IT’S 12:50 ON a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and Northside Social Coffee & Wine is buzzing. Citizen Cope’s “Pablo Picasso” hums in the background as baristas dole out orders of cappuccinos and muffins. A blonde in a sundress snacks on a sandwich while sitting on one of the cherrywood-topped stools beneath a counter lining the restaurant’s right wall. Beside her, an undergrad studies his calculus textbook between sips of iced coffee.
A year after the much-beloved Murky Coffee shut its doors due to rent hikes and thousands owed in back taxes, 3211 Wilson Blvd. is once again teeming with life. Northside co-owner Stephen Fedorchak couldn’t be happier.
“I’m a 1,000-time Murky customer,” explains the 41-year-old, who also brought the Clarendon neighborhood Liberty Tavern in April 2007. “When the opportunity to acquire the lease on this space became available, we thought it was a great fit for us because we love the neighborhood.” Fedorchak and his Liberty co-owner, as well as their third partner in Northside Social, all live in the area.
It was also an opportunity for Fedorchak and company to use the strengths they’d already established at the locally focused tavern: baking their own bread — loaves of ciabatta and anadama bread are available fresh at the register — and curing their own bacon and sausage. (A bacon-and-egg sandwich goes for $4.)
It’s a business model that former Murky owner Nick Cho wishes he could have afforded. While Murky was always brimming with customers typing away on their laptops and sipping lattes, the hard-to-find-a-seat atmosphere didn’t translate into profits. “Packed is not when there’s not a seat,” he says. “That’s where it gets tricky — when you have a shop that size and everyone’s hanging out all day.”
Hanging out and not buying. Though, to be fair, Murky didn’t offer much else aside from coffee. Yes there were pastries, but the purchase of a chocolate croissant or two isn’t exactly the recipe for booming business. That’s where Northside hopes to move the coffee shop concept to the next level.
There’s breakfast: homemade granola ($5) or fresh ricotta served on an English muffin ($4). There’s lunch: Try a smoked salmon sandwich with onion marmalade on country bread ($7) or an Amish chicken salad (pickled beets, pistachios and apricots served on a marble rye crostini). After 4 p.m., customers can order a glass of wine to go with small plates like roasted red peppers or chicken liver parfait.
And it’s not just the edibles that upped the ante. After months of renovations, the space is extremely open and bright. Only one oversized couch remains in the main area, with the rest of the space occupied by refurbished tables for two to six. An airy stairway leads to the second floor, which houses a large countertop that doubles as a wine bar. And, yes, the first level’s “quiet room” still exists but is now less cramped and more welcoming. A bookshelf tells visitors to “leave a book, take a book.”
It’s a vibe that will keep former Murky regular Rizqi Rachmat coming back. “I love it,” says the 23-year-old. “I like the choices. Murky could be crowded. They opened up the upstairs, and I like it that they sell food. They sell sandwiches here as well as wine. It’s my first time here, but it’s a cool spot.”
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Fedorchak’s latest venture, Lyon Hall ( 3100 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington) debuted last week. According to him, this restaurant resembles a French brasserie with a casual atmosphere. “There are 20 good beers on draft, homemade sausages, really good steak french fries and a variety of raw oysters, ” says Fedorchak.
» Northside Social Coffee & Wine, 3211 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-465-0145.
Written by Express contributor Kris Coronado
Photos by Kris Connor