Alexandria, VA

Before it was a Starbucks, before it was the Seaport Inn, the restaurant at the corner of King and S. Union Street was a bawdy little tavern with a petrified pig.

As early as 1893, records refer to the location as Brill’s Restaurant, and local newspaper reports from a year later detail a curious incident with a slab of ham. These details, and others about local Alexandria restaurants, are featured in a new book by local journalist Hope Nelson called Classic Restaurants of Alexandria.

A newspaper article from the Alexandria Gazette-Packet from 1894 said the restaurant kept a unique petrified ham on display.

“A curiosity in the shape of a petrified ham is on exhibition at the restaurant of Mr. Jacob Brill,” the article said. “The ham was found in the ground near Staunton and will be sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.”

After Brill’s restaurant closed, Nelson said the space was eventually transformed into the Seaport Inn, a more upscale restaurant that served seafood for more than 50 years before it closed in 2000. All that remains of the restaurant today is a plaque outside the building, which now houses a Starbucks.

Nelson, who has written a food column for the Gazette-Packet for several years, said Alexandria has a unique culinary history shaped by restaurants both long gone and currently active. Given the city’s long culinary history and numerous restaurants, the book only discusses the long-time establishments.

“The litmus test was, if it’s currently operating, it needs to have been operating for more than 25 years,” Nelson said. “A few are right at the level, while some like Gadsby’s have been around much longer.”

One of the youngest on the list, Nelson said, is Taqueria el Poblano — a baja-style taco place in Del Ray, though it’s since expanded to Columbia Pike and Lee Highway in Arlington.

“It’s slightly over 25 years old, so it is the baby of the book, but it has such a following in Del Ray and Alexandria that I couldn’t not include it,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the restaurant’s family-friendly reputation and welcoming environment are the keys to its local success.

“It’s a small little restaurant that whether winter or summer, there’s always a wait to get in,” Nelson said. “Because it’s such a family-oriented place, a lot of families with young children feel comfortable that their kids can be loud and act up and they’re part of the family. Management welcomes you like an old friend and they have a knack for recognizing people.”

The book is available online or at The Old Town Shop. Nelson will be signing copies at her book launch party next Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Union Street Public House (121 S. Union Street).

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It’s been a rough couple months for George Washington Middle School.

First, an old mold problem at the school resurfaced. Then there was the series of fire-related incidents at the school. School administration is hoping an environmental test can help provide a light at the end of the tunnel.

In a message sent to parents, school officials said mold was found in a number of classrooms in late 2018 and early 2019, but the issues were resolved when the school worked to fix its water intrusion issues. The issue made headlines when students at the school took the initiative and collected samples, had them analyzed, and were able to prove that there was mold growing in the classrooms.

Since then, the school has been working through various projects aimed at eliminating leaks in the school.

“Over the summer 2019, eight rooftop HVAC units that had been leaking above the auditorium and adjacent classrooms were replaced,” school administration said. “ACPS also carried out extensive roof repairs and sealed areas around windows that were found to be leaking.”

Now, ACPS is commissioning independent environmental testing at the school this month in hopes that it will show the repair work has paid off and solved the school’s mold issue.

“The entire school, including all classrooms in all wings of the building and all offices, will be tested to confirm that the building repairs and replacements have remedied our mold issues,” the school said. “The results of the tests will be shared in January 2020.”

Going forward, ACPS said it would provide the GW community with updates every quarter on projects at the school.

“While nothing can totally eliminate mold altogether, we believe that the necessary actions that have been taken over the past year have gone a long way to prevent water from entering the building and causing additional mold growth,” ACPS said.

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The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) has plenty of pets for adoption, but few with as many tricks and devious tactics as the shelter’s own master-thief: Moomoo.

Moomoo, or Moo as he’s known by his friends, is a two-year-old domestic shorthair. Like Remmy, the stately gentleman, Moo is a tuxedo cat. But unlike Remmy, Moo has a devious streak.

“Moo is a mischief kitty and loves to find sneaky hiding places,” said Gina Hardter, director of marketing for the AWLA. “But even if you can’t see him, he’s there…and can be cajoled into the open with some tasty treats!”

