Hot hoods: Old Town Alexandria

October 16, 2013

The free King Street Trolley connects the King Street Metro to the Potomac waterfront. (Adam Fagen/Via Flickr)

In Old Town Alexandria, cobblestone streets and traditions dating back to the 1700s meet up with modern-day conveniences. On any given afternoon, you could find a new suit at Banana Republic, taste some wine at Grape + Bean, and then stroll down the red-brick sidewalk to the market square to hear the town crier call out a new proclamation. Bounded by the Potomac River on the east, the Metro line on the west, I-495 to the south and, roughly, Bashford Lane to the north, Old Town Alexandria — D.C.’s nearby neighbor to the south — feels like a small town with the perks of big-city living.

Housing Options

Old Town is composed predominantly of town homes and rowhouses — many dating back to the 18th century.

Location matters here. A fixer-upper two-bedroom rowhouse in the serene southeast part of town, close to the Potomac and the popular Windmill Hill Park, could be listed in the high $700,000s. A similar home located on the southwest corner, nearer to US-1, could cost around $500,000.

You can get the most for your money in the northwest part of town (north of King Street and west of Washington Street), where old buildings are being replaced with new condos, town homes and shops, says Susan Anthony, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates.

Getting Around

Both the King Street and Braddock Road Metro stations (Blue/Yellow lines) are located on the west end of town, about a mile away from the Potomac.

To get from the King Street Metro to the waterfront, pick up the free King Street Trolley, which runs every 15 minutes from 11:30 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. The Dash Bus is also available to connect to Metrobus, Metrorail and the Virginia Rail Express.

Dining

Scores of restaurants dot King Street and its neighboring blocks. For fine dining, try Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St.). Owned by acclaimed chef Cathal Armstrong, his wife, Meshelle, and master mixologist Todd Thrasher, it serves seasonal dishes such as roasted halibut with summer corn succotash.

If you want casual, check out the trio’s new Society Fair (277 S. Washington St.), which includes a bakery, butchery, market and wine bar.

After dinner, get glammed up and head to PX (728 King St.), Alexandria’s very own speakeasy. Choose from a menu that includes original Thrasher whistle-wetter Smoker’s Delight — bourbon, honey syrup and lemon juice mixed with a few drops of tobacco that has been steeped in hot water and blended with sugar.

The Markets

The Old Town Farmers Market (301 King St.) has been running since 1753. Find fresh herbs and vegetables, art and pastries there every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.

Whole Foods on the southwest end of town is home to the Holland Pub — an in-house organic wine, beer and coffee bar.

Other standouts include an upscale Balducci’s, a perky Trader Joe’s and an in-the-works Harris Teeter, which is set to open in 2014. Safeway and Giant are here, too, but both are in need of makeovers.

Parks and Recreation

Walking trails, volleyball courts and dog parks line Old Town’s Potomac Riverfront. At Oronoco Park, the city of Alexandria celebrates its birthday each summer by giving out cupcakes while fireworks go off over the Potomac and the Alexandria Philharmonic plays Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

While Alexandria’s biking infrastructure lags behind those in Arlington and the District, city officials are “aggressively working” to improve the roads and trails for pedestrians and cyclists, says Hillary Poole, Alexandria’s Complete Streets Coordinator. You can now find eight Capital Bikeshare stations in Old Town, and the city is developing plans for safer biking and walking on streets such as King, Prince and Cameron.

For bike commuters and fitness enthusiasts, the popular Mount Vernon Trail passes through the heart of Old Town before heading down to George Washington’s home, 10 miles down the river.

Shopping

Scattered among big-name stores such as Sur La Table, H&M and Ann Taylor are dozens of locally owned boutiques. You’ll find some on King Street, including beauty-supply store Bellacara (1000 King St.) and olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop Olio Tasting Room (1223 King St.).

Wander the side streets to find other gems such as The Shoe Hive (127 Fairfax St.), which sells shoes and accessories, and La Cuisine (323 Cameron St.), a cookware shop which has developed a loyal following among Alexandrians over the past 40 years.

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Tracy Krulik | October 16, 2013