Restaurants, retail, entertainment: How The Wharf will ‘change DC forever’

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a five-part series on D.C.’s new Southwest Waterfront development, The Wharf.

What to expect at The Wharf: 'There's something exciting about it' (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON Cathal Armstrong has been an active part of D.C.’s culinary community since he opened Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia, 13 years ago. And over the years, he’s resisted mounting pressure to cross the river and launch an eatery in the nation’s capital.  

That is, until now.

In October, Armstrong will open Kaliwa, a Filipino, Korean and Thai restaurant on D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront — and he’s just one of a handful of lauded chefs to claim a piece of real estate along the newly redeveloped shoreline.

“We went there and did a site visit, and you could start to really get a sense of what was happening here and how different this was going to be,” Armstrong said about his decision to open a restaurant, his sixth, in D.C.

“This is going to be something exciting. It’s going to change D.C. forever.”

What to expect at The Wharf

Plans for District Wharf have been in the works for more than a decade, and when the first phase of development opens to the public next month, visitors will be greeted with new dining, retail and recreation options.  

Restaurants

In addition to Armstrong, chefs Jamie Leeds, Fabio Trabocchi, Mike Isabella and Nicholas Stefanelli all have concepts planned for The Wharf. In fact, more than 20 cafes, bars and restaurants will open along the mile-long waterfront community between October and next spring.

Husband and wife team Fabio and Maria Trabocchi will open the highly anticipated Del Mar at The Wharf in October. The couple’s other restaurants include Fiola, Fiola Mare and Sfoglina. (Courtesy PN Hoffman)

Expect to see familiar names such as Blue Bottle Coffee, Dolcezza Gelato, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Shake Shack, Rappahannock Oyster Company and Taylor Gourmet.

Stefanelli’s three-floor Italian market and trattoria will bring specialty products (cheeses, meats, coffee, etc.) to the neighborhood, and Trabocchi’s Del Mar will focus on Spanish-style seafood.

Celebrated cocktail wiz Todd Thrasher plans to open a multilevel rum distillery and bar, called Potomac Distilling. Thrasher, a new student to distilling, will make four rums when he opens next spring, including a white rum, a spiced rum, an aged rum and a “green garden rum,” which he said will appeal to gin lovers.

More than 20 cafes, bars and restaurants will open this year at The Wharf. (Courtesy PN Hoffman)

Potomac Distilling will include a retail shop with homemade syrups and bitters, as well as a few seating areas and an open-air tiki bar.

Most restaurants and bars strung along the The Wharf’s cobblestone walkways will have patios or some form of open-air seating, and many boast waterfront views, which Monty Hoffman, CEO and founder of the development group PN Hoffman, said have been missing until now.

“The city has 26 miles of waterfront, but not a real, true waterfront community,” Hoffman said. “We’re catching up, frankly, to what other cities have already started doing.”

River Recreation

The heart and soul of The Wharf is the water, Hoffman said, so it’s no surprise that much of the action in the new neighborhood will take place on the Potomac.

The waterfront community will be home to DC Sail, a sailing club and school, as well as the Capital Yacht Club. Dinner and sightseeing cruises will service The Wharf, and visitors will be able to rent kayaks and standup paddleboards at its piers.

