout our childhood and young adult lives. By the mid 2000’s, small-scale cupcake shops started popping up in most cosmopolitan cities, showcasing polished glass display windows, linear rows of holdable cakes, and flavors that ventured way beyond standard chocolate, vanilla, and red velvet.
My eleven year old self was mesmerized by the shades of pigmented frosting, boutique bistro seating, and newly defined dedication to hand-held cake. We lived in a world where crushed Oreo cookies and Reeses peanut butter cups had permission to join the realm of cake possibilities.
Everything from vacations, celebrations, and even office work meetings revolved around and elevated the mighty cupcake to a place of supreme dessert excellence.
Today, we can look back on this early twenty-first century craze with sentimental keenness and an appreciation that credits cupcakes for kickstarting a specialty food shop trend. Beloved treats like frozen yogurt, donuts, and edible cookie dough followed in the cupcake’s footsteps and all had their moments of fame.
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But while the novelty has slightly eased, cupcakes never went out of style, and very likely never will. People LOVE cupcakes.
Washington DC welcomed cupcakes into the heart and soul of local life. Long cupcakery lines were normalized and distinguished pink bakery boxes were easily identified and envied on downtown city blocks.
Almost twenty years later, DC cupcakes are still very much a part of Washington DC’s edible blueprint.
The Sweet Lobby
- Address: 404 8th Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
As one of Capitol Hill’s few devoted cupcakeries, The Sweet Lobby’s small bakery quarters draw traffic from as far as a certain Pennsylvania Avenue white house.
Grabbing a Food Network Cupcake Wars win threw The Sweet Lobby into DC cupcake shop chatter years ago. Top-notch ingredients, European buttercream, and comforting flavor combinations effectively fulfill The Sweet Lobby promise…being the ultimate advocate for your sweet tooth.
NOTE: The Sweet Lobby also sells French macaron cookies, European-style hot chocolate, and other sweet treats.
- Address: 3301 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
For nearly two decades, Georgetown Cupcake has been nationally recognized for enduring street-bound customers and long lines, just barely behind the picture-perfect assortment of colorful cupcakes.
Everyday classics host fan favorites like Vanilla Birthday, Red Velvet, and chocolate, while week day specials rotate day-to-day. Monthly seasonals are perhaps a better indicator of what DC’s weather should be, with flavors that capture seasonal bounties.
Sticky Fingers Bakery
- Address: 1370 Park Rd NW, Washington, DC 20010
This fully vegan bake shop is a Columbia Heights institution. Founder Doran Petersen unknowingly opened the empire in 2009 with head-turning vegan cinnamon buns and cupcakes.
Yet another DC Cupcake Wars winner, Sticky Fingers Bakery proudly maintains bragging rights by beating out three other non-vegan bakeries.
Stop by the cozy parlor for various vegan cupcake offerings including ‘Cookies n Cake’, ‘Peanut Butter Fudge’, and ‘Red Velvet’.
Baked & Wired
- Address: 1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Cupcakes employ a slightly altered identity at Georgetown’s Baked & Wired. The iconic cake cups—baked in high sided baking paper liners and finished with an emblematic frosting swirl topping—are kept under crystal clear glass cloches, ready to tempt bakery browsers.
In addition to classic vanilla and chocolate, the ‘Pretty bitchin’ (chocolate cake with crunchy peanut butter frosting), ‘Razmanian devil (lemon cake filled with raspberry jam), and ‘Phat mint Oreo’ (chocolate cake with mint chocolate Oreo buttercream) help keep cupcake fanatics on their toes.
- Address: 2006 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
An intimate nook among the hustle and bustle of Adam’s Morgan hype, The Cakeroom is dealing out a passionate spread of cupcakes and made-to-order cakes.
From the street view, you can peep a cozy window alcove with comfy pillows. The decor inside is unpretentious, but Victorian framed-menus, pastel colors, and bistro tables bedazzle the family-friendly bake shop to perfection.
- Address: 3015 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Sprinkles Bakery helped lead the cupcake renaissance back in the early 2000’s when they opened their store in 2005. They continue to push the cupcake boundaries with the first ever 24/7 cupcake ATM that’s restocked daily with fresh cupcakes to satisfy on-the-whim cupcake cravings.
A quick tip for gluten-free diners…I would argue the lemon blueberry is one of the city’s best GF cupcakes (Unfortunately, they are NOT celiac-friendly).
Red Velvet Cupcakery
- Address: 5600 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20015
This Penn Quarter cupcake shop evokes sugary elegance with perfectly rounded cake tops and silky smooth frosting. The flavors don’t veer too far from familiar pairings, which means they put all their baking prowess into perfecting the classics.
If you don’t buy out the entire shop’s cupcake supply, have no fear. All leftover cupcakes are donated to area shelters and nonprofit organizations.
My Cake Theory
- Address: 325 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
My Cake Theory is new to the Eastern Market neighborhood family, but founder and DC native Tiffany Lightfoot is making a statement with a ‘fast-casual confectionary experience’ on Capitol Hill.
Since opening, My Cake Theory has made not one, but TWO, appearances on Food Network, bringing home Holiday Wars gold. The construct-your-own format allows for customization. Pick your cake, filling, frosting, and topping for a truly unique cupcake eating experience.
- Address: 3210 Grace St NW, Washington, DC 20007
One of three DMV branches, Bakeshop’s Georgetown location joins the ranks of many other nearby cupcakeries. Preceding the 2010 Arlington shop opening, the original recipes were tested by founder Justin in his mom’s home kitchen.
Bakeshop features 15 everyday cupcake flavors including 5 vegan cupcakes and an additional 30 special order flavors (minimum 6 per flavor).
If you have a verified sweet tooth, add Bakeshop’s cakes, cookies, pies, and French macaron cookies to the cupcake order.
- Address: 2409 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Gluten-free and food allergy sufferers rejoice! Rise Bakery has loads of decadent cupcakes that are gluten free, as well as many being soy-free, nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and other common allergies that have prevented your sweet tooth from getting its fix. Check out their board for a handy key to know which allergens are absent from which cupcakes are being offered in the case.
Aside from cupcakes, there is also gluten-free bread and cookies that you will definitely want to sample.