Underground McDonald’s Closes in Crystal City

by ARLnow.com March 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm 1,266 23 Comments

McDonald's logoThe underground McDonald’s in Crystal City has closed and will eventually be replaced with art studios.

The restaurant, at 2155 Crystal Square Arcade, was not visible from the outside; it was entirely inside the underground Crystal City Shops, and thus got most of its business from lunch-goers who work in the area. The closure comes as Crystal City faces higher office vacancies and fewer workers as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). As of January, almost 20 percent of Crystal City’s 12.5 million square feet of office space was vacant.

The McDonald’s space is expected to be used as art studio space as part of the Crystal City Business Improvement District’s new “Art Underground” initiative. The project, set to launch on March 16, is intended to transform “five blocks of Crystal City’s interior retail space into a vibrant arts and cultural destination with galleries, studios, interactive exhibits and activities, performance and classroom spaces, and a host of special events.”

The space will be run by the Arlington Artists Alliance and will be open to local artists who are looking for a space “to create, practice and showcase their talents.”

“We’re extremely excited to transform the underground in a way that we think is active and fresh, and really activates the retail space and gives people a reason to come to Crystal City,” said BID president Angela Fox.

Disclosure: Crystal City BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser

  • Deadite

    “The restaurant, at 2155 Crystal Square Arcade, was not visible from the outside; it was entirely inside the underground Crystal City Shops”

    I’ve never been there, so can someone please explain to me how this is any different from any other mall food court McDonald’s? What was special about this one that its “underground” status warranted headline status?

    • SomeGuy

      The corridors that connect many of the buildings in Crystal City are commonly referred to as the “Crystal City underground,” or just “the underground.” I suspect that’s the context that’s being added.

    • Sara

      Because the use of the word “underground” helps you know where it is. There are two kinds of storefronts in Crystal City — the ones in the underground and the ones outside along 23rd and Crystal Drive. The Crystal City Shops, the area where the McDonald’s was, is called the underground.

      Plus there is a standalone McDonald’s just south of 23rd on Jeff Davis, so saying the underground in the headline tells you which one it is.

      • Deadite

        Okay thanks. Maybe I should check out Crystal City some time before it gets turned into Artisphere 2.0.

    • ARL

      It’s underground, so everyone’s wearing black and you’ve never heard of any of the bands they’re playing.

    • Josh

      Unlike a food court McDonalds, this was an actual restaurant with tables, doors, and a really freaky Ronald McDonald statue on a bench outside.

  • Ahhlington

    I ate at this McDonalds once. Worst Big Mac I’ve ever had.
    ^typical ArlNow comment

  • ph7

    I ate at this McDonald’s once. Best Big Mac I’ve ever had.

  • Venom

    Pretty soon all of Crystal City will be vacant which make it a perfect setting for a third installment of Snake Plisskin!

    • Ian

      Yeah but “Escape from Crystal City” does not have the same ring to it of “Escape from New York” or “Escape from LA”

  • Ryan

    Nice! Now I won’t have to smell bad hamburger whenever I take the underground route to my apartment.

    • drax

      Bad horsemeat, you mean.

    • Artie Fufkin

      It’s the Subway across the hall that smells.

  • drax

    Taco Bell?

  • Crystal City

    Vornado just wants to turn that part of the underground into office space. So they’ll let the BID put in art space until people complain that all that’s down there is art. Then they’ll say, ‘See? No one wants art. Offices it is!” Just 5 years ago this place had several quick lunch places and little shops and now it’s destitute. Good job Vornado. Can’t even keep a grocery store in the place!

  • seatleorpittsburgh

    I have the misfortune to live and work in Crystal City. I would rather see another reasonably-priced food place (that is real food, unlike McDonald’s) rather than art that nobody goes to see. The one time I went into that McDonald’s was when I had a coupon for a McDonald’s latte but they said they don’t make them there. The moral of the story is Crystal City kinda stinks.

  • LanaDelTacoBell

    The undeground has changed so much over the years. I remember when there was a safeway, claries and other shops down there way back when

    • ph7

      Lowell George took them with him into the afterlife.

