“Hanging out at a supermarket on a weekend night” is not something you’d expect to see in a city with a bustling bar and dining scene. Maybe in the suburbs, if the other nearby options are chain restaurants. But in Washington? And only a few minutes walk from Bluejacket, Chloe, All-Purpose and Salt Line?
On a recent Saturday night, there were few seats available at the South Capitol Hill Whole Foods, which opened Oct. 19, in a corner of Southeast Washington that’s not quite the Navy Yard and not quite Capitol Hill. The truth is, there are plenty of reasons to head to this new grocery store beyond your weekly shopping.
Don’t want to wait for a bartender to pour you a glass of rosé? Feeling indecisive and want to taste a variety of wines? Just don’t like talking to people? The Self-Serve Wine Bar automatically dispenses 16 options in one, three or six-ounce pours. Purchase a reloadable card from the bartender, slide it into in the fancy Enomatic wine storage machine, and press a button above your bottle of choice. That’s it.
On recent visits, wines started at $2 for a one-ounce splash and went as high as $19 for six ounces of Ridge East Bench zinfandel. There are tasting notes on the by-the-glass menu, if you need to know more before dropping that kind of coin on one glass of wine. (Disclosure: Whole Foods is owned by Amazon.com. Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post, but we still have to pay $19 for our wine like anyone else.)
And yes, you can carry a glass in the store while you “sip and shop,” but it’s also fine to grab a seat at a table and hang out with friends, or open your laptop and get work done (with free WiFi, no less).
Inexpensive local craft beer
Craft beer can be expensive. The South Capitol Hill Whole Foods has a dozen taps — including one cider — and almost everything costs $5 a pint. Not $5 for a 12-ounce goblet, but $5 for a 16-ounce glass. There are exceptions, such as Union’s Double Duckpin Double IPA, which was $5 for eight ounces (in fancy stemware), but last weekend, 9 out of 12 offerings were only $5. Also a plus: Everything was made in Washington, Maryland or Virginia, with RAR (Cambridge) and Stone (Richmond) the breweries that are farthest away.
Yes, there is happy hour: $1 off pints of beer and glasses of wine from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. While it ends on the early side, it’s one of the cheapest options in the neighborhood.
Wings, cheesesteaks and other delicious things
Whole Foods has partnered with local restaurateurs at other D.C. locations, including Erik Bruner-Yang, whose Paper Horse concept appears at Foggy Bottom and H Street, and Kazuhiro “Kaz” Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro, whose sushi appears at multiple locations, including South Capitol Hill. The headliner at the new store is Philly Wing Fry, created by former “Top Chef” contestant Kwame Onwuachi, now at the Wharf’s Kith and Kin.
Philly Wing Fry debuted as a pop-up at Union Market in 2016, before the chef’s Shaw Bijou famously opened, crashed and burned. While the three menu items — cheesesteaks, wings and waffle fries — are found at carry-outs across the city, these are the Bentley versions. The cheesesteak is made with 50-day-aged rib-eye and smoked provolone, topped with pickled and caramelized onions, and served on bread cooked in beef fat. The tamarind-glazed wings are smothered in a sweet and sultry mumbo sauce. Waffle fries are tossed in Ethiopian berbere spice. Naturally, you pay for this: A combo box with a seven-inch sub, four wings and a pile of fries is $20, though it’s more filling and more likely to be raved about to friends than some similarly priced meals.
And if you’d rather have a salad, pasta, sushi or a slice of pizza, you can pick that up, too, and bring it to the bar. Creative types can customize dinner at the build-your-own Avocado Toast Bar before pairing it with something from the pour-your-own wine station. Just remember to pay at the check-out counter.
Whole Foods South Capitol Hill, 101 H St. SE.