The development of a neighborhood like Shaw or Navy Yard takes place over years, as new restaurants, shops and nightlife destinations pop up one by one. The opening of MGM National Harbor, on the other hand, is like having a whole neighborhood sprout from the earth all at once.
The 23-acre resort in southern Prince George’s County includes restaurants from celebrity chefs Marcus Samuelsson, José Andrés and the Voltaggio brothers; a concert venue roughly 2 1/2 times as large as the 9:30 Club; a Union Market-style food hall; a 24-story hotel; a luxury spa and salon; and a 125,000-square-foot casino packed with slot machines, poker, blackjack and other table games.
Of course, you can dine at Marcus, browse Sarah Jessica Parker’s SJP boutique or watch football on one of 90 televisions in the Tap Sports Bar without ever risking a dollar in the casino. That’s how big this new addition is — and why you need this guide to make the most of it.
Pretty much every casino outside Las Vegas touts a “Vegas-style” experience. MGM National Harbor seems poised to come closer than most to delivering. You’ll have to pay for your drinks, and the outdoor views include the Potomac River and parking lots instead of faux skylines and vice. Otherwise, the gambling experience will provide the closest thing the Washington area offers to the desert.
The casino has an elegant feel, with bright, shimmering crystals hanging from the ceiling and natural light sneaking in through floor-to-ceiling windows in the sports bar. It’s roomy at 125,000 square feet, an expanse for a resort whose hotel has only 300 rooms. (The MGM Grand in Las Vegas has a 175,000-square-foot floor for a hotel with more than 5,000 rooms.)
About a 20-minute Uber ride from Capitol Hill, MGM’s casino will serve drinks 24 hours a day, which suggests it could turn into an after-hours haunt for locals. Players will have the option of ordering cocktails at tables. Those drinks won’t come cheap, but they promise to be more upscale than the typical well-and-mixer casino fare.
The floor is dominated by more than 3,300 eye-catching slot machines. The companies who make them viewed the MGM opening as a showcase to debut new equipment, according to a casino spokesman. Ever wanted to spin the wheel on a “Walking Dead”-themed slot with a five-foot high screen? No, that’s ridiculous? Well, here’s your chance, anyway.
The poker room, which will host tournaments, houses 39 tables with a wide mix of games and limits, including such exotic variants as five-card Omaha split. The room is smaller than the one at Maryland Live! in Hanover, which has 52 tables and is the local gold standard.
Away from the slots, table games are dispersed throughout the floor. If one blackjack pit looks full, there may be room elsewhere. The 10 craps tables are all next to other, promising to make the area near Felt cocktail lounge the rowdiest section of the casino.
MGM resorts are luxury destinations, and the mission extends to the minimum bets offered. Demand will determine the limits, but MGM isn’t pretending it wants to attract low-stakes players. So if you’re going on a weekend night, don’t expect to find a blackjack table offering the chance to bet less than $25 a hand. — Adam Kilgore
At MGM National Harbor, you’ll be able to find something to eat morning, noon, night — even overnight. You can sit for a swanky steakhouse meal or grab a slice of New York-style pizza. Sample sweets or dozens of beers. Spend a little — or spend a lot.
In other words, the massive new property in Prince George’s County is “giving no one an excuse to leave,” says Jason Johnston, MGM National Harbor’s executive chef.
And why should they, when there are restaurants from celebrity chefs Marcus Samuelsson, José Andrés and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio? A variety of other sit-down and counter-service concepts developed by MGM are also part of the dining scene.
You can certainly begin to work off your meal before it’s even begun in the course of walking around and browsing your options. But first you may want to consult our cheat sheet. — Becky Krystal
Open: 24 hours.
Concept: Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s ode to classic American and Maryland cooking, with a few nods to favorites from his New York restaurants.
Setting: Streamlined French brasserie with Scandinavian and African accents.
Dishes of note: Fried yardbird with potatoes, collards and mace gravy; Helga’s meatballs and pasta with tomato ragout and ricotta toast.
Prices: Appetizers $11-$27, entrees $21-$85.
Good to know: Samuelsson also developed the in-room dining program for the hotel, so some of the restaurant dishes will be available should you prefer to dine in privacy in your PJs. Sammy’s, a speakeasy-style bar in the back of the restaurant, will host DJs and musical performances, as well as serve food and its own cocktail lineup.
