Today is the summer solstice — pools are open, schools are out, the Fourth of July is around the corner — but the planned 22,000 square foot beer garden outside Clarendon is still shuttered.
“The Lot,” owned by local restaurant scene veteran Mike Bramson, was originally supposed to open in the summer of 2017. Then that got pushed back to the summer of 2018. Then spring of 2019. After some additional construction, Bramson told Eater he was anticipating an opening earlier this month.
Located at 3217 10th Street N., at the busy corner of 10th Street N. and Wilson Blvd, The Lot looks mostly complete from the outside. There are new trees, a fence, picnic bench seating, string lighting, a pergola and a pair of large signs. What there is not, yet, is any sign of life.
Bramson did not respond to requests for comment from ARLnow, but a review of Arlington County permitting activity shows that his efforts to get county permitting and zoning officials to allow him to build new bathrooms and a food prep area, and to open the beer garden, have all been rejected.
The issue seems to be existential for Bramson’s would-be business. In short, there does not appear to be a legal mechanism to allow a standalone, permanent beer garden in Arlington County.
The reason for the rejection of The Lot’s zoning applications to open as an outdoor cafe, county officials say and permitting records indicate, is that under Arlington County code an outdoor cafe must be an accessory use to a physical, indoor restaurant. Furthermore, an outdoor cafe can’t have more seating than the indoor restaurant.
The Lot has no indoor seating and was planning to serve food from food trucks.
“The building permit under review is for interior alterations to the existing building; to create restrooms (required by Inspections Services Division) and a food prep area (required by the Public Health Division) in order to use the outdoor café area and beverage trucks,” Gina Wimpey, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Dept. of Community Planning, Housing & Development, told ARLnow via email.
“Since they included the outdoor café space in the permit, Zoning cannot approve the café space in the absence of a restaurant with indoor seating (required by the Zoning Ordinance),” Wimpey added.
Luckily for The Lot, there does appear to be a possible workaround. It could figuratively latch itself to a nearby restaurant — Bramson’s Social Restaurant Group owns Pamplona and Bar Bao in Clarendon — and operate on a temporary basis.
“They can open the outdoor café as a short-term use associated with other restaurants within 2,000 feet, but it must have more indoor seats than the proposed outdoor café,” Wimpey said. “This has been discussed with the applicant and they’re working towards a solution. Until the Certificate of Occupancy for the short-term use is issued, the building permit cannot be issued.”
So why can The Stand, a Social Restaurant Group-owned food kiosk in Crystal City, continue serving without indoor seating? Because it technically isn’t considered an outdoor cafe under county code.
“1601 Crystal Drive [The Stand] currently has a Certificate of Occupancy for a food service kiosk and has had one in this location since at least the late-1990s,” Wimpey said.
Beer gardens have been blossoming around the D.C. area over the past few years — including in Arlington, next to bricks-and-mortar restaurants — and are a popular warm weather destination. But Wimpey said there is no movement in Arlington County’s policy-setting ranks to allow stand-alone beer gardens.
“There isn’t anything planned in the proposed 2019-2020 work program,” she said,.
Construction is now underway at “The Lot,” a long-awaited outdoor beer garden in Clarendon.
A red, enclosed deck and pine picnic tables are being built at the site, at the corner of Wilson Blvd and 10th Street N. The Rebel Taco food truck is now parked on the site behind a fence.
The site has been in the works for two years on a former used car lot in Clarendon. Since then progress has been slow: a wooden fence erected in October last year was the first major work. In February, crews replaced the site’s old Prime Auto Group signs with two black billboard-style signs reading “The Lot: Beer Garden.”
The company behind The Lot is Social Restaurant Group, which also opened Pamplona and Bar Bao. Originally, they planned to open The Lot in March 2017 but were delayed until the summer, then the following spring, citing a lengthy permitting process.
The Lot’s permit application asked for at least 150 seats, an enclosed deck, and a kitchen.
Social Restaurant Group co-founder Mike Bramson told ARLnow last year he hoped The Lot would offer “a vast variety, from Belgian to German to local craft beers” as well as frozen drinks, food from the Rebel Taco food truck, and games like cornhole and giant Jenga.
A Spanish restaurant complete with a “sangria garden” is the latest eatery looking to set up outdoor seating at the new Ballston Quarter development.
