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Tis the season for peppermint mochas and Santa photos.

Starbucks, famous for its ubiquity in Arlington, is bringing back its festive cups and holiday season beverages tomorrow (Thursday, Nov. 3), the company announced today.

The 2022 Starbucks offerings include Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Brulée Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte, Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, Irish Cream Cold Brew and Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, in addition to bakery items like Reindeer Cake Pop, Sugar Plum Cheese Danish, Cranberry Bliss Bar and Snowman Cookie.

Meanwhile, Santa Claus is coming to town — sooner than you might expect.

Santa is set to start snapping photos with children at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City on Friday, Nov. 18, according to the mall’s website. Santa will be stationed on the first level of the mall near Nordstrom.

In addition to the daily photo ops, a special “Caring Santa” session for children with special needs is scheduled for Dec. 4 and pet photos with Santa is set for Dec. 11. Santa will also be hosting two breakfasts with kids at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton hotel on Dec. 3 and 17.

Reservations for the Pentagon City mall photo sessions can be made online.

Jolly Ol’ St. Nick will be arriving at the Ballston Quarter mall a bit later than his Pentagon City counterpart. Ballston’s Santa is set to start taking photos with kids on Dec. 3 and reservations can also be made online.

If you’re really jonesing for Father Christmas, there’s an even earlier option than the two in Arlington. Tysons Corner Center mall announced yesterday that Santa will be returning there next week, on Friday, Nov. 11.

Once you pick up your seasonal Starbucks tomorrow, to get in the holiday spirit — despite this week’s relatively warm weather — you might head over to the Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) ice skating rink. The rink officially opened to the public yesterday. As of early this afternoon, no skaters could be seen on the ice.

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Ballston Quarter has a 50,000-square-foot vacancy problem.

The redeveloped mall at 4238 Wilson Blvd is home to a rotating roster of restaurants, as well as clothing stores, pet facilities, eye doctors, gaming experiences and other retail businesses, as well as an attached office building and the MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

But filling the retail roster has not been smooth sailing, writes land use attorney Kedrick Whitmore in a letter to the county on behalf of Brookfield Properties, which owns the mall.

Reading the changing economic winds, Brookfield Properties is looking to tack.

During the Arlington County Board meeting this weekend, the Board is slated to review the property owner’s request to lease about 28,000 square feet of second-floor retail space to a medical tenant. This tenant — which was not named — would provide primary care, ear, nose, and throat and eyes and vision specialists, speech therapy and other medical care, according to a staff report.

“Approving this application would help resolve the Project’s significant, systemic leasing challenges and creatively reposition the Mall,” Whitmore writes in the letter, filed last month. “The Applicant envisions a holistic and mutually beneficial relationship between potential medical offices and the local retail and entertainment market.”

New medical offices benefit those living and working in the heart of Ballston, and would result in more patients patronizing local businesses, Whitmore said.

Although current zoning permits office conversions by-right, the mall is governed by a retail plan that requires Brookfield to file a site plan amendment to make the change.

The mall had struggled for years, due to its large size and age, before its redevelopment was approved, with the goal of improving its performance against newer counterparts in the region. The work wrapped up at the end of 2018.

Around the same time, a county retail plan from 2015 recommended pulling storefronts to the street, creating outdoor activity and attractions, and making interior renovations to encourage activity there. The plan also called for “flexibility and creativity” to encourage these changes.

Per the county report, county staff looked over the retail plan and “understand[s] the challenges in leasing second floor internal spaces in a shifting retail market and that these spaces require greater flexibility in terms of permitted uses.”

This request is not out of the blue, either. The report adds that “even at project inception, office tenancy was viewed as a likely leasing option.”

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association said it does not believe the change aligns with the retail plan, but should it pass anyway, it suggested the medical provider “target underserved, lower income communities which would benefit most from the easy access to public transportation.”

The mall recently approved another non-retail tenant, which agreed to lease a large space inside the mall: Grace Community Church. Still, tenants are cycling in and out, as there are fewer office workers from the nearby buildings visiting due to the rise of remote work, not to mention the convenience of online shopping.

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The sun has set on the British-inspired Salt Pot Kitchen in Ballston Quarter Market.

The “upscale British street food” eatery closed down its Quarter Market stall back in early August, co-owner Wendy Salt confirmed to ARLnow. Salt Pot first opened there in May, making its run rather short.

“Our contract was only ever for 3 months as a trial run/pop-up. There was always going to be an option to extend, which we would have been happy to consider but it just never got busy enough,” she wrote ARLnow. “Other opportunities came our way, and we have been busy exploring those since August.”

Salt also noted that they are not completely gone from Ballston, keeping a presence at the weekly farmers market on Thursday evenings until mid-November.

“This has been very successful, and we have many repeat customers every week,” Salt said.

The restaurant also continues to sell its food online.

