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New Irish Pub Aims to Set Up Shop in Former Tortoise and Hare Space in Crystal City

A new Irish pub is on the way for Crystal City, aiming to set up shop in the neighborhood’s long-time row of local restaurants on 23rd Street S.

The space once occupied by the Tortoise and Hare Bar and Grill at 567 23rd Street S. will soon become home to the second location of Fiona’s Irish Pub, a restaurant and bar currently based in Alexandria.

Owner Martin White, a native of Ireland, told ARLnow that he’s hoping to get the new pub up and running somewhere in “early to mid-January,” and he’s eager to move in to what he termed “the best block in Crystal City.”

“You probably have every chain in the world on Crystal Drive, and that’s fine, you need chains,” White said. “But that 23rd Street block with all those independent restaurants, it’s got a great vibe to it. It could almost be an old part of New York or D.C.”

White is no stranger to the neighborhood’s dining scene — he says he helped open Crystal City’s Hamburger Hamlet back in 1991 and ran King Street Blues over on Crystal Drive for years. But the impending redevelopment of the area forced that restaurant out of its space this summer, and White found himself looking for other options.

Considering that his original location of Fiona’s was “going gangbusters” over in the Kingstowne Shopping Center in Fairfax County, White says he decided to expand the concept elsewhere.

And with 23rd Street thriving, thanks to the arrival of some new businesses and the revival of Cafe Italia, White immediately started targeting the area for an expansion.

“There’s this vision for it being the local village within the city, and that grabbed my attention, big time,” White said. “The more independents there, the better.”

He was able to secure the lease at the 23rd Street space months ago, and has been hard at work rehabbing the location ever since. White says the announcement that Amazon would indeed be moving in nearby didn’t hurt his prospects, either.

“Everybody knew what was going on with Amazon, but it was a hope,” White said. “We’d already signed the lease and the contract before it was announced. That was just a happy coincidence.”

As for the restaurant itself, White says the new location will be virtually the same as first Fiona’s. That means he’s aiming for a “traditional Dublin Irish pub” to honor his hometown, complete with a stage for live music, plenty of beer on tap and a “significant Irish whiskey collection.”

“Everything, all our food will be all fresh made,” White said. “Everything will be made in-house daily.”

While Crystal City may well have other bars and restaurants, White expects that commitment to freshness will help Fiona stand out.

“When you think about it, farm to table has been going on for hundreds of years in Ireland,” White said. “That’s how we grew up, and that’s how we’ll be.”

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