The fast casual restaurant Copa is applying for the permits necessary to include outdoor cafe tables in the development’s yet-to-be-opened plaza area, located near Ballston Quarter’s Wilson Blvd entrance.
So long as the County Board signs off on the request at its meeting Saturday (Feb. 23), Copa will become the seventh restaurant to win permission for outdoor seating at the development in recent months. The Board approved similar plans for Bartaco, Compass Coffee, South Block, Ted’s Bulletin, True Food Kitchen and Union Kitchen in October.
Copa is backed by the creators of Bethesda restaurants Butchers Alley and Pescadeli, and is set to offer small plates, homemade sangria and Spanish flatbreads.
It looks set to be located alongside a bevy of other upscale restaurants in the development’s revamped food court, dubbed a “food hall,” which is one of the largest sections of Ballston Quarter that has yet to open since stores began slowly coming online last fall.
Signs posted around the development continue to list February as an opening date for the new “Quarter Market.”
Some new details are at last surfacing about The Lot beer garden coming to Clarendon, as its owners now say they’re on course to open up the establishment next spring.
Social Restaurant Group, the company behind Clarendon bars Pamplona and Bar Bao, first filed plans to open the beer garden at a former used car lot on the corner of Wilson Blvd and 10th Street N. last March. Since then, however, there’s been scant evidence of progress at the site — that is, until a wooden fence recently went up around the property.
Social Restaurant Group co-founder Mike Bramson now tells ARLnow that he’s secured all the permit he needs to start serving up brews at The Lot, and fully plans to open for business when the weather improves a few months from now. He’d even initially hoped to throw a Halloween bash this weekend, but with rain and blustery conditions in the forecast, he ultimately decided to put those plans on hold.
“As much as we’re eager to launch it, we wanted people to have enough time to plan another Halloween event,” Bramson said. “But even with the response we got on Facebook about the event when we put it out there, we can tell people are really excited about it.”
Bramson says he’s still hammering out the specifics about what sort of beers will be on offer at The Lot, but he expects there will be “a vast variety, from Belgian to German to local craft beers.” He also hopes to serve up frozen cocktails and some wine, with the Rebel Taco food truck parked on the property to satisfy patrons’ food cravings.
“The space is huge, so we’ll have a lot of games as well, from cornhole to giant Jenga,” Bramson said.
Bramson is well aware that people are anxious for the beer garden to officially open, and he attributes the lengthy delays to some unexpected challenges securing the necessary building permits from the county.
He’d originally hoped to transform the small, existing building at the parking lot into an indoor seating area, necessitating permits for the otherwise simple project. But Bramson says he likely won’t follow through with those plans, given just how long the whole process took, and the uncertainty surrounding his lease.
He notes that The Lot is on a month-to-month lease on the property, as the whole area — including the nearby Silver Diner and Joyce Motors car lot — is slated to be redeveloped someday into a new mixed-use building. But Bramson can’t be sure exactly when that might move ahead, so he’s simply plowing ahead to open up the beer garden in whatever time he has left.
“We figured it wasn’t worth it and it didn’t make sense to build out this huge structure when someone else could just knock it down in a year,” Bramson said. “But we’re banking on the fact that it will be a longer than a year… so we’ll just keep it simple, and if we find out in future that we can stay longer, then we already have permits to do the construction we originally planned.”
In the meantime, Bramson says he may try to bring in some tents and host some sort of other “pop-up parties” at The Lot this winter, to start introducing the neighborhood to the new space.
“But you never know in this area whether it’ll be warm or cold on any given day, so it’s tough,” Bramson said.
Arlington officials could soon tell the Westover Beer Garden to turn down the volume, with a new round of bickering over live music at the restaurant set to go before the County Board this weekend.
County staff believe musicians at the Westover Market and Beer Garden, located at 5863 Washington Blvd, have gotten a bit too loud on Friday and Saturday nights in recent weeks. With the restaurant’s live music permit up for review once more, they’re recommending that the Board restrict the beer garden from offering any “amplified music” at its outdoor patio for the foreseeable future.
Staff argue in a report prepared for the Board that doing so would “mitigate noise impacts on the surrounding neighborhood,” but add that the beer garden’s owners disagree with that characterization.
This is far from the first dispute over the restaurant’s outdoor seating area, which has frequently attracted scrutiny from county zoning officials. Arlington even briefly barred the beer garden from welcoming live music outdoors in 2010, before lifting its ban a few years later.