Salt Pot Kitchen is from the Loudoun County-based mother-son team of Wendy and Charlie Salt and the mall stall was their first brick-and-mortar location. It served traditional English fare, like sausage rolls, meat pies, soups, and Wiltshire plaits.

The stall where Salt Pot Kitchen was, near the escalator and across from Bollywood Bistro, is currently dark, as it’s been since August. There’s no word as of yet on what new tenant might move in.

Prior to the British eatery, the stall was the home of Rogi. That pierogi pop-up, which replaced Italian spot Cucina al Volo, closed early this year, making way for Salt Pot Kitchen in the spring.

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Bubble tea spot Kung Fu Tea has opened a new location in Ballston.

The New York City-based bubble tea chain opened earlier this week inside of the Ballston Quarter Market food hall, a mall spokesperson confirmed to ARLnow. It has moved into the stall that previously hosted Sloppy Mama’s BBQ, on the other side of Ballston Service Station and across from Go Poke.

This is Kung Fu Tea’s second Arlington location, with the other located in Clarendon at 3018 Wilson Blvd, about a mile from its new outpost.

The chain has more than 350 locations nationwide, with more on the way including one on Richmond Highway in Fairfax County.

Kung Fu Tea is known for its boba (or bubble) tea and other drinks. First opening in Queens, New York in 2010, the company claims to be “America’s largest bubble tea brand.”

Along with Kung Fu Tea, there have been several comings and goings at Ballston Quarter in recent months. Both All About Burger and Local Oyster closed over the summer, while immersive group gaming experience Immersive Gamebox opened earlier in the spring.

This week, Immersive Gamebox is debuting its latest offering: a full-scale immersive game based on Netflix’s Emmy-nominated dystopian series “Squid Game.”

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If you want to be transported into the dystopian, violent world featured in Netflix’s “Squid Game,” head to Ballston starting next month.

The “immersive group gaming” experience Immersive Gamebox (formerly Electric Gamebox) at Ballston Quarter is set to debut its newest game on September 21 and it’s one based on Netflix’s popular streaming series.

“Groups of two to six players will navigate challenges inspired by the series including Red Light Green Light, Marbles, and the ‘Squid Game’ itself, among others,” reads a press release. “Players will use the company’s proprietary motion-sensing technology and touch screens surrounding the interactive digital smart rooms, or Gameboxes, where players must test their reflexes and skills to advance — all without the need for headsets.”

The full-scale game is only for players 16 years and older and will become part of Immersive Gamebox’s permanent collection, a company spokesperson told ARLnow.

Squid Game” is a fictional South Korean show about hundreds of vulnerable people manipulated into playing deadly children’s games to win cash. The series on Netflix premiered last year and is nominated for an Emmy.

“People are constantly seeking new and different ways to remain invested in their favorite content,” Immersive Gambox CEO Will Dean said in a press release. “To reimagine Netflix’s most popular show in an entirely new format offers customers more ways to stay connected to Squid Game.”

The London-based Immersive Gamebox opened its 2,217 square-foot space in Suite 2233 of Ballston Quarter (4238 Wilson Blvd) back in March. There are now 13 locations in both the U.K. and the United States, including the recently-opened one in New York City.

Dean told ARLnow earlier this year that the company chose Arlington as a spot of one of its locations because of “its reputation as a young, vibrant, family friendly community.”

Inside the facility, players will find a series of rooms that can host two to six players for games that last 30 minutes or an hour. Players don motion-tracking visors to play games projected onto the four walls of their “gamebox” room.

Besides Squid Game starting in September, players can also choose games involving aliens, a trip to Mars, and Angry Birds. Ticket prices range from $20 to $40, depending on age and game. The Ballston location is open until 9 p.m. every night.

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Morning Notes

Sunset along Columbia Pike at the Arlington National Cemetery expansion site (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington Resident Moving to San Diego — Baseball superstar Juan Soto, who recently moved to Arlington, has been traded by the Nats to the San Diego Padres. He’ll presumably take with him some photos and art that were framed at a Clarendon frame store. [MLB]

Fairfax Barricade EndsUpdated at 9:25 a.m. — A man reportedly barricaded in a condo with a rifle near Lake Barcroft has been taken into custody. The barricade situation prompted a Fairfax County police helicopter to circle over parts of Arlington for hours. [FFXnow, Twitter]

County Getting Part of Opioid Settlement — “It’s not a princely sum, but cash is cash and the Arlington County government is set to receive its share of a new payment based on a legal settlement with a number of opioid distributors… Of the first settlement payout, about $9.94 million will go to the state government’s Opioid Abatement Authority and about $4.07 million will be distributed to localities. Arlington is entitled to 1.378 percent of that latter figure, which works out to $56,034.” [Sun Gazette]