Hardter said Moo loves to hang out near people and roll over to show his belly. This might seem like an invitation to be pet, but Hardter said this is another one of Moo’s traps. The AWLA even put together a quiz to help prospective owners learn whether or not to pet Moo’s belly.

But this doesn’t mean Moo isn’t a people person. The AWLA said Moo sometimes enjoys lounging near the office staff and staring up lovingly.

As a bonus, Moo’s adoption fees have been pre-paid through December as part of the shelter’s Home for the Pawlidays, so he can come home to a new family at now cost.

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Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is overhauling its feedback process system-wide to make sure parents know who to turn to if they are having trouble getting their concerns addressed.

In the past, parents at several schools have spoken at School Board meetings and expressed concerns that they weren’t being heard. Parents at George Washington Middle School said at a recent School Board meeting that they felt they weren’t being heard over concerns about the modernization of the school and fire safety — though school officials at the meeting did address the repairs made to the fire system in the school.

“This month we are introducing a new, standardized way for parents, guardians and community members to have their concerns, inquiries and suggestions addressed,” ACPS said in a press release. “We want to make sure that you are directed to the right staff to have your concerns addressed quickly, and that you are aware of the best paths for escalating unresolved issues.”

ACPS put out a flow-chart describing the new system, which mostly seems to codify an existing chain of command. The schools also put out a site with direct links to every administrator in the process.

For classroom or student-specific concerns, parents are advised to reach out to teachers, athletic coaches, or school support staff. If the issue isn’t resolved, it can be taken to school administrators, then up to ACPS administration.

School-wide concerns are to be directed to the front office, in this system, then to school administrators. Division-wide concerns should go to the respective departments, like bus transportation or special education.

If a concern goes to ACPS administration, it should start at the ACPS department administrator, then go to the superintendent, then the School Board.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott. Chart by ACPS.

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The waterfront will sparkle tomorrow (Saturday) as dozens of ships decked out in Christmas lights cruise along the shoreline.

This year is the 20th annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Festivities are planned throughout the afternoon and early evening, from 2-8 p.m. Planned activities include a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company, a bookmark-making station from Old Town Books and holiday music from 97.1 WASH-FM.

Santa is scheduled to arrive at the party at 3:30 p.m. by fireboat, and the parade is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. The parade is expected to last sometime between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on factors like total participants and river conditions. Guests are advised to arrive early to stake out a good spot to view the parade.

Visit Alexandria suggested the following locations:

  • Founders Park — 351 N. Union Street
  • Alexandria City Marina — 0 Cameron Street
  • Waterfront Park — 1 King Street and 1A Prince Street
  • Point Lumley Park — 1 Duke Street
  • Windmill Hill Park — 501 S. Union Street
  • Shipyard/Harborside Park — 1 Wilkes Street
  • Ford’s Landing City Park — 99 Franklin Street

After leaving Alexandria, the parade will head to The Wharf in D.C. for another celebration there.

Photo via Visit Alexandria VA/Facebook

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A new bike campus is all painted and ready to go under the Alexandria side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The smooth pavement between the bridge pylons has long been a popular spot for bicyclists on the Mount Vernon Trail or visiting Jones Point Park, but the new signs and lanes on the ground can help new cyclists learn the rules of the road and practice in a safe environment.

At a grand opening ceremony, scheduled for Saturday (Dec. 7) at 10:30 a.m., instructors from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) will be available to help teach cyclists of all ages about rules on the street and bicycling techniques. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for 11 a.m.

According to the Facebook page:

WABA is excited to announce the completion of the Alexandria Bike Campus at Jones Point Park! The bike campus will serve as a dedicated space for people of all ages to learn how to ride a bicycle safely, comfortably, and confidently. WABA will be celebrating the completion of the Alexandria Bike Campus with a ribbon cutting on Saturday, December 7 at 11:00 a.m. at Jones Point Park in Alexandria, VA.

We invite you to bring your family and your bicycles to the ribbon cutting and to participate in a demonstration of the bicycle campus. WABA instructors will show how the campus can be used to teach new cyclists of all ages and how even experienced cyclists can learn and practice new skills. Our instructors will be at Jones Point Park at 10:30 AM – we hope to see you then!

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As part of its controversial efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to Seminary Road, the city is planning to install a sidewalk on the north side of the road — if it can get the money.

