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Hungry in NoMa after 7 pm? Your choices are lean

Some neighborhoods argue that a saturation of restaurants saps a neighborhood's vibrancy. NoMa, a neighborhood recently recreated from old industrial land, lacks vibrancy at night because the neighborhood's restaurants close soon after the office workers go home.


Photo by jsmjr on Flickr.

Though office, residential, and hotel development took off in this area once dominated by parking lots, the new buildings have not brought the street vitality of Washington's other cherished neighborhoods.

NoMa is a unique local example of trying to create a neighborhood where one didn't exist before. Though it's surrounded by well-established neighborhoods, NoMA itself used to be industrial space adjacent to the railroad, once the main conduit for freight into and out of DC.

I live in Bloomingdale and work near Union Station. I worked until 7 pm recently and expected to be able to grab a bite at one of the new restaurants on 1st Street NE, NoMa's main street.

Much to my dismay, I got there just as Roti and Potbelly were closing, and Tynan Coffee & Tea was already closed, along with Heidi's Brooklyn Deli on 2nd Street. My only remaining food options were Harris Teeter, 7-Eleven and no less than four burger joints: McDonald's, Wendy's, Five Guys, and Burger King.

Being a vegetarian, Harris Teeter offered by far the greatest selection, so that's where I wound up. But what do the limited hours of NoMa's healthier restaurants mean for the NoMa BID's efforts to create a more vibrant neighborhood?

Presumably, as more residents fill the new apartments and condos around New York Avenue Metro, they will increase demand for neighborhood venues that offer a dining experience a cut above fast food.

Yet it is somewhat surprising that Tynan and Roti aren't open later, given how much residents of nearby Truxton Circle and Eckington have been clamoring for sit-down restaurants in their neighborhoods. With the opening of Rustik Tavern and the extension of Big Bear Cafe's hours, Bloomingdale now has two restaurants, and both are often crowded.

More eateries like Roti and Heidi's would fill a niche for a dinner that is better than fast food, but less expensive than a restaurant like Rustik. Perhaps one of them should try staying open until 9 or 10 pm one or two days a week, promote the special hours to the nearby neighborhoods, and see how many customers come in after 7pm.

Restaurants improved Barracks Row and have a similar opportunity to revitalize NoMa. The neighborhood has the potential to become a destination not only during the day, but after the offices close for the night as well.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation, and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGW are his own. 

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Hey Malcom, you may not know that Watershed opened in the last week or two, inside the Hilton Garden Inn. It's out of my price range for a regular dinner any ole' night, but there is a dinner place open later in the neighborhood.

It's worth remembering that in office-anchored revitalization districts like NoMa, the nightlife is the last to come. Polar opposite of H Street and starting from the night and working backwards into daylight. But with the Loree Grand, the apartments on the Teet, and the second phase of that building on the way, more residents will help expand the service hours of those places.

by Steve D on Apr 28, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

Did you check out Todd Gray's new restaurant in the Hilton - Watershed? It's been open less than a week and I've already heard people sing its praises.

by Elyse G. on Apr 28, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

Burger joints, SOME, Full Yum, and the new Watershed are your only options for now. Until the apartments fill up, don't expect later hours. I would like to see North Capitol below Florida open some nicer stuff, but the with the well known problems of that corner and the large amounts of land dedicated to parking there simply isn't the foot traffic to drive business.

by m on Apr 28, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

Retail follows rooftops.

by Alex B. on Apr 28, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

union station is in noma. there are restaurants there. and there is cap city brewery.

by nomama on Apr 28, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

Also missing another restaurant, Kitchen on K, opening in NoMa early this summer. Gillian Clark will be the chef, and it's going to be at the corner of 3rd and K Streets.

by t on Apr 28, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

Malcolm, I think the problem with relying on "residents of nearby Truxton Circle and Eckington" to provide enough nighttime demand is that (1) they will get hit by a car and die if they try to cross Florida Ave at night, and (2) they will get hit by a car and die if they try to cross New York Ave at night. So they're staying up north for dinner.

by tom veil on Apr 28, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

nomama: not sure if Malcolm is referring to the GGW happy hour last night at Tynan, but that's exactly where we wound up afterwards...Cap City Brewery.

by Froggie on Apr 28, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

Damn, when I saw "Roti," I thought DC finally got a frankie place. So, there anywhere to get roti or chapati rolls in the DC area?