Ballston Quarter Gets Small Tax Break — “Owners of the Ballston Quarter retail-restaurant-and-entertainment complex came away from a recent Board of Equalization hearing with a very partial victory, as that body reduced the property’s assessed valuation but not nearly as much as its owners had sought. On a unanimous vote, Board of Equalization members on July 13 voted to reduce the assessment rate – which is used to calculate the property’s annual tax bill – from $91.1 million as determined by staff to $86.7 million.” [Sun Gazette]

Va. Sens. Celebrate Vets Bill — “Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine celebrated Senate passage of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 following obstruction efforts by Senate Republicans last week. This legislation will expand health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs.” [Sen. Mark Warner]

YHS Grads Makes Youth National Team — “Yorktown High School graduate Lauren Flynn was named to the U.S. Under-20 Women’s Youth National Team soccer roster for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica from Aug. 10-28.” [Sun Gazette]

Feedback Sought for Eco Plan — “Arlington County would like your input on the draft Forestry and Natural Resources Plan. To assure future generations of Arlingtonians enjoy the benefits of nature, the County must identify what needs are urgent, what are aspirational, and how each can be addressed through both long-term initiatives, incremental change and immediate action.” [Arlington County]

Crash in D.C. Shut Down Chain Bridge — From WTOP’s Dave Dildine: “Chain Bridge closed both ways along with Canal Road and Clara Barton Parkway at the bridge. A crash occurred when traffic signals were malfunctioning. Witnesses say an officer was struck under the malfunctioning signals. These lights fall out of phase frequently.” [Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Another hot and humid day. High of 90 and low of 71. Sunrise at 6:13 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The plaza at Ballston Quarter where the food festival is set to be held (courtesy of Chris Chern)

Ballston Quarter is set to hold a free food festival featuring international cuisine this Saturday (July 30) at its food court.

Ballston Quarter Food Fest is set to be held at the plaza of the mall, adjacent to the Quarter Market food hall, between noon and 4 p.m., according to the event’s webpage.

The event is expected to feature different restaurants at the food court providing food from around world, including Mexican and Japanese among others. No registration is required, spokesperson for the event Ali Zeliff said.

Attendees will receive passports and stamp card as they arrive.

“Participating restaurants will offer sample-sized food to guests as they tour Quarter Market with their Ballston Quarter passports,” the event webpage notes.

More than 10 restaurants are expected to participate, according to the mall’s Facebook post, including the following.

  • Rice Crook, an East Asian fusion restaurant, is offering chicken fried rice
  • Ice Cream Jubilee, an Asian American-owned ice cream shop, is offering flavors such as Thai Iced Tea
  • Go Poke, a Hawaiian restaurant, is offering tuna and salmon poke bites
  • Punch Bowl Social, an American gastropub, is offering its Knockoff Slider and vegetarian mini quesadillas
  • Jinya Ramen, a Japanese restaurant, is offering gyoza
  • Hot Lolas, a Nashville hot chicken restaurant with a Chinese kick, is offering chicken tenders with Szechuan spice
  • Bartaco, a Latin street food chain, is offering tuna poke and salsa verde and chips

Meanwhile, the artisan sandwich and cocktail restaurant Superette, Turu’s by Timber Pizza and the brewery Ballston Service Station are also set to join the event, but their tasting menus are yet to be announced.

Aside from food, the D.C.-based DJ CYD is scheduled to play current hit songs at the event.

This is the first time Ballston Quarter (4238 Wilson Blvd) has organized an event of this nature, Zeliff said. The mall organized this event because of the new restaurants and vendors that opened in the past few months, such as Jinya Ramen, she said.

“We are excited to invite the Ballston Quarter community into Quarter Market and give them the opportunity to try restaurants they might not have experienced before,” Zeliff said.

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All About Burger appears to have vacated its storefront in the Ballston Quarter mall.

“Completely cleaned out,” is how one tipster described the space, which is located between Slapfish, which closed this past December, and the still-open Mezeh, near the N. Glebe Road entrance to the mall.

The Ballston outpost of All About Burger opened in the spring of 2019 but never drew the consistently large crowds of its other nearby neighbor, Chick-fil-A. It could not be immediately confirmed whether the location is closed for good or may reopen later, though the removal of most of the interior furnishings and the fact that the phone number has been disconnected suggests the former.

All About Burger, which split off from Z-Burger after a legal settlement, has an existing location near Clarendon, at 3325 Wilson Blvd, that is still open today.

Hat tip to Chris T.

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Local Oyster in Ballston appears to have closed (staff photo)

The catch is a little bit less fresh in Ballston with the likely recent closing of another seafood spot.

The Local Oyster at Ballston Quarter appears to have ceased operations in recent weeks. Its former stall in the back right corner of the downstairs food hall is now dark and cleared out, with signs removed and the walls blank.