Voltaggio Brothers Steak House
Open: 5 to 10:30 p.m. (11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Concept: Siblings and “Top Chef” stars Bryan and Michael Voltaggio collaborate for the first time in a modern take on the classic steakhouse.
Setting: A series of rooms devoted to a different part of a [posh] house: living room, dining room, library, eat-in kitchen, etc.
Dishes of note: Iceberg Lettuce, a riff on a wedge salad with Gorgonzola “snow,” pickled onions and tomato jam; USDA Prime dry-aged T-bone steak.
Prices: Appetizers $14-$120, entrees $32-$120.
Good to know: Chef Cole Dickinson came from Michael Voltaggio’s Ink in Los Angeles to lead the kitchen here; dishes, including steaks, are presented with the idea that they will be shared.
Fish by José Andrés
Open: 5 to 10:30 p.m. (11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Concept: Prolific restaurateur José Andrés’s first restaurant devoted to seafood, with an emphasis on items from Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Setting: Very nautical — fishnets on the ceiling and wall tiles that look like fish scales — with a grand view toward the property’s Potomac Plaza and the river beyond.
Dishes of note: Shareable lobster jambalaya with shrimp, lobster, andouille sausage and okra; seafood hot dog.
Prices: Not available as of press time.
Good to know: In warm weather, the restaurant will steam crabs and grill fish on its patio on Potomac Plaza.
Open: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Concept: Parisian-inspired bakery with pastries, candies, ice cream, coffee and savory breakfast and lunch fare from executive pastry chef Sylvain Bortolini.
Setting: Elegant stand with a view of the floral display in the Conservatory, complete with decorative sugar, chocolate pieces and one of the world’s largest chocolate fountains.
Dishes of note: Ham and cheese croissant; assorted chocolate truffles.
Prices: Pastries and desserts $4.50-$7, savory dishes $8.50-$12.50, beverages $3.50-$7.50.
Good to know: The massive chocolate fountain is for display purposes only. Bortolini is also providing the ice cream for S’Cream in National Market, as well as the pastries for the Starbucks adjacent to the casino (open 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.), making it perhaps the best-stocked location of the chain that we know of.
Tap Sports Bar
Open: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Concept: “Modern elevated comfort food” in a bar setting.
Setting: Upscale sports bar, complete with memorabilia from Washington teams and events, and more than 90 televisions and 48 beers on draft.
Dishes of note: Lily’s Creole gumbo with a seafood broth, shrimp, smoked sausage, okra and rice; Butcher’s Grind burger (chuck, brisket and short rib) on a pretzel roll with bacon, crispy onions and Gorgonzola.
Prices: Appetizers $8-$21, entrees $14-$72.
Good to know: The outdoor space on Potomac Plaza includes bocce courts and beer pong tables.
Open: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Concept: Food hall with 10 counters: Amo Los Tacos, Banh Mi Vietnamese Kitchen, District Deli, Bento, GWBW George Washington Beer & Wine, Honey’s (fried chicken and doughnuts), S’Cream (ice cream), ZiZi’s Pizza, Pappas Crabcakes (licensed from the Maryland restaurants) and Shake Shack.
Setting: Large space with indoor and outdoor open seating that may remind you a little of Union Market.
Dishes of note: Crabcakes from Pappas; al pastor tacos from Amo, with freshly made corn tortillas.
Good to know: Honey’s will open at 7 a.m. to serve doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches.
Open: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Concept: Pan-Asian cuisine developed by Johnston and his MGM colleagues in Las Vegas.
Setting: Soothing neutral palette with Asian-inspired decorative elements.
Dishes of note: Peking duck (roasted duck skin and meat with buns, plus minced duck meat stir-fried with vegetables and served with lettuce cups); house or Vietnamese-style live lobster.
Prices: Appetizers $8-$28; entrees $16-$268.
Good to know: Dim sum will be available every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
From the moment you walk in, you can get drinks just about anywhere: in the lobby, at your slot machine, inside the restaurants, at the bocce court on the patio. But MGM National Harbor has four dedicated bars that offer everything from local craft ales to $1,000 group cocktails that involve an entire bottle of Dom Pérignon. (Hey, you need something to toast with after hitting the jackpot, right?) — Fritz Hahn
Located just steps from the hotel valet stand and check-in desk, the chic wood bar and warm leather couches are a good place for your crew to assemble before venturing downstairs to the much more chaotic floor of the casino and its restaurants.