Much of the Complete Streets project on Seminary Road has been completed but the city is still hoping to add a new sidewalk next to the seminary from which the road draws its name.

“It’s still ridiculous that in 2019 that there are places in Alexandria where we don’t have sidewalks,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “For me, priority was not about bike lanes, it was about pedestrians. It was about completing the sidewalk network.”

Wilson said the sidewalk would go from just west of Quaker Lane, where an existing sidewalk currently ends, up to the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The sidewalk has been in the plans for the road since the concept stage, according to Sarah Godfrey, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. Construction will require the approval of a grant request to VDOT made by the City Council in September.

As of December, city staff said work from road resurfacing and roadway markings to new median islands has been completed. Wilson met earlier this week during the morning rush hour with local residents, many of whom expressed frustrations with traffic caused by the narrowed street and the lack of cyclists using the new bicycle lanes.

“It was a good session,” Wilson said. “Probably better to have these discussions in person rather than social media.”

Wilson said he understood the concerns of the local residents, who have labeled it #JustinsTrafficJam in the nearly 1,000-member Facebook group Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet. Wilson is, ironically, listed as a member.

“There’s always an adjustment whenever you make a traffic change as people get used to it. I think we expected that going in,” Wilson said. “There’s kind of a rush on both sides to draw conclusions very quickly, but the full story of this will be told over time. We’ve committed to being data-driven — looking at this when it’s done and making sure we’ve achieved the goals of the project.”

Godfrey noted that the city will continue to post weekly updates on the Seminary Road Complete Streets page and update the FAQ.

Photo via Google Maps

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The city is hoping to bring new affordable housing to the Eisenhower Valley, but some on the Planning Commission said the city is shooting itself in the foot with snobby development guidelines.

The plans to reshape Eisenhower — a topic that came up several times this week — went to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 3. While the commission mostly praised the vision presented in the plans, Commissioner Mindy Lyle pointed out that efforts to create more affordable housing in the area are inadvertently hamstrung by the city’s own zoning and design practices.

“We are never going to achieve our housing goals as a city unless we get over the snob factor,” said Lyle.

Lyle said that many types of housing, such as back-to-back units, two-over-two homes, and rows of housing with back-facing garages — all of which are common in D.C.’s residential neighborhoods — are frowned on in Alexandria’s guidelines.

“[These units] provide an ownership entry into the market that doesn’t have to be funded by [the city housing authority] — that can be entered into by young couples,” Lyle said. “We are doing ourselves a disservice as a city if we don’t start looking at different housing types and get over ourselves.”

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek argued that it was unlikely to see townhouses built in the core of Eisenhower East, where new developments will have height minimums and are expected to bring higher levels of density to the neighborhood. But Lyle said that further west there are long stretches of Eisenhower Avenue prime for townhomes.

“You’re going to see more development as you go towards Cameron Park,” Lyle said. “There are a few places there [that are] primed for redevelopment.”

Karl Moritz, director of Planning and Zoning, said that city staff are internally reviewing many of the assumptions made in the past about what types of housing could be utilized throughout the city.

“I do agree, that’s a subject worth examining,” Moritz said. “We’re looking at ways of putting houses on properties where zoning doesn’t currently allow.”

Currently, the plans are to utilize bonus density for new developments as leverage for investments in affordable housing. While this tactic is commonly used throughout Alexandria, staff said one difference in Eisenhower will be that developers won’t be able to just invest in the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing to be built elsewhere: affordable housing for bonus density in Eisenhower will have to be built somewhere in the immediate vicinity.

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A new pilates studio in Carlyle is hoping to help locals get a head start on their New Year’s fitness resolutions.

Club Pilates, a pilates chain, planning to open at 1725 Jamieson Avenue, just a block south of Whole Foods. The location is scheduled to have a grand opening early next year, but the new studio is offering free preview sessions next week.

According to a press release:

In anticipation of the grand opening early next year the new studio will be having a meet and greet on December 12 and free introductory classes, December 13-15. During the meet and greet prospect members will get a chance to learn about Club Pilates, meet instructors and interact with current members and for those attending the free introductory classes there will be a chance to win raffle prizes, discount on Club Pilates merchandise, and gift cards.

