Night Life - Finding Restaurants and Bars Near Nationals Park

By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 10, 2009

When plans for Nationals Park were unveiled in 2005, developers teased us with renderings of fans strolling past a row of restaurants, shops and sports bars on the way to the stadium. I imagined meeting up with friends to get a drink or a bite to eat around the corner before the first pitch, just as fans do in Boston, Baltimore or Chicago. Perfect day out, right?

As the Nationals prepare to open the second season in their new Southeast Washington home Monday, we're still waiting for the arrival of just one decent place to get a beer within walking distance.

The closest bar to the stadium is still the small, bland lobby bar at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, which has room for a few dozen people, max.

Some relief may be on the way later this year: The Velocity Capitol Riverfront condominiums, slated to open at First and L streets SE in the fall, will have a sports bar as part of its ground floor retail space.

And the real estate firm Akridge, which plans to eventually turn the space of a former Metrobus garage at Half and M streets into shops, offices and residential units, is hoping to convert the now-empty lot across from the centerfield gate on N Street into something of a block party this season. "The concept is a tented event space -- partially tented, mostly open -- with live entertainment, food and beverages," says Akridge Development Manager Adam Gooch. "Half Street is supposed to be the entertainment area. . . . We're trying to get some life down here."

Permits, schedules and most of the details of the project have yet to be finalized, but, well, the idea is promising.

One other option for nearby pre- and postgame entertainment is temporary. Claire Schaefer of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District suggests visitors take in the annual Artomatic festival, which runs May 29 to July 5 in a building above the Navy Yard Metro station. There will be four bars inside, plus exhibits by hundreds of local artists, stages for live music and dance performances, and a full slate of events, including films and poetry readings.

Otherwise, anyone who wants to meet friends for happy hour before a night game or get something to eat after the final out will have to stick to last year's plan: Head to the areas around Capitol South or Eastern Market Metro stations, which are filled with restaurants and pubs; you can walk or take public transportation to or from the game.

This year brings us the Circulator bus, which runs from Union Station through Capitol Hill and Barracks Row on its way to the ballpark. (In addition to the regular daily service, buses run until midnight after night games.) It passes plenty of bars along the route, though the number of stops is limited.

The splashy new arrival on the pregame scene this year is Molly Malone's, a gorgeous saloon on Eighth Street SE that used to be known as Finn Mac Cool's. Owner Xavier Cervera, who also runs the neighboring restaurant Lola's, spent three months gutting the 19th-century building, removing drop ceilings to expose the original I-beams and rafters and showing off the exposed brick walls and the glowing butternut-wood tables and bar.

"I think the Nationals crowd is going to be huge," says Cervera, a season-ticket holder. "There's nothing by the stadium, so the only bars they have are the ones on this street." To encourage fans to make the trip, he's renting at least one of those golf cart-style shuttles that will carry six people between Nationals Park and his front door. (Once there, they can check out the display of autographed jerseys and memorabilia in the spacious upstairs bar.)

Need other ideas for pregame meeting spots? Here are a couple that I used last season, all of which are convenient for walking or taking the bus.

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