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 28, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

Sounds a lot like Navy Yard. I think to date there is a 5 Guys, Subway and Justin's Cafe (which is great, by the way), but I want more. Tons of people work here, both at the Navy Yard, DOT and other offices. AND the ballpark is here. There are also quite a few condos and apartment buildings. I guess it's the same issue as NoMa.

by fl on Apr 28, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

We visited Chicago last May. Usually we stay near the Magnificent Mile - an area world reknown for its shopping and dining - but this time we found a great deal in the Financial District, just two blocks from the Willis Tower. However, we'd been warned about the Financial District, and those warnings came true - it runs on bankers' hours. We didn't look too hard but at a cursory glance there were zero restaurants open after 7pm; the vast majority of them were open only for lunch. As a result, there's pretty much no reason to hang out in the Financial District at night.

Having restaurants is vital for having a vibrant night life in an area. It's hard to believe that one of the most important financial districts in the world is pretty much dead at night, but that's what we witnessed. I'm not an expert on the area, so please forgive me if we missed things, but if they were there, there weren't many of them, or they weren't easily found.

by Andrew L. on Apr 28, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

For what it's worth Fojol Brothers and two other food trucks are at FERC headquarters right this second--888 First NE. I think they'll be there until about 2.

by rdhd on Apr 28, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

My guess is that these businesses have already examined staying open later, and if it were profitable they would do so. After all, that's the way they make money. The problem is that just aren't enough customers once those working in the area clear out.

I'm sure it's frustrating to not have good dinner options, but that doesn't mean that businesses should stay open just to cater to your preferences. The only real solution here is greater density in the area. That's coming, but it takes time.

by mw on Apr 28, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

Are you new to the city? You have other options, you know - try Union Station, H St, or Chinatown - all within a short distance (by bike or bus)

by grumpy on Apr 28, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

"" I think the problem with relying on "residents of nearby Truxton Circle and Eckington" to provide enough nighttime demand is that (1) they will get hit by a car and die if they try to cross Florida Ave at night, and (2) they will get hit by a car and die if they try to cross New York Ave at night. So they're staying up north for dinner.""

Until that damn Center Leg Tunnel is closed New York Ave. to the tunnel is going to remain more a freeway than a city street. Florida Ave. traffic may be ours but most NY Ave. traffic is Virginians shaving time off their commute from Maryland and vice-versa. Instead of closing it as the Comprehensive Plan calls for, we're now improving the bridge so more cars can pass through faster. And the Wendys Triangle is an urban disaster.

Bloomingdale and Mt. Vernon are beautiful neighborhoods and shouldn't have to tolerate that mess.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 28, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

@Neil Flanagan -- I thought the same thing... frankies from Roti Roll on 111th and Amsterdam in NYC are one of the best late-night meals I've ever had!

by Jacques on Apr 28, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

I've been disappointed that more night life hasn't come to this area as well, although I live further NE near Brookland, which also offers limited dining. I'm more optimistic that the McMillan redevelopment will bring more food and nightlife options to NE. I was bummed to see Vince Orange elected, but let's cross our fingers that he can jump start that project as he's claimed he can.

by Ward 5ever on Apr 28, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

As has been said, it takes time.
I work in the area, and am around late as well.
The topic gets a lot of comments, but I do not find crossing FL or NY or N Cap particularly difficult or unusual. Do it regulary on foot and bike. No problems with Dave Thomas triangle either.

by spookiness on Apr 28, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

Folks that live in NoMa are the ones that need to chat with the shop owners as those buildings fill up with residents. There will certainly be retail and restaurants in that corridor at some point with more "rooftops" coming online — the difficult thing for business owners is knowing when the threshold has been passed with enough residents to support them staying open later. It's a good case to be made for a NoMa resident (or nearby folks) chatting up the store owners, getting to know them, etc.