The Arlington location is also no longer listed on the website of the Baltimore-based restaurant.

ARLnow has reached out to the restaurant to confirm and ask why it closed, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

The Local Oyster first opened in Ballston over three years ago, in April 2019. It couched itself as “no frills seafood” that sourced oysters locally from southern Maryland.

Last month on Instagram, restaurant founder and co-owner Nick Shauman advocated for the replenishing of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and asked customers to reach out to a number of senators to help pass the bill.

“This is our last chance to save thousands of restaurants from closing their doors for good,” he said in the Instagram video.

The legislation ended up not passing.

Local Oyster isn’t the only seafood spot at Ballston Quarter to shutter over the past few months. Slapfish also closed its doors in late December, the franchise owners confirmed to ARLnow.

Slapfish in Ballston is now closed (staff photo)

Slapfish, billing itself as “sexy” seafood, opened three years ago on the first level of the mall at 671 N. Glebe Road, near Chick-fil-A but otherwise a bit removed from the mall’s more highly-trafficked corridors. The restaurant chain was founded by Andrew Gruel, known for his occasional turns as a judge on food competition shows.

The Arlington location was owned by Raghu Reddy and several partners. They wrote to ARLnow in an email that they closed because of high rent and insufficient marketing by the mall.

“Landlord wants pre-COVID rent and has not promoted the mall,” they wrote. “There is no foot traffic and the rent was very high.”

There are no plans to open another Slapfish in Arlington.

A number of restaurants have opened at Ballston Quarter recently, including JINYA Ramen Bar and British cuisine purveyor Salt Pop Kitchen.

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JINYA Ramen Bar is set to open its newest location in Ballston this weekend.

The noodle eatery says its official opening will happen this Saturday (May 21) at 11 a.m. The first hundred people in line will get free ramen. Additionally, there will be specials, a live DJ, and coupon giveaways.

The restaurant first announced it was coming to the space adjacent to the Quarter Market food hall in November. It was formerly occupied by Copa Kitchen & Bar, a Spanish tapas restaurant and soccer-watching venue. That restaurant closed in the fall 2021.

JINYA was initially aiming to open in March but experienced delays “common in construction,” according to a spokesperson.

This will be the restaurant chain’s fifth D.C.-area location with other locations in Reston, Merrifield, D.C., and Bethesda. It has locations across the United States and several in Canada.

JINYA Ramen’s D.C. area locations are all owned by Sam Shoja, a company spokesperson confirmed. He’s also the co-owner of Paraiso in D.C. and previously held a stake in Hot Lola’s, which has a location in Ballston Quarter and is another that is opening in Rosslyn soon.

JINYA eatery specializes in ramen made with broths that are simmered for up to 20 hours, according to its website.

“JINYA is ramen culture, where the relationship between broth and noodles is serious but delicious business,” the company previously said a press release. “From the water we use to prepare our broths — we only use FUJI which is 99.9 percent free from impurities — to the special aging process that our noodles undergo before they’re cooked and served, we’re crazy about ramen and pay meticulous attention to everything that goes into your bowl… You’ll quickly see why at JINYA we say, No ramen, no life.'”

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JINYA Ramen Bar is aiming to open its newest outpost at Ballston Quarter by early next month, a restaurant spokesperson tells ARLnow.

We reported late last year that the ramen eatery was coming to the former location of the Spanish tapas restaurant and soccer bar Copa Kitchen and Bar, which had closed after more than two years in the space adjacent to the Quarter Market food hall.

JINYA is now aiming for an opening date of Saturday, May 7, though the spokesperson cautions that it is not yet finalized.

The growing, international restaurant chain’s move into Ballston marks its fifth D.C.-area location including restaurants in Reston, Merrifield, D.C., and Bethesda.

The D.C.-area locations are owned by local restaurateur Sam Shoja. He’s also the co-owner of Paraiso in D.C. and formerly had a stake in Hot Lola’s, which also has a location in Ballston Quarter. That eatery is opening another outpost in Rosslyn sometime in the coming months.

JINYA Ramen Bar has more than 40 locations across the U.S. and Canada. It specializes in ramen made from broths that are simmered for more than 20 hours, plus Japanese whisky and rice bowls.

“JINYA is ramen culture, where the relationship between broth and noodles is serious but delicious business,” said a press release from last year. “From the water we use to prepare our broths — we only use FUJI which is 99.9 percent free from impurities — to the special aging process that our noodles undergo before they’re cooked and served, we’re crazy about ramen and pay meticulous attention to everything that goes into your bowl.”

JINYA isn’t the only restaurant in Ballston readying itself to open. Grill Kabob, Silver Diner, Pirouette Cafe, and Hawkers are all planning to start serving in the coming months. In Ballston Quarter, British cuisine purveyor Salt Pop Kitchen is hoping to open by May 1.

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