By James Cullum
It’s going to be a busy year in Alexandria! In addition to the usual festivals, parades and concerts, visitors and residents have a lot to look forward to, including the installation of public art, the opening of Waterfront Park, new restaurants and beer gardens, guided electric bike tours and the permanent docking of the Tall Ship Providence at Old Town’s historic Port of Alexandria.
Waterfront Park, Public Art and the Tall Ship Providence
The spring will bring a host of new life to the city. The end of March is scheduled to see the long-awaited opening of Waterfront Park at the foot of King Street in Old Town. The opening will coincide with the launch of the “Mirror Mirror” public art installation at the park – the inaugural project of the city’s Office of the Arts public art series. The interactive project, created by the New York-based SOFTlab, responds to sound and light by visitors walking through it, and was inspired by the historic Jones Point Lighthouse along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
“At long last, we’ll have panoramic views of the Potomac River from the expanded Waterfront Park, which will seamlessly connect Old Town’s historic retail corridor with the water,” Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, said at a Jan. 28 presentation at Sheraton Suites Old Town Alexandria. “This artwork is a fantastic opportunity for Alexandria to get in on the growing interest in public art and immersive art installations both in the DC region and around the country.And it taps into the incredible demand for experiences that are highly sharable on Instagram and other social media platforms, which extends our own marketing reach in an organic and potentially viral way.”
The Alexandria waterfront will also welcome a new permanent resident – the 110-foot 12-gun sloop-of war Tall Ship Providence – which will dock this summer. The ship is an exact replica of the first warship of the Continental Navy, and visitors will get a chance to meet John Paul Jones and take cruises along the Potomac, including a “craft brew cruise” in partnership with Port City Brewing Company.
You can also expect public arts performances sponsored by the Office of the Arts, the Office of Historic Alexandria and local partners including Port City and Pizzeria Paradiso.
New Tours and Restaurants
Watch out for that biker! This spring Pedego Alexandria, which opened last year on Lee St. in Old Town, will launch its guided electric bike tours that will take tourists throughout the city, to Mount Vernon (with admission to the mansion included) and Washington, D.C. A 90-minute night tour will also take riders across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to see the picturesque skylines of Alexandria, National Harbor and the District.
If you’re hungry after taking an electric bike tour, you’ll have the option to participate in Carpe DC Food Tours, which are expanding from the District to Old Town this spring with their Cherry Blossom Food Crawl event.
Speaking of restaurants, Mike Anderson and Bill Blackburn’s Whisky & Oyster is scheduled to open this spring at 301 John Carlyle Street near the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It will be the sixth restaurant for their Homegrown Restaurant group, which includes Pork Barrel BBQ, Holy Cow and The Sushi Bar on Mount Vernon Ave. in Del Ray, and Tequila and Taco and Sweet Fire Donna’s in Carlyle. The 4800-square foot restaurant will include a long bar, a 13-foot community table, a dining area with booths for seating and 50 outside seats.
Anderson said that Carlyle is Alexandria’s new restaurant hot spot, and five years ago, after opening Sweet Fire Donna’s, he and Blackburn found that the dinner crowd in Carlyle exceeded expectations.
“We opened Sweet Fire Donna’s with the assumption that Carlyle was a lunch place. We thought it was going to be 80 percent lunch and 20 percent night business, but we ended up seeing 45 percent lunch and 55 percent night business,” Anderson said. “From talking to folks in Carlyle, they’re all jealous of the niche community of Del Ray. So, we thought maybe Carlyle is the new Del Ray, the next hotspot in Alexandria.”
2019 has already seen the opening of Bistro Sancerre and Java Grill in Old Town and Casa Tequila Bar & Grill in Carlyle. Also opening this year are the German-Austrian Village Brauhaus and the Oakville Steakhouse in Old Town and the Duke Street Ice House in Carlyle. And Augie’s Mussel House on the Patio, which was a pop-up in Old Town last year, will re-open this spring – the latest project by the Common Plate Hospitality restaurant group, which also owns Mason Social.
Breweries and Beer Gardens
You won’t have to look far if you’re trying to find a beer garden in Alexandria. This year, the Aslin Beer Company is planning on opening a 3,500 square foot tasting room at its new facility at 847 South Pickett Street in the West End. Additionally, Lost Boy Cider – the first urban cidery in Northern Virginia, will open in Carlyle.
“Lost Boy is the creation of Del Ray resident Tristan Wright, who is poised to dazzle us with a line of heritage and modern dry craft ciders made from Virginia apples and featuring all‐natural ingredients like hops, cranberries, pineapples and spices,” Washington said.
They join Del Ray’s Hops N’ Shine, a new beer garden, restaurant and bar, and Charlie’s on the Avenue, which plans to open a beer garden next door at the former Greenstreet Gardens space.
New Hotels and Transportation Issues
All booked up? The 124-key King Street Hyatt Centric is slated to open by the end of 2019, and renovation has begun on the George Mason Hotel, which was built in 1926 and has been an office building for decades. The two buildings of the George Mason Hotel, which is a prime example of Colonial revival architecture, is located at 699 Prince Street and won’t be ready to go until at least 2021.
It will be an interesting summer for Metro riders, as all of Alexandria’s stations will be shut down over the summer. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, free shuttles will be provided to the Crystal City, Pentagon City, the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport Metro stations so that the transit service can repair three deteriorating platforms and conduct track repair near the Van Dorn Street Station.