Yet, over the last few months, staff wrote that zoning officials warned the restaurant that music was exceeding the agreed-upon decibel limits for the outdoor space. They added that several neighbors had called police to complain about the noise, particularly in June, though those calls all came in before 9 p.m., the time limit imposed by county permits for the beer garden to cut off loud music.
The staff report added that some neighbors have already contacted the county to support the restaurant, reasoning that a ban on amplified music would be “a more balanced approach than revoking the use permit completely.” Westover would still be allowed to offer live, un-amplified music both indoors and outdoors under the terms of the proposed permit arrangement.
The Board is set to review this matter at its meeting Saturday (Oct. 20).
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Ballston Quarter is now set to feature a full complement of restaurants with outdoor patios in the new development’s plaza, despite some reticence from Arlington planning staff.
The newly renovated Ballston Common mall now has the county’s go-ahead to welcome six restaurants with outdoor seating areas to its west plaza, along Wilson Blvd, after the County Board unanimously approved some permit changes at a meeting last Tuesday (Sept. 25).
The following restaurants will now be able to welcome outdoor diners to the plaza:
The decision to allow the full range of patios, however, ran counter to the recommendation of county staff. They raised concerns that one set of outdoor seating, located to the left of plaza when seen from Wilson Blvd, would be particularly disruptive to people walking through the development.
“It’s essentially a further privatization of the public space in the public plaza,” Adam Watson, a staffer in the county’s planning division, told the Board. “It obstructs public access and circulation.”
Evan Pritchard, an attorney for Ballston Quarter developer Forest City, argued that the full range of outdoor seating is a “key ingredient of the plaza area” and dismissed concerns that it would somehow impede the flow of pedestrians through the development.
“Most people heading to Ballston Quarter will never encounter the plaza unless they want to,” Pritchard said, pointing out that most visitors will access the development either via a pedestrian bridge connecting to the area’s Metro station or through the mall’s entrances on Wilson Blvd and N. Glebe Road.
The plaza itself is designed for outdoor events, and will connect to the development’s new “food hall,” Pritchard added.
Board members were persuaded by that line of thinking, with John Vihstadt observing that “the plaza is a destination, not a conduit.”
“A destination is most attractive when it’s busy and energized, not empty and desolate,” Vihstadt said.
County staff compared Ballston Quarter’s plaza to Rosslyn’s Central Place, just across from the area’s Metro station, which is a heavily trafficked open space between several large skyscrapers. But Board member Erik Gutshall didn’t view that as an apt comparison, arguing that the plaza is “not a streetscape where we’re trying to manage competing needs” as it won’t sit on Wilson Blvd itself.
“I have confidence that Forest City will be able to manage this place to everyone’s benefit,” Gutshall said.
The Board also laid the groundwork for approving another change to the plaza sought by the developer: the addition of two large LED “media screens” above the plaza.
Forest City initially planned to withdraw its request for a permit for the screens, after Pritchard discovered that they might be a bit too far off the ground to meet the county’s zoning rules. Instead, the Board pushed off consideration of the matter until December, giving members time to tweak the ordinance and allow the new screens to move forward.
As Arlington has been drenched by unrelenting rain over these last few months, with totals setting all manner of records for the the D.C. region, local bars and restaurants haven’t exactly been flooded with business.
Owners at a variety of Arlington eateries, particularly those with outdoor patios or beer gardens, say August and September have been especially challenging months when it comes to convincing patrons to brave the elements.
And considering that the Washington area has seen the fourth-highest rain total for any September on record, and D.C.’s rainfall has even managed to outpace notoriously soaked cities like Seattle and London so far this year, those struggles are far from surprising.
“It’s been hard, for sure,” Scott Parker, the co-owner of local bars like Ballston’s A-Town and Clarendon’s Don Tito, told ARLnow. “Rain doesn’t exactly make people want to go out. August is one of the slowest months for most restaurants and bars in the area as is. Last thing you need is for it to be rained out.”
Curt Large, the owner of Rosslyn’s Continental Beer Garden, says things have been especially challenging for his establishment, which “lives and dies with the weather.” Though he also owns the adjacent Continental Pool Lounge, and often encourages patrons dodging raindrops to head indoors there, he says the inescapable fact is that “many, if not, most of the beer garden’s customers are looking to sit outside.”