In this June 5, 2012, photo, Bill Leggett works on the Espresso Book Machine, known as Opus, at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. Self-publishing has been made easier since the macine by On Demand Books debuted in 2006. The machine also can makes copies of out-of-print editions. The first machine was installed briefly at the World Bank’s bookstore. Through a partnership with Xerox, the company now has machines in about 70 bookstores and libraries across the world including London; Tokyo; Amsterdam; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Melbourne, Australia; and Alexandria, Egypt. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Coming to The Wharf  Politics and Prose is opening two new stores — one each at The Wharf and at Union Market this fall — and owner Brad Graham said there’s never been a better time for the local bookstore to expand. “These areas have been underserved by bookstores and lots of other retail in the past, and now that the housing stock there has improved and these new buildings are going up, we see this as a great opportunity,” he said. “Customers have shown renewed interest in and commitment to supporting their local bookstores. Politics and Prose has benefited from that and we’ve seen a chance now to bring more books and more events to other parts of the Washington area.” Politics and Prose at The Wharf will be about one-fifth the size of the flagship Connecticut Avenue NW shop, but Graham said it will still stock a wide range of material and host author events. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin) (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Coming to The Wharf  Nicholas Stefanelli is the chef and owner of Masseria at Union Market (a favorite dining destination of former first lady Michelle Obama), and he’s opening up a new Italian market and trattoria at The Wharf. “The Wharf’s going to be a pretty exciting place. It’s going to transcend that whole entire area,” he said. Stefanelli is still hammering out the final design plans (his concept is scheduled to open in the spring of 2018), but he envisions the market will house a butcher shop, cheese shop, bakery, small lunch counter and coffee bar. “The second floor will be a casual trattoria and then the third floor is a rooftop bar with a private event space that will seat up to 80 people,” Stefanelli added. “If you haven’t been down to see what’s going on, you should definitely drive by to look at it because it’s pretty amazing what they’ve done so far.” (Courtesy Scott Suchman) (SCOTT SUCHMAN)
Coming to The Wharf  When Eric Rohleder opened Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits at Union Market in 2011, his goal was to establish a community-friendly wine shop that offered consumers an alternative to big-box and grocery retailers. This fall, he’ll open his second location at The Wharf. “We found The Wharf to kind of be contiguous with the brand that we set up at Union Market — just to help reinvigorate a culinary community that might have been falling off the map for a lot of folks in D.C. That’s what really drove me to this project,” Rohleder said. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Armstrong, who grew up in the suburbs of Dublin, Ireland, got his first taste of gardening when he was a kid. Since, it has become a major part of his life, and his restaurant kitchen. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Coming to The Wharf Chef Cathal Armstong, of Restaurant Eve fame, will open Kaliwa in the fall at The Wharf. Armstrong describes the restaurant as one-half Filipino, one-quarter Thai and one-quarter Korean. The inspiration for the concept stems from personal experiences, including his love of Filipino food (Armstrong’s wife is Filipino) and a culinary diplomacy trip to Thailand through the State Department. Armstrong has been working on the concept for about five years, and despite having opened several restaurants in Alexandria, Virginia, in the last decade, this is his first in D.C. “People are always attracted to the water. There’s some allure to it, something exciting about it … and finally, a developer has come along and they have developed something that is the whole package,” Armstrong said. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Heather McAusland, left, and Eric Papula of Virginia kayak along the Potomac River near the Theodore Roosevelt Island, Saturday, June 9, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Coming to The Wharf  The Wharf’s four piers and two parks will be home to a number of recreational activities, including paddleboard and kayak rentals, walking trails, outdoor fitness classes, an ice rink and more. Water taxis will shuttle people to other docks in the D.C. area, and a free ferry will run between The Wharf and East Potomac Park throughout the day. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Coming to The Wharf  Whiskey Charlie is a rooftop bar and lounge coming to The Wharf this fall at D.C.’s first Canopy by Hilton. Expect cocktails, light bites and unparalleled views of the city. (Courtesy PN Hoffman)
(WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Coming to The Wharf  Music is another main focus at The Wharf. The largest venue, The Anthem, will hold up to 6,000 people and host acts such as The Foo Fighters, O.A.R. and Lorde, beginning Oct. 12. “We believe that this venue, we fit more people closer to the artist than anywhere else. There’s no bad seat, no bad standing spot anywhere in the house,” Hoffman said about The Anthem’s design. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
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In this June 5, 2012, photo, Bill Leggett works on the Espresso Book Machine, known as Opus, at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. Self-publishing has been made easier since the macine by On Demand Books debuted in 2006. The machine also can makes copies of out-of-print editions. The first machine was installed briefly at the World Bank’s bookstore. Through a partnership with Xerox, the company now has machines in about 70 bookstores and libraries across the world including London; Tokyo; Amsterdam; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Melbourne, Australia; and Alexandria, Egypt. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Armstrong, who grew up in the suburbs of Dublin, Ireland, got his first taste of gardening when he was a kid. Since, it has become a major part of his life, and his restaurant kitchen. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Heather McAusland, left, and Eric Papula of Virginia kayak along the Potomac River near the Theodore Roosevelt Island, Saturday, June 9, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
(WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Hoffman said water taxis will connect Washingtonians to Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor and The Yards. The “Wharf Jitney” will ferry people from the piers to East Potomac Park for free.

“So if you’re working here and you want to hit a bucket of balls for lunchtime, you can go to the driving range at East Potomac Park and get back in a half-hour,” Hoffman said.

Piers and parks throughout the development will be populated with swings, benches, trails, and splash and spray water features. There’s even space for future farmers markets and festivals.

“The water is social; it brings out the best in everybody. If you go on a boat and you’re out on the water and you pass another boat, what do you do? You wave. When you’re in the car and you pass another car on the road, do you wave? No. I mean, there’s something magic about the water,” Hoffman said.

The Wharf: 'An amusement park for adults' (WTOP's Rachel Nania)
Music

Music is another main focus at The Wharf. The largest venue, The Anthem, will hold up to 6,000 people and host acts such as The Foo Fighters, O.A.R. and Lorde, beginning Oct. 12.

“We believe that this venue, we fit more people closer to the artist than anywhere else. There’s no bad seat, no bad standing spot anywhere in the house,” Hoffman said about The Anthem’s design.

Pearl Street is another destination for entertainment at The Wharf. Pearl Street Warehouse and Union Stage, both of which hold around 400 people, will feature live music seven nights a week. Kirwan’s Irish Pub will also be a harbor for the arts.

“You can make a day of it. You can go rent kayaks in the morning, you can go have lunch, you can hangout at one of the bars, come to the distillery and help us make rum and then go pick up a show at The Anthem. It’s like an amusement park for adults,” Potomac Distilling’s Thrasher said.

Hoffman added, “D.C. is really a button-down city, or it has been. And I liken the city to almost to a teenager coming into its own identity.”

A view of The Wharf from D.C.’s East Potomac Park. The “Wharf Jitney” will ferry people from the piers to East Potomac Park for free each day. (Courtesy PN Hoffman)
Retail

From wine, to books, to fair-trade gifts, The Wharf’s retail component gives locals a new place to shop.

Area favorites such as Politics and Prose, Harper Macaw, Cordial Craft Wine and Beer & Spirits all have locations planned for the new development, as well as national brands like CVS and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Big box stores, however, are excluded from the list.

“We don’t have big chains here, and that was on purpose,” Hoffman said. He adds that dry cleaners, fitness studios and salons will fulfill the needs of the development’s new residents.

“When you come here, you’ll feel the texture of the neighborhoods. This is not a lifestyle center, this is nothing like anything you’ve seen before.”

A kickoff celebration for The Wharf is planned for Oct. 12 to 15. The four-day event will include food, live music and sunset fireworks. Visit The Wharf’s website for more information.

Read more of WTOP’s coverage:

Part 1: DC’s most ambitious redevelopment project set to open

Part 2: Examining The Wharf’s environmental impact

Part 4: Will The Wharf be your traffic nightmare?

Part 5: Maine Avenue Fish Market gets a makeover


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