Arlington, VA

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.

The beer garden’s website is currently blank and its Facebook page has no information yet on when it may open.

 

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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.”

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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.

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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).

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

WhyHotel Coming to Columbia Pike — “WhyHotel has just signed a deal for its second project in Arlington.  WhyHotel signed on with Orr Partners to operate temporary hotel rooms in 150 of the 366 units in the Centro Arlington development… [which] is replacing the former Food Star grocery store at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive.” [Bisnow]

New Scalia Statue at GMU Law School — “As debate raged on Capitol Hill over a Supreme Court nomination that could shape the court’s future for decades, five justices gathered Thursday at a law school just across the Potomac River for the unveiling of a statue honoring an icon from its recent past — the late justice Antonin Scalia.” [Washington Post]

Arlington Living Wage Calculator — According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the income required to raise three kids in a household with two working adults in Arlington County is $92,480. [MIT]

Arlington Flyover Today — There is a flyover scheduled around 1:15 p.m. today in support of a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. [Twitter]

Where to Find Singing WBJ Staffers — The Continental Beer Garden in Rosslyn and Westover Beer Garden in Westover are among the 15 best beer gardens in the D.C. area, according to the Washington Business Journal. The former is “a popular happy hour spot for WBJ staffers, who are known to sing along to the tunes playing on the outdoor speakers and share an order of pretzels and beer cheese dip.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Pet Adoptions Up — “In 2017, we did a record number of adoptions for [the Animal Welfare League of Arlington], with 1,366 pets adopted. So far this year, we have already beaten that number, with 1,450 pets adopted.” [Twitter]

Halloween Stores Now Open — If you’re looking for a Halloween costume, there are three Spirit Halloween stores now open in the area, although none are in Arlington. For something closer to home, Total Fright in the Crystal City Shops (known as Total Party other times of the year) is also selling costumes and decorations. Meanwhile, a Christmas store is now open in Tysons. [Tysons Reporter]

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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.

Ballston Quarter is currently slated to open in late October, after a brief delay, though Forest City expects its restaurants and retailers to open on a rolling basis over the coming months.

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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.”

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Demolition permits have been issued for one of the freestanding retail kiosks at Pentagon Row.

The kiosk is one of two built in Pentagon Row’s central plaza during its 2013 renovations. A frozen yogurt store operated out of the kiosk until it closed in November 2015.

We’re told the kiosk is being torn down to provide additional outdoor seating for the forthcoming Basic Burger location and “pop-up” street taco eatery.

Pentagon Row’s other retail kiosk is currently home to Bread and Water cafe, which opened in February.

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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.

File photos

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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.

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After the recent fight over the Westover Beer Garden’s outdoor seating, the Arlington County Board will consider some changes at its meeting next month.

Under a plan put forward by staff, the County Board could review the seating capacity and hours of piped-in music in outdoor seats governed by a use permit, like the Westover Beer Garden, on a case-by-case basis. It would mean the Board can approve exceptions to the rules of a use permit individually.

Standards that cannot be modified under a use permit include parking requirements, the use of portable lights and furniture and tying their opening hours to the attached restaurant’s.

The beer garden at 5863 Washington Blvd ran into difficulties earlier this year when it tried to add to its outdoor seating as county use permits expressly forbid having more outdoor seats than indoor seats.

That stands in contrast to the just-open Continental Beer Garden in Rosslyn, which has many more seats outside than inside and can do so because it went through a site plan process, which requires County Board approval and is much more involved than a standard administrative permit process.

Similarly, the proposed beer garden known as “The Lot” in Clarendon would need to go through a site plan process to ensure it can have more seats outside than inside under the current rules.

Staff said outdoor seating cannot be considered as permanent seating for a restaurant, and must continue to be treated as an optional extra.

“Because it is an accessory use, an outdoor café is not considered a permanent expansion of a restaurant’s seating capacity, as it is a transitory use which provides patrons with additional seating options on days with pleasant weather,” staff wrote. “The accessory outdoor café also goes largely unused during periods of cold, snow, and rain.”

The County Board voted unanimously Saturday to hold a public hearing on the subject at its November meeting. Staff will make a recommendation on whether the Board should adopt the changes beforehand, with the Planning Commission also set to weigh in.

Photo via Facebook.

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