The pilates business advertises its classes as low-impact training to build strength, mobility and flexibility at an affordable price. Training sessions are offered in various packages, but prices for the classes have not been posted yet.

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(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) In the shadow of the Covanta trash incinerator, just north of the Metro tracks, a small garden of unique, local businesses is blooming.

The West End Business Center (5308 Eisenhower Avenue) and Van Dorn Metro Business Center (5416 Eisenhower Avenue) look like average industrial uses, but several of the businesses inside this suite offer unique services that are relatively hidden from those who don’t already frequent the Eisenhower West area.

Perhaps the most well known of the businesses here is Sportrock, an indoor rock climbing facility boasting the tallest indoor rock climbing surface in the Mid-Atlantic, at 60 feet. Lillian Chao-Quinlan, who opened Sportrock’s Eisenhower Avenue location in 1996, said the area was mainly auto shops when she opened, but those have slowly given way to new, unique local businesses.

Among them are The Garden, a co-building space run by a technology training company called Building Momentum, and Scramble, an indoor play facility that focuses on affordable play options.

Allen Brooks, COO of The Garden and Building Momentum, said the success of Sportrock made the city more amenable to approving his special use permit, which allows him to operate a facility where co-workers can utilize 3D printing and other crafting tools.

“We were able to get blanket SUP partially because of [Sportrock],” Brooks said. “It’s a vision of what the west end of Eisenhower could be.”

The business owners on the west end of Eisenhower Avenue are enthusiastic about the future of their community and say it’s ripe for further growth. Brooks said there are about 50 workers who set up in The Garden, but in April that will expand as the Department of the Navy will start bringing employees in for a program called Navy X.

Between The Garden’s co-building clients, parents with their children at Scramble, and people climbing or working out at Sportrock, the business owners said there are people coming to the area for activities — but it lacks the other types of food and retail spots in the immediate vicinity that could make for a more well-rounded community.

“We have a preponderance of people for coffee and [other purposes] but people don’t know we’re here,” Brooks said.

As the city prepares to rewrite the plans for Eisenhower, focusing on turning the corridor into a residential and retail hub, Scramble owner Laurence Smallman said the city should look at the example of what the existing small businesses were able to do with former industrial spaces when given the space by the city to do so.

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After the launch of the I-395 Express Lanes, Transurban is turning its attention to a ramp connecting I-395 to Seminary Road near the Mark Center.

The south-facing ramp, which opened in 2016, is currently restricted to HOV traffic and buses traveling north in the morning and south in the evenings. Transurban hopes to change that, opening the ramp up to toll-paying traffic — allowing another point of access to Seminary Road for drivers on I-395 and another incentive to use the Express Lanes.

Transurban is scheduled to pitch its plans at a meeting scheduled for next Monday, Dec. 9, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Minnie Howard Campus (3801 W. Braddock Road). The presentation is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

According to a press release:

The meeting is an opportunity for the public to find out about an operations analysis assessing the traffic and safety impacts and benefits of converting the I-395 and Seminary Road Ramp in the City of Alexandria from a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV)-only ramp to a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) ramp. The ramp would continue to provide access to the 395 Express Lanes but would be available to vehicles with fewer than three occupants who pay a toll, and for free to vehicles with three or more occupants.

The north-facing ramp is currently open to toll traffic. The City of Alexandria’s webpage for the ramp said Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) is coordinating with Transurban and the Virginia Department of Transportation on an analysis of the potential change and looking at how the changes could impact local traffic.

Revenue from the tolls on I-395, and from the ramp, would go towards transit services and multimodal solutions — projects aimed at getting people out of their cars and onto mass-transit.

Photo via Google Maps

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Next Saturday, the Old Town trolly will run from the Metro to the Waterfront by way of the North Pole.

On Saturday, Dec. 14, Santa is scheduled to make an appearance at a King Street Trolly parked outside City Hall (301 King Street). The trolly is a free, year-round shuttle along King Street operated by the DASH bus service.

The event is scheduled to run from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

“Join us to celebrate the magic of the holiday season and enjoy a morning of free photos with Santa Claus aboard the King Street Trolley,” DASH said in a Facebook post.

Santa’s Trolly is an annual event, and past participants have also received DASH-related goodies like a coloring book.

Photo via DASH/Facebook

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