With a major waterfront transformation, trending food, boutique news and immersive history experiences, Alexandria, Virginia, is humming with new and recent openings in Old Town and off-the-beaten path neighborhoods, just minutes from Washington, D.C.
New Waterfront Plaza from Designers of New York City’s Bryant Park
Image Credit: City of Alexandria
As the D.C. region’s waterfront landscape evolves with major developments like The Wharf and MGM National Harbor, here’s what’s new and coming soon to Alexandria, the region’s most historic waterfront.
One of the most dramatic changes to the city is coming in the fall of 2018. A major new waterfront destination will be opening at the intersection of the Potomac River and Alexandria’s most historic retail corridor, King Street: A new public plaza designed by OLIN, the designers of Bryant Park in New York City. Like Bryant Park, the space will transform throughout the year to support seasonal programming. Activities being considered for the space include pop-up markets, festivals, live music, and a temporary ice rink. The space will include a lawn area where you can lounge with friends, a marina terrace with movable tables and chairs where you can enjoy a picnic under the shaded canopy, and a continuous promenade that will connect the marina with the adjacent Waterfront Park. The new plaza is part of the City of Alexandria’s ongoing Waterfront Plan.
There’s more fun along the water this year, from a new archaeology exhibit and art events to river cruises and outdoor dining. In January 2018, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, which is located at the marina inside the Torpedo Factory Art Center, opens a new exhibit, Archaeology on the Waterfront. See artifacts discovered alongside the fragmented hull of an 18th-century ship that received international media attention when it was excavated during construction of the new Hotel Indigo (the hull itself is being restored at Texas A&M University). Meanwhile, the Torpedo Factory Art Center brings back The Late Shift, a free monthly after-hours series featuring exhibition receptions, music, live performances, artist talks, and more on select Fridays from 7 to 11 p.m., including the February theme “Uncovering the Waterfront.”
In the fall of 2017, Alexandria-based Potomac Riverboat Company launched high-speed, low-wake water taxi service from Alexandria’s marina to The Wharf in an expansion of their D.C.-region water taxi service which includes access to the National Mall, National Harbor, Nationals Park, Mount Vernon and more. Additional recent waterfront happenings include the opening of Alexandria’s first waterfront hotel, Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria, and riverside dining at Hummingbird by renowned chef Cathal Armstrong.
Boutique Expansions and Second Concepts
Image Credit: The Hour
Alexandria’s reputation as the “Shop Small” destination of the D.C. region continues to grow as independent retailers are expanding and opening second concepts in the city. Victoria Vergason, the owner of vintage cocktail-ware boutique The Hour, is fulfilling her dream of launching her own vintage-inspired made-in-America line. Her products will be available in 2018 (tentatively in the spring) through a new e-commerce store called the Modern Home Bar, with select products available at The Hour. Coming soon to King Street, jewelry artist Jennifer Jordan Park is opening Wear Ever Jewelry in February 2018 as a brick-and-mortar location, following 10 years as a fine-craft-show and online concept. Wear Ever Jewelry will represent 20 American artists and offer classes in an intimate studio setting.
Twist Boutique, just-opened in December 2017, now has a home in Old Town after a series of pop-up consignment events, offering women’s fashion, furniture and gifts. King Street’s mainstay for home design and gifts, Red Barn Mercantile is celebrating 10 years in 2018, and owner Amy Rutherford was pleased to open Penny Post Paper Goods in October 2017. fibre space owner Danielle Romanetti expanded her thriving “yarn universe” by purchasing and moving to her own building, an historic flatiron building, last fall. The restaurateurs behind Del Ray’s Snackbar and Kaizen and have expanded to shopping with Forge Industrial Works, a “Fixer Upper” fan’s dream store that opened in Old Town in September 2017.
Meanwhile, you may have enjoyed some Alexandria’s pop-up boutiques in the last year. In April 2018, a new business is opening which will include a pop-up retail space inside. Founders Hall will open in Old Town at 106 N. Lee Street as a 15,000 square-foot creative makeover of a former warehouse space, featuring pop-up retail, South Block Juice and Vikriya Yoga on the ground floor, and a co-working concept called ALX Community on the second floor.
Street Food Concepts Serve Up BBQ Tacos, Mac N’ Meat, and Pizza by the Slice
Alexandria’s creative comfort food trend includes a mini street-food trend in 2018. Smoking Kow BBQ, “D.C.’s first and only American BBQ taco food truck,” is opening a brick-and-mortar location in Alexandria’s West End in February 2018, joining Meggrolls as a popular food truck that chose Alexandria for their first restaurant concept. Owner Dylan Kough (last name pronounced “Kow”) was a CPA who left it all behind to pursue his dream of opening a mobile restaurant. Smoking Kow’s tacos delight BBQ fans with barbecue meats served in a homemade tortilla topped with coleslaw. Also offering platters and sandwiches, Smoking Kow’s best seller is the Mac ‘N Meat, with Dylan’s signature meats served over mac ‘n cheese. Tempting sides include cheesy jalapeno grits and classics like homemade barbecue beans.
One of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings of 2018 is the restaurant coming to 100 King Street. Opening in late April, Mia’s Italian Kitchen is the newest concept of Alexandria Restaurant Partners and includes an alley take-away window offering pizza by the slice. The dramatic rework of 100 King Street space will also feature a dine-in pizza bar, second floor lounge and a delectable menu of house-made pastas and wood-fired pizza. The restaurant design is from Paul Beckman and David Chennault, the designers behind Virtue Feed & Grain. Located on lower King Street, this new eatery will be just across the street from the new waterfront plaza opening in the fall.
