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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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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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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Registration for Alexandria’s winter recreation program, with activities ranging from dog obedience training to cooking, opens soon.

On Wednesday, December 18, registration will open online and in person for city residents at the Registration and Reservation Office at Lee Center (1108 Jefferson Street). Registration for nonresidents starts Dec. 20.

There are over a hundred classes and activities available, such as athletic programs, social clubs, and creative arts. Winter recreation programs from from January to mid-April.

New programs for 2020 include a Dining Etiquette for Youth program, in which teens between the ages of 13 and 17 can learn “appropriate dinner conduct and conversation,” and an Intro to Scottish Dancing class for ages 18 and older.

Additional classes include camps for students over spring break, including a nature camp and a lifeguard certification program.

Pricing for the programs range between approximately $50 to $325. A full catalog for all of the programs can be found here.

Photo via City of Alexandria/Facebook  

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The tables are set and the staff at El Saltado Restaurant and Carryout (3616 King Street) say it’s just about ready to open in the Bradlee Shopping Center.

The restaurant is replacing the Hong Kong Bistro on the east side of the shopping center. The restaurant will serve Peruvian food, though the website listed in flyers outside the restaurant still contains mostly placeholder descriptions and generic photos of food.

El Saltado has also filed for a permit to serve alcoholic beverages.

Staff working at the restaurant said it is planned to open sometime next week. Signs in the window say the restaurant is still looking to hire:

  • Line cooks and helpers
  • Dishwashers
  • Order attendants
  • Drivers
  • A manager

Applicants are requested to apply in-person.

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If you waited, unlike the City of Alexandria, to put up your Christmas decorations after Thanksgiving, there are plenty of places to get your tree.

For one, the Alexandria Police Department is hosting its annual Christmas tree sale, a yearly fundraiser that helps cover the cost of sending over 50 children to Camp Kekoka in the summer. The program specifically aims to help Alexandria children who would otherwise be unable to afford summer camp.

The trees are sold at 110 Callahan Drive, near the Masonic Temple. Trees are available from 4-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, or on weekends from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

According to the camp website:

For more than 70 years, the Alexandria Police Youth Camp has been offering children in Alexandria a place to meet friends, try new exciting adventures and participate in character-building activities… Our mission is to own and operate a camp for children, where they can receive wholesome recreation, moral, physical, mental, cultural and civil training.

The prices for the trees are not listed online.

Almost Heavenly Christmas Trees is open daily at Landmark Mall from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekends and from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. during the week.

The company is also hosting a sale in North Ridge (2911 Cameron Mills Road) this weekend from Friday, Dec. 6, through Sunday, Dec. 8. Proceeds from the sale will help benefit the North Ridge Citizens Associations and Trinity United Methodist Church.

Tree prices range from $30 for a 3-foot tree up to $525 for a 15-foot tree. The company also offers accessories like garlands and wreaths.

Other Christmas tree sales around town include, but are not limited to:

  • Greenstreet Gardens (1721 West Braddock Road) — Staff at Greenstreet Gardens said the prices vary significantly by the size of the tree.
  • Basilica School of Saint Mary (400 Green Street) — The Christmas tree sale starts Tuesday, Dec. 5 and ends Sunday, Dec. 15. The sale is open 6-9 p.m. on weeknights and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekends. All proceeds benefit the school.
  • Fairlington United Methodist Church (3900 King Street) — The church is hosting its annual tree sale starting Thursday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 15.

For commuters, nearby Arlington also has a number of sales, including in the Crystal City area.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Happy Thanksgiving from ALXnow

Turkey day is almost here, traffic is terrible, and ALXnow is about to go on bit of a holiday break.

Before we do, however, we wanted to wish all of our readers a happy Thanksgiving. Since we launched in October, nearly 60,000 people have visited the site — exceeding even our most optimistic expectations. We are thankful for each and every one of you that have discovered us and hope you stop back often — and maybe even subscribe to our email newsletter.

We have some big things in store starting after the new year and can’t wait to do even more to serve you.

The ALXnow team wishes you and yours a great holiday. Unless there’s breaking news between now and then — which we’ll endeavor to cover as soon as possible — we’ll resume our local news coverage on Monday.

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After 34 years and no sick leave, James “JJ” Jackson wrapped up his last shift at Fire Station 203 yesterday (Tuesday).

Short of a little time in Del Ray and Old Town, Jackson said he’s spent every year of his career at the firehouse in Alexandria’s Beverly Hills neighborhood.