“In July, we actually had higher sales than last year, but in August and September we’ve had rain on many Thursday and Fridays, by far our biggest nights, and our sales are down for this period more than 25 percent versus last summer,” Large said.
Ryan Cline, the general manager of Ballston’s Rustico, lamented that the rain “has taken away some of the last remaining weeks we have to use the patio sections on either side of the restaurant,” as well as the small beer garden the restaurant opens on weekends.
Considering that Rustico has “one of the largest outdoor patio sections in the area,” in Cline’s estimation, the weather has eliminated one of the restaurant’s distinguishing factors for customers.
All that being said, of course, Arlington restaurateurs say rain is part of the business, even if these last few weeks have been more brutal than usual. As Devin Hicks, the co-owner of Westover Market and Beer Garden, puts it: “It’s the weather, so what are you going to do?”
“Being in business for nine years, we’ve learned to roll with the punches,” Hicks said.
Hicks added that, like Large, having an indoor “beer haus” helps give customers another option when the rain picks up. He’s also erected canopies throughout the establishment’s beer garden, which have proven “clutch.”
Luckily, Hicks said that the “support from the neighborhood has been amazing,” even with the constant showers.
Similarly, Cline added that “it has been our local troopers really carrying the burden” over the wettest months, dubbing many of Rustico’s guests “fiercely loyal.”
There is one small bit of good news, however — this weekend’s forecast is looking like a far cry from the past weeks’ downpours.
“It sounds like the weekend is going to be a picturesque early fall weekend of weather,” Hicks said. “We keep pouring great brews no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.”
Demolition permits have been issued for one of the freestanding retail kiosks at Pentagon Row.
Pentagon Row’s other retail kiosk is currently home to Bread and Water cafe, which opened in February.
The Westover beer garden will again be a topic of conversation before the Arlington County Board this weekend.
In the latest installment of the Westover Market’s saga to operate their outdoor beer garden as they see fit, County Manager Mark Schwartz has recommended that the County Board advertise a public hearing which will consider new use permits for the market and beer garden.
Westover Market wants to expand the current 29 outdoor cafe seats, as permitted by current county code, to 102. It also wants to be able to host live music more often, expand the days in which it can use amplifiers during live music performances and play background music when live music isn’t taking place.
Outdoor live entertainment is presently permitted at these times:
From April 1 through October 31
Wednesdays: 6 p.m. through 8 p.m.
Fridays: 6 p.m. through 10 p.m.
Saturdays: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The market has proposed the following hours to the county:
From April 1 through October 31
Wednesdays: 6 p.m. through 8 p.m.
Thursdays: 6 p.m. through 9 p.m.
Fridays: 6 p.m. through 10 p.m.
Saturdays: 5 p.m. through 9 p.m.
Sundays which precede a federal holiday: 5 p.m. through 9 p.m.
Zoning issues have dogged the business, which at one point had a two year amplified musical hiatus as it waited for county permission. Noise complaints have also weighed down the market’s efforts to expand its live music entertainment in the past.
Typically permit amendments cannot be reviewed by the County Board within 360 days of its last consideration. The exception is for the County Board to review the use permit application “on its own motion,” as the County Manager has recommended has recommended in this case.
Westover Market, originally a smaller grocery store that has evolved into a more drinking and entertainment focused establishment, is located at 5863 Washington Boulevard.
A just-opened beer garden on Columbia Pike is applying to keep its patio in part of the sidewalk on S. Walter Reed Drive.
BrickHaus (2900 Columbia Pike) opened in September after months of delays. It is applying to keep its outdoor patio, which encroaches on the public right-of-way on S. Walter Reed Drive, near the intersection with Columbia Pike. The sidewalk is still approximately six feet wide in the area.
If the Arlington County Board approves the plan at its meeting Saturday (January 27), the encroachment would be permitted to continue “until the structures encroaching into the right-of-way are destroyed, removed, no longer in use, or not continuously and promptly maintained by the Applicant,” per a staff report.
The restaurant agreed to pay $429.54 to the county as compensation for the encroachment, and will be required to maintain its patio.
BrickHaus could also be forced to remove its fire pit from the same area. Under the terms of its Use Permit from the county, it must remove the fire pit and either remove or abandon the attached gas line before receiving a Certificate of Occupancy for safety reasons.
Staff recommended the Board allow the patio encroachment.