The other thing is that there are now two hotels in the neighborhood now, the Hilton and the Courtyard. The Hilton has just opened, and that will help provide more mouths looking for food after 6 or 7 pm.

by Steve D on Apr 28, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

You know what would really help with nightlife draws (which will help extend neighborhood hours, expand retail, etc.) Doing something with historic Uline Arena other than wasting it on parking.

Richard Layman had, hands down, the best idea in the world on that awhile back: Douglas Dev. trades it back to the city in lieu of a corresponding amount of unpaid taxes they owe, and the city sells it to XM/IMP/Whomever to turn it into the mid-size concert venue we so desperately need to fill that space between 930 and Verizon (DAR fits that bill somewhat, though it's in a part of town with less chance for spillover effects and constrained somewhat by the gorgeous old setting of that building.)

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2010/09/trading-buildings-to-cover-property-tax.html

Douglas old plan involved a Harris Teeter going into a rebuilt arena with a condo tower on top of the end of it if I remember right, and that obviously won't happen now.

by Steve D on Apr 28, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

Malcolm, welcome to the neighborhood. You must be brand new. otherwise you'd know that Heidi's Brooklyn Deli has been closed for months, and you also would have ducked inside the Courtyard Marriot for dinner at the bar. The food there's not bad.

by Molly on Apr 28, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

What about going home and cooking yourself or traveling outside of a 4 block area? I have ate at almost every restaurant in the area around NOMA there are several you have not listed for what reasons I dont know.

Why blame something that you could pretty much know before ever reaching a place. To speak on the Vegetarian options most of the world excluding India is not Vegetarian so catering to them is a waste when much more profits can be made by selling meat.

@ Tom Coumaris

The Center leg tunnel is not the major problem on New York Ave anymore.

The biggest problem now is the damn fake circle at 1st Street, Florida Ave and New York Ave. I have walked on Florida Ave and New York Ave for decades and the biggest problem I have is crossing New York Ave at 1st Street NE

The new traffic pattern creates longer times for people to walk if going to Wendy's, Fed Ex, or anywhere along Eckington if coming from 1st Street NE, New York Ave NW or Florida Ave east of the tracks. Traveling down Florida Ave from the NW side once you reach 1st Street you have to deal with unsafe conditions due to cars blocking the cross walks and or not stopping.

The traffic control guys which were out there for about the 1st month need to be there 24/7

by kk on Apr 28, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

Steve D -- thanks for the props. And yes, utilization of that building in that way (IMP has clamored for the space for years, but Douglas Dev. won't give them the time of day--not that I know how the neighbors would feel about it) would totally change the night time vitality.

One of the concepts that I laid out in the two commercial district revitalization plans I did was planning a commercial district by type of use and daypart. Daypart is a concept from the hospitality industry. It's pretty straightforward: breakfast; lunch; happy hour; dinner; late night. Basically the idea is to plan retail and attractions by time of day and day of the week, with the idea of having active use through more hours of the day. Maybe not the 24 hour city, but the 18-20 hour city, at least on Fridays and Saturdays, and maybe more than the 12 hour city (7am to 7pm) on other days, depending on how you plan the mix.

I'd like to develop that concept more in other plans, but I am not really working in that area anymore...

Malcolm -- FWIW, Heidi's has been closed for many months. And Pound too. Those are indicators of limited demand, and that the ATF isn't the best generator of daytime business either.

But while I understand your pain, I guess I look at it differently. Besides the Watershed, I think it's amazing how the food options are developing on 1st St. NE, the fact that the H-T is open late, and that so many people can walk to it.

I think back to say 2000, when I started going to community meetings covering that part of the area, and in our wildest dreams we couldn't have imagined what is coming to pass over there.

Add the revitalized Uline/XM/IMP Coliseum and it takes it to another level. A revitalized Florida Market would again take it up another notch.

But given that you've only been here a couple years and that you're young (this isn't a put down just a statement), it's hard to take stock sometimes of how far certain areas of the city have come in the past few years, compared to what they were just a short time before, and what they had been like for decades.

by Richard Layman on Apr 28, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

kk- Agree that Wendys Triangle is a mess but you realize that half the cars passing it are headed to the Center Leg Tunnel. Without those cars the triangle could be tamed.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 28, 2011 8:13 pm • linkreport

I'm not brand new to the neighborhood (neither is Malcolm, I believe) and I was shocked when I went to the NY Ave area for dinner and found nothing but fast food.