International Cuisine on the Rise
Image Credit: Sunday in Saigon Facebook Page
Makeda Ethiopian in Alexandria’s West End neighborhood joins a growing trend of authentic international and ethnic cuisine in Alexandria. Forbes calls chef and owner Philipos Mengistu a true “Ambassador of Ethiopian food” and his New York City restaurant is one of Forbes’ “Top Ten African Restaurants” in the city. He opened Makeda Ethiopian with childhood friend and Alexandria resident Daniel Solomon in order to bring a similar concept to Alexandria. Makeda is all about fresh food and family, serving traditional and authentic Ethiopian fare including classic injera (they even have a gluten-free option) and even honey sangria at the bar.
Opened in North Old Town by the chef and owner of the popular Caphe Banh Mi in spring 2017, Sunday in Saigon welcomes you with a setting of hand-selected Vietnamese tile and vintage movie posters plus a tempting menu of regional Vietnamese dishes. Check out the bar for special Japanese-style tapas or have a seat in the special wine lounge. Royal Nepal in Alexandria’s Arlandria neighborhood opened in March 2017 with a menu of creative Nepalese Indian cuisine, earning the #1 spot on The Washington Post $20 Diner’s favorite cheap eats in 2017. Nasime, a tiny 20-seat Japanese concept that opened in Old Town in the fall of 2016, has also received high praise from The Washington Post for chef and owner Yuh Shimomura’s artful take on the non-sushi side of Japanese cuisine with a one-of-a-kind experience of a five-course tasting menu for just $48.
Pampering for Pets
Image Credit: Shelly Castle Photography
With nearly 160,000 human residents and an estimated 40,000 dogs, Alexandria’s reputation as a top dog-friendly city continues to grow. Opened in December 2017 in Alexandria’s West End neighborhood, Wag & Brew is the ultimate spot for dog lovers. Wish you could bring your dog to grab a drink with you? At Wag & Brew, your pup can get luxury services while you enjoy the coffee, beer and wine bar along with free WiFi. In addition to a doggy boutique inside, there are also grooming services, an indoor gym where the dogs can play and learn agility, and a doggy daycare.
Also new to Alexandria in December 2017 is From Head to Tail Grooming Spa in the Potomac Yards neighborhood on the edge of Del Ray, offering services that will make you want an appointment for yourself. From microbubble bath therapy treatments to mud masks and from facials to pawdicures, there are countless ways to spoil your pup. Their grooming also takes it to the next level with creative colors and cuts like mohawks, natural hair dye and nail designs. They take a holistic approach to everything they do, using top quality natural products. Both new spots are a must for any visiting or local dog lover.
Specialty Tours at Historic Site Museums
Image Credit: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
In 2018, go deeper into Alexandria’s rich collection of historic site museums with exclusive tour offerings joining annual favorites like Geek Tours at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and Attics and Alleys tours at several sites.
This year during Black History Month, you can get a rare look inside the Freedom House Museum through a special partnership between the Northern Virginia Urban League and the Office of Historic Alexandria. A National Historic Landmark owned by the Northern Virginia Urban League, the museum is located in the basement-level slave pen of one of most infamous slave trading companies in the country, and bears a connection to the story depicted in the film 12 Years a Slave. Public access to the museum is normally limited to weekday hours, but exclusive Saturday access will be offered each weekend during Black History Month with African American history specialists on site. Space is limited. Reserve your tickets for $5 per person.
During Preservation Month, May 2018, fans of Revolutionary War history will get a rare treat with an evening of tours of the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, one of the earliest and least-altered homes in Alexandria. The 244-year-old timber frame and brick dwelling was one of the few buildings in existence in the area during the American Revolution. Year-round, visitors can view the exterior of the home as they enjoy the property’s park and garden, just off King Street. But access to the inside of the home is limited to just a few times per year. The tours and a happy hour will be on Monday, May 10, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Check the city’s website for updates about how to gain access to this tour.
In June of 2018, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum will kick off a special Hamilton-themed tour in celebration of “Hamilton’s” run at the Kennedy Center. While historians don’t believe Alexander Hamilton visited Alexandria, many of his friends and frenemies did, including Washington, Lafayette, Jefferson, Madison and Burr. This tour will examine the stories and politics of Hamilton’s day and will be offered every other Saturday through Labor Day Weekend.
Immersive Experiences at Mount Vernon
Image Credit: George Washington’s Mount Vernon
In 2018, George Washington’s Mount Vernon opens two experiences that will immerse visitors into George Washington’s world. Launching on February 12, 2018, “Be Washington: It’s Your Turn to Lead” is a new first-person interactive experience that puts you in the shoes of the first president and commander and chief. Discover key moments in Washington’s life and see how you stack up to the decisions Washington made as the events of the Revolutionary War and presidency come alive on a massive 6K-resolution screen. Chris Jackson, the actor who played George Washington in the Broadway hit “Hamilton”, will introduce each of the scenarios onscreen and will later describe the course of action that General or President Washington took. The experience, which is generously sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, is included in admission.
Mount Vernon reopened its Revolutionary War Theater in January 2018, marking the completion of a year-long $2.2 million renovation to the 4-D theater and an overhaul of the feature film. The theater, which first opened in 2006, features state-of-the-art 4-D effects including snowfall, fog, and rumbling seats to tell the story of General George Washington’s major victories during the American Revolution. With these updates, guests will feel in the midst of the action of the Revolutionary War. The new 17-minute film focuses on the same major battles as its first iteration: Washington’s victories in Boston, Trenton, Princeton, and Yorktown.
To find out what’s happening right now in Alexandria, keep your eyes on Extra Alex or follow us on Twitter for the latest buzz.
Header image credit: Todd Wright for VTC