  • JAfram

    According to the Wash POST, it is ARTJAMZ that will move into the McDonald’s space. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/going-out-guide/wp/2013/03/01/artjamz-outgrows/?wpisrc=nl_buzz

  • LPS4DL

    Crystal City has changed a lot over the years. When it was first conceived as an area of primarily office buildings with some apartment buildings, there was very little above ground retail. Instead, most of the shops were placed in an underground concourse that connected most of the buildings. At the turn of the 20th century, Crystal City hit its peak as an office center. Over the years, the scope and style of the stores in the underground changed to suit the changing population of office workers. But in the 21st century, as the number of office workers dwindled, the underground fell on hard times and the number and mix of stores was diminished. The first major departure was when the US Patent and Trademark Office moved it’s substantial workforce to Alexandria. There followed the dispersal of DOD offices for BRAC and for other cost cutting programs. Some DOD offices have returned to Crystal City’s neighbor, Pentagon City and that may increase over time. But Crystal City itself is becoming more of a residential area as the government and contractor workers move to other locations. The General Services Administration was in 3 buildings at one time and will vacate its last Crystal City building later this year. As for the McDonald’s restaurant, it was a typical McDonald’s, not great but not bad either. And it was convenient, and you didn’t need to go out into the weather to get there. In fact, that was the major advantage for the workers in Crystal City. You could arrive there by car or by Metro and never need to go outside for the entire day which was very handy when the weather was bad. That McDonald’s used to be a Hot Shoppes cafeteria and it did a great business until tastes changed in the 80’s. There was also a public skating rink across from that Hot Shoppes but it closed in the late 70’s I believe. Crystal City used to have a Safeway as well as a movie theater in the underground. There were book stores, gift shops, drug stores (remember the Drug Fair chain?). And for you older residents, there was a Jelleff’s, a Larimer’s, Ollie’s Trolley, Waxie Maxie’s, and Linda’s Soul Food restaurant (the latter with a line out the door most weekdays). There is still a lot in the underground but I guess it will become something different, an arts enclave might just work there. The remnants of “Antique Alley” in the shops at 1750 Crystal Drive have hung on after most of their predecessors failed. Perhaps the time is right for arts and crafts to be popular again.

    • RunningWriting

      Crystal City has definitely changed, but not all change is bad. The restaurants on Crystal Drive are generally lively, with a mix of moderately-priced fare (Chipotle’s, Chick-fil-A) to more expensive places like Jaleo’s and Ted’s Montana Grill. The indoor area between 20th and 23rd St. has been kind of sleepy, so I agree that the arts initiative is a good idea.

      The indoor section between 18th and 20th Streets now has an experimental theater group (Synetic). The Shops between 15th and 18th Streets are active, probably because they are closer to the Metro entrance. Hamburger Hamlet is very crowded for happy hours and now they have live jazz on Saturday evenings. A yoga studio opened recently. So did Schakolad, a chocolate store.

      In the longer term, the outdoor retail scene will expand quite a bit when 1900 Crystal Drive is built, although that will take a few years. That will make most of Crystal Drive a lively and active street, from 18th to 23rd Streets.

      Boeing is consolidating their regional presence in the new building, to the south of Long Bridge Park. 1400 Crystal Drive should be completed this year, maybe by the summer. BRAC has posed a significant challenge, but I think the neighborhood will be able to weather the storm.

  • Underground

    This is ridiculous. This almost as bad as when they refused to renew Safeway’s lease. There is no way to “upscale” this area without lowering rents or attracting restaurants and businesses that the workers and residents want to use. I live in Crystal City and the last thing we need are art studios. We need a grocery store where the Safeway used to be (Trader Joe’s, anyone?). The developments over the last few years have been largely promising, but it’s disappointing that they put in crap like this and close things that people actually use.

  • Crystal City Tenant

    No one visits the art galleries that are there now! What a waste of space. There are still lots of people who work in Crystal City who need lunch options – especially inexpensive lunch options.


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