Move over, Old Bay-dusted crabs — D.C. has a new food catch to net this week. Welcome to the completely refreshed Citi Open (Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, 5220 16th St., N.W.), where José Andrés and Duke’s Grocery rub elbows behind the baseline while the likes of Andy Murray and Coco Gauff whip aces in front.
Founded in 1969, Citi Open was a once-sleepy tournament attended by tennis diehards. In 2019, this U.S. Open tune-up has been attracting record-breaking crowds all week and that’s not only because of the talent swinging through this year’s tournament (more on that later).
In a sweeping rejuvenation, Washington entrepreneur Mark Ein’s sports-management firm recently acquired the event, ensuring an elegance factor Roger Federer might be proud of. It continues through Sunday, Aug. 4.
Ein is something of a local tennis-as-entertainment visionary. As owner of the Washington Kastles, D.C.’s World Team Tennis squad, he brought the Kastles matches to a higher plane: his firm built a court on the very roof of Union Market, comingling this city’s chicest food-market destination with world-class sports.
Beyond the tennis-ball action, Ein envisioned that at Citi Open, “fans experience these reimagined food and hospitality areas, the city will be buzzing about the Citi Open as the place to be in D.C. each day and night.”
Sporting a keen pulse on the city’s social trends, Ein enlisted culinary powerhouses to ensure the reinvigorated tournament would shine. On top of award-winning celebrity chef José Andrés, who brings his Pepe food truck and vegetarian-forward Beefsteak dishes, Citi Open presents fans with local favorites including Dolcezza Gelato, Ice Cream Jubilee, Compass Coffee and Duke’s Grocery, among others.
Ein stated that his team’s “top priority was upgrading the fan experience. So we did two things: we went and found the best-in-class partner in Levy,” a hospitality group that manages service at the Barclays Center, Dodgers Stadium, and yes, the U.S. Open, among others.
“And, in parallel,” Ein says, “I reached out to José Andrés, who is a good friend of mine. José is an iconic D.C. chef who happens to love tennis and I said, ‘Why don’t we partner on this together?’ and he was thrilled.”
Levy has completely rebranded not only the overall atmosphere, but also high-end hospitality. The new enclosed and air-conditioned Moët & Chandon Stadium Club is the centerpiece, directly astride the 7,500-person center court. This VIP-style experience is certainly a far cry from stadium chili fries.
Though not everyone will get a pour of champagne while taking in dropshots, the other new attraction this year is Market Square. It’s also fully enclosed and air-conditioned, but free and open to all fans. It features the Andrés offerings as a showcase, as well as Duke’s Grocery and a full bar. Market Square’s more than food and beverages, though: fans keeping cool there get views of practice courts where top stars get the kinks out of their backhands. The space also holds nightly programming and entertainment.
Regarding cocktails, there’s plenty of places to bemoan a close loss or celebrate a thrilling upset. Founding Spirits has landed the coveted spot as Citi Open’s official vodka and whiskey; at the shaded, breezy Founding Spirits Cocktail Lounge, mixologist perfect the “Match Point Mule.” Nearby is the Amstel Light Beer Garden & Rock Creek Grill, serving Heineken brews and snacks. Assuaging millennials, overlooking the beer garden is a Frosé Terrace. It’s set on the second level of the stadium, with views as cool as the drinks. (Not to be outdone, Vineyard Vines is now the official apparel sponsor.)
As for the tennis, the players this year represent one of the most dynamic, highly talented group that the Citi Open has seen. There were three top-ten men’s tennis players: Stefanos Tsitsipas (6); Karen Khachanov (8); Daniil Medvedev (9)) and one on the women’s side, Sloane Stephens. Andy Murray made a cameo in doubles.
Once a ballboy at this very tournament, and now an owner, Ein is thrilled with how his inaugural year at Citi Open has turned out.
“It’s exceeded our wildest expectations. Fans are all talking about how amazing the food experience is, the new hospitality areas and just the general feeling of the event is something that people haven’t seen before that they’re in love with.”