Some of us kind of liked D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront the way it was: decidedly untrendy, a destination only for those in the know, a place that still held some vestiges of an earlier DC, even though much of the original neighborhood was obliterated for “urban renewal” in the 1960s. Whenever another ultra-hip, pour-over, micro-roasting coffee shop opens up in my own suddenly cool neighborhood, a stroll over down M Street S.W. has been a balm to my over-gentrified soul.
But a change is gonna come with the opening of District Wharf on Oct. 12, and the Southwest waterfront will definitely no longer be the same. In the past, it was slightly grimy, definitely smelly, and didn’t offer much — OK any — really good food. For a place like Arena Stage, the acclaimed regional theater that has anchored the area since 1960, this presented a problem for patrons looking for pre- or aprés-theater dining, as well as for office workers who wanted something more substantial than struggling through Lean Cuisine microwave meals at their desks.
In recent years, a shiny new Safeway has helped to spawn a smattering of restaurants adjacent to the Waterfront Metro station, but the Wharf promises to profoundly alter the rhythm of life in Southwest, continuing the rapid pace of development that began when Nationals Park opened to the public in 2008. The restaurant boom just on the other side of South Capitol Street, from Justin’s to Bluejacket to the Salt Line, made the Wharf almost an inevitability.
With nearly two dozen new locally owned eateries and bars opening up between October and next spring, area residents and visitors alike will have a wide array of options, from doughnuts to pizza and, of course, plenty of seafood.
A few highlights to look out for starting Oct. 12:
Alas, Cantina Marina, home of cheap drinks, spectacular sunsets, and cheesy island vibes, will close at the end of October while the pier where it currently sits is being rebuilt — although, fingers crossed, it will return in all its Margaritaville glory in a couple of years. However, in the meantime, you can check out Pearl Street Warehouse, a music, food and bar concept created by the Cantina Marina team. Look out for all-American diner-style delights with a backdrop of live rock, country, soul, bluegrass and R&B music.
If you’ve always yearned for a water view with your freshly shucked bivalves at Hank’s Oyster Bar, then restaurateur Jamie Leeds’ newest location will fill the bill. Leeds’ typically refers to her menus as “urban beach food” and the addition of a carry-out window where you can grab lobster rolls and other seaside-inspired treats will provide a boardwalk experience that Leeds calls an homage to Rehoboth Beach.
Chef Mike Isabella continues his near-domination of the D.C. restaurant scene with the opening of a second location of Requin, which many D.C. residents are likely to be unfamiliar with unless they’ve ventured out to the original location in Virginia’s Mosaic District. The focus will, naturally, be seafood, but with a French twist under the refined eye of chef, and fellow “Top Chef” alum, Jennifer Carroll, and an extensive wine program is planned.
Yo-ho-ho, there’s a rum distillery coming to the Wharf and that is something to be excited about. The brainchild of mixologist Todd Thrasher, rum will be distilled on site at Potomac Distilling Company, including white and spiced rums and aged varieties. They’ll all be served in a tiki-style setting, along with Hawaiian-inspired snacks from chef Cathal Armstrong, which will hopefully help tide us over until Cantina Marina returns.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage writer. Follow her kitchen adventures on Instagram, @kristenhartke.