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Street Smart: What to do in Del Ray

Del Ray is like Old Town Alexandria’s younger, slightly edgy, free-spirited sister — the one who went off to art camp in high school, dated a poet and settled down to run a pottery studio or vegan bakery. And plenty of young families, proud long-timers and an influx of renters craving authenticity without the attitude are soaking it all in.

VéloCity Bicycle Cooperative
2111 Mount Vernon Ave.

The friendly spirit of the neighborhood is in high gear at VéloCity, which takes donated bikes, then rehabs and sells them and their parts for a good price. You fix your own bike, with help from experienced volunteers, and use the shop's tools and supplies for just $10 an hour. "Everyone helps out everyone here," said volunteer Joe Brown. "I live near Skyline [neighborhood] and am over here all the time. I wish we had something like this."

St. Elmo's Coffee Pub
2300  Mount Vernon Ave.

At this 18-year-old coffeehouse, nothing feels forced: The mix-and-match furniture wasn't picked by some corporate designer; the funky art comes from local patrons. Be prepared for crowds Wednesday through Saturday as an impressive mix of jazz quartets, experimental singer-songwriters, folk bands and kid-friendly musicians keeps the crowd buzzed.

The Clay Queen Pottery
2303 Mount Vernon Ave.

The Clay Queen Pottery exists well beyond the kingdom of those paint-your-own outfits. The queen, and de facto Del Ray den mother, Renee Altman, holds court here, helping students throw and shape mounds of mud into bowls, vases and coffee cups. "Renee is the reason to come here," student Linda Perry said. "She's just an excellent teacher." Altman's own work fills the small showroom. Wedding-present seekers and Crate and Barrel refugees, rejoice: Clay Queen has you covered.

Tops of Old Town
2400 Mount Vernon Ave.

For some well-heeled ladies, hats are essential, and this is their go-to place. For the rest of us, faced with an invitation to a Derby brunch or Gold Cup outing, hats are head-scratchers: Do I look like a Kate Middleton or Minnie Pearl? Luckily, this is also the place for us, thanks to the advice of owners Willie Mae Mitchell and daughter Sheila. "I hear my regulars tell their friends, 'She's going to give us a class,' " Sheila said. Willie Mae is easy to spot walking down Mount Vernon Avenue in a snazzy chapeau.  

Let's Meat on the Avenue
2403 Mount Vernon Ave.

You know you're in dog-obsessed Del Ray when a dinosaur-size piece of bone marrow for canines takes center stage in this tiny butcher shop. Brian Malone, the shop's friendly butcher, brings in beef jerky from South Africa, vacuum-packed whole or half steers from Fauquier County, veal osso buco from New York, kangaroo steaks. If it makes meat lovers salivate, chances are it's here.

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