And Pound closing - as far as I've heard - has nothing to do with market demand - there was some kind of disagreement between the shop owner and the landlord.

And expecting that stores do exactly what's in their best interest (e.g. staying open late) is very optimistic - otherwise stores wouldn't oppose bike parking, would do more customer surveys and work more with the neighborhoods.

Thanks, Malcom, for pointing out these issues! I also hope for better options (and don't consider Union Station to be a dinner option, anyway!)

by Allison on Apr 28, 2011 11:19 pm • linkreport

After a few years living in restaurant heaven on Capitol Hill, I currently live in Bloomingdale, consequentially I have had a very hard time adjusting to the sparse food options in my new hood. On one hand I have started cooking for myself more a healthy plus but as a single lady I find this gets tiresome real fast (amirite?)

Ray is correct, it is a marathon, not a sprint to revitalize a commercial district, but as far as I can tell Bloomingdale is taking a break at the water stand in said marathon.

I noticed the NoMa BID being called out in this article, but there is also the little known North Capitol Main Street newly created in the area. As we all know it was the cooperation of CM Wells, Barracks Row's Main Street, CHAMPS and the Capitol Hill BID that were the driving engines behind the Hill's revitalization due to facade improvements, destination advertising, small/local business advocacy, and the perception of safety.. which is what N. Cap needs. at the very least a perception of safety, to recruit new restaurants up there. Thankfully NCMS employs Ready, Willing & Working clean team services half the week, but what's next?

As a resident busybody I would like to know:

A) what Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr is doing, for his own ward in regards to development AND as head of the economic development committee (god I miss Tommy Wells, redistricting plee anyone?)
B) what North Capitol Main Street is accomplishing in regards to their goals in economic development (their website is non-functioning and google produced no current news)

one final note: @Malcolm - try Beau Thai on NJ and R st NW... they deliver and are open relatively late!

by beariest on Apr 29, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

Hmm, I almost have the opposite perspective on Bloomingdale. To continue the marathon analogy, it looks like the area just got a second wind. In the past year the NCMS store front improvements, Rustick opening, Boundary Stone on the way, and the cleaners at 1st & Seaton with the pet store opening next to it soon. The 1st & R.I. intersection in Jan 2010 looks almost nothing like the intersection which is there today.

After 3+ years, the Firehouse is (finally!) showing promise of opening. Joe Mamo's old gas station lot across from Walter Johnson liquor has approval and may finally build after it was announced in 2005.

The 1-2 year perspective that many of the new residents have isn't long enough to truly appreciate what has changed recently. Seeing you all jogging past my house as opposed to the daily procession from SOME is part of that change. Don't get me wrong, there is still a ton of work to do, but to say the area has stagnated is a little inaccurate.

NCMS: Talk to your local ANC chair or Lonna Hooks and get involved, Scott's the daily Bloomingdale mailing very regularly lists NCMS activities.

Thomas: Just had a small business workshop for ward 5 businesses and a small area plan is being arranged for the north cap area.

by m on Apr 29, 2011 11:55 am • linkreport

FWIW, most times when a tenant says they are closing because of problems with their landlord it is code for other things other than problems with the landlord. Basically, I'd aver that the concept doesn't make sense for the space, inadequate facilities, etc.

by Richard Layman on Apr 29, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

"Being a vegetarian, Harris Teeter ..."

I'm pretty sure Harris Teeter is not a vegetarian.

by Dangler on Apr 29, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

On the plus side for Uline, there will be a play put on there in a few weeks. Might help drum up renewed interest in reusing that structure to more productive ends.

I live nearby, and would have no problem with it becoming a music venue. It's actually pretty well insulated in its corner, and wouldn't be likely to disturb nearby residents anymore than Ibiza does. (And, heck. I'm pretty sure that given the choice, folks would chose a 9:30-type venue over Ibiza any day)

by andrew on Apr 30, 2011 7:19 pm • linkreport

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