“I’m excited,” Jackson said. “I’m ready. I’m definitely going to miss my colleagues.”

Jackson said he quickly fell in love with the station and its coverage area. (The station is now in the process of being demolished and replaced with a new firehouse.)

“I like it up here,” Jackson said. “It’s a neighborhood feel, a little less city. That’s what I liked about it. The neighbors always take care of us and bring us stuff at Christmas.”

Jackson started on Oct. 1, 1984, and said he’s never taken a day of sick leave, but wasn’t sure if that was a record in the department.

Over those years, Jackson said the biggest changes were the incorporation of computers into firefighting and other new technologies.

“There’s a lot more EMS involvement too,” Jackson said. “The firefighting job is basically the same though.”

Jackson said his main plans once he retires are to travel and spoil his grandchildren.

Photo via Alexandria Fire-EMS/Twitter

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Alexandria has ranked highly on the 2019 Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Municipal Equality Index of cities, with a 90/100 score, but it also highlighted where there’s room to improve.

Alexandria’s lowest category is in non-discrimination laws, where HRC gave Alexandria 15 of 30 possible points. Of localities in Virginia, Alexandria ranked third behind Richmond and Arlington. Where Alexandria loses is in its protections for gender identity, where there are no protections in employment, housing, or public accommodations from discrimination.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that much of this goes back to the Dillon Rule, which means that localities like Alexandria can only exercise powers expressly granted by the state. But Wilson, and others in city leadership, have said they’re hopeful that the new Democratic majority in the Virginia legislature will mean loosening some of those local restrictions.

“The remaining points that we’re missing have to do with areas where some of the state law limits us,” Wilson said. “There’s some ambiguity for what we can do and can’t do. I suspect we’re also about to see some state laws change in that regard [concerning] laws on gender identity and gender equality.”

Wilson said the biggest current issue is that, depending on how it’s interpreted, state law forbids localities from including protections against discrimination for gender identity and expression the way localities can for other protected classes. Wilson says this extends to city government, where some benefits have been extended for transgender employees.

There is still more work to be done for offering protections, Wilson said.

While Richmond and Arlington face the same Dillon Rule restrictions, where Arlington rates higher is in services it provides to support LGBTQ youth, homeless, and the elderly, none of which HRC said was available in Alexandria.

Photo via Human Rights Campaign

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(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) Thanksgiving is just two days away, and much of the city government will be shutting down for the holiday.

On Thursday (Nov. 28), all city facilities and the Torpedo Factory will be closed. DASH bus service will not operate, but the King Street Trolley will still be running. The Vola Lawson Animal Shelter will be closed on Thursday except for its Kongs-giving event to make treat packages for animals in the shelter.

Also Thursday, parking meters will not be enforced. However, trash and recycling will still be collected.

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center will be open from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. The Charles Houston and Patrick Henry recreation centers will be open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The Torpedo Factory will also be open but all other city facilities will be closed.

Several grocery stores around Alexandria will be open on Thanksgiving Day until the afternoon.

  • Giant grocery stores throughout the D.C. region will be open until 5 p.m.
  • Harris Teeter stores, even the 24-hour locations, will close at 2 p.m.
  • Safeway stores will close at 7 p.m.

Other grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s, MOM’s Organic Market, Aldi, BJ’s, and Costco will be closed, according to WTOP.

If you’re looking to pick up a turkey at the last minute, local restaurant group Alexandria Restaurant Partners is offering Thanksgiving meal bundles to take home at various locations.

More on the planned closures, from a City of Alexandria press release, is below (after the jump).

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Old Town Alexandria is widely renowned for it’s Christmas atmosphere, but it’s local inmates who do much of the work to get those decorations up.

In addition to the lights in trees on King Street, there are garlands and ribbons around poles and lamp posts throughout Old Town.

Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office, said inmates at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center work on a voluntary basis to decorate Old Town.

“The Inmate Work Detail does put up some holiday decorations (garland and ribbon) along King Street, but not the lights,” Bertsch said. “Participation in the Inmate Work Detail is completely voluntary and inmates are compensated. They appreciate the opportunity to be out of the jail and working in the community.”

The holiday lights and decorations used to only go from the waterfront to Route 1, but David Martin, owner of Gold Works on upper King Street, spearheaded an effort in the early 2000s to have holiday decorations extend up King Street to the Metro station.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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