For $16, you can put together a classic “Thin Man”-quality martini: Take your pick from 23 gins, including Ford’s, Old Raj, or St. George, or 20 vodkas, including Russian Standard, Jewel of Russia or One Eight Distilling’s District Made. Next, pair it with one of the half-dozen dry vermouths from Italy, France and the United States before the bartender adds dashes of orange bitters. (The drink can be garnished with Maytag blue cheese stuffed olives or “caviar cubes” for an additional fee.)
You also can choose one of the dozen cocktails on the menu, which tend to be on the sweeter side. The Jasmine — made with pear vodka, St. Germain and white cranberry and lemon juices and topped with a single rose petal — has a perfumed scent, but goes down smooth.
Felt, one of two bars located within the casino, looks the part of a high-end, well-appointed lounge: a muted black, white and gold color scheme, clusters of comfortable chairs and sofas, stylish light fixtures, even a wall of bookshelves. There’s a DJ on weekends, a menu of $14 signature cocktails and an outdoor area with firepits, heat lamps and a view of Washington and Alexandria (once you look past the Beltway traffic).
Felt will be a strong draw with groups, especially for birthdays or bachelorette parties. The reason is the tableside mixology program, a staple at lounges in Las Vegas that’s being promoted as a classier alternative to bottle service: A bartender wheels a bar cart over to your group, then makes drinks while cracking jokes and exhibiting a Benihana-style level of showmanship. A strawberry is soaked in 151-proof rum and set on fire to “brûlée” while the bartender whips up the rest of the Underneath the Sheets ($18); the spiced gin-and-mezcal flip Joey Smokestack ($18) is accompanied by a pair of marshmallows injected with Bailey’s Irish Cream (using a comically large syringe) before being charred.
For $85, Felt also makes tableside punches. The Rumble, Young Man, Rumble — a tribute to Muhammad Ali — is sweet, strong tiki goodness in a cut glass bowl that serves six to eight people. Reservations are not required for seats, but they’re strongly recommended, especially if you want to do tableside cocktails.
Occupying a central space on the casino floor, Blossom is a much different destination than Felt: louder, brighter and buzzier, with a view of all the gambling taking place around you. Some of it, actually, might be right at your elbow: Blossom has six blackjack tables nestled among its cocktail tables and colorful couches.
This circular lounge is the kind of place you head for when part of your group wants to take a break from playing poker and slots. They can grab a seat and sip the Colonel Rickey ($14), an herbaceous take on D.C.’s native cocktail with Navy Strength gin, cardamom honey and Thai basil, or the sweet, fizzy Nellie Blossom ($16), a vodka-and-champagne cocktail with cherry blossom tea and rose syrup, and watch a little television.
Blossom can serve alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s not hard to imagine groups grabbing an Uber to MGM after bars close in the District on a Saturday night.
George Washington Beer and Wine (GWBW)
The resort focuses a lot on cocktails — well, maybe not at Tap Sports Bar, which has 48 beers on draft — but there are craft beers worth seeking out. Start with the as-yet-unnamed signature brew, a dry, hoppy lager created by cult brewmaster Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Ricardo Murcia, MGM National Harbor’s director of beverage, calls it “a drink for people who don’t want IPAs. It’s hoppy, but not too much.”
You can find the MGM Stillwater at Tap, but instead I’d head to GWBW, located in the National Market. While each of the stands in the food hall sells appropriately paired beers — Amo Los Tacos has Flying Dog’s agave-flavored Numero Uno, for example — GWBW has eight local beers on draft, including 3 Stars, Jailbreak and Port City, which can be served by the glass or 64-ounce growler. Virginia and Maryland wines are also served by the glass, but the menu includes vino from around the globe, not just our region.
When Bruno Mars visits Washington next fall on his “24K Magic” world tour, he’ll play two shows at Verizon Center for 18,000 fans each night. When Mars plays a one-off show at the Theater at MGM National Harbor on Dec. 27, it will be a much more intimate affair for just 3,000 people. That’s the idea behind the new resort’s concert venue: showcasing big stars in a small space.
It’s “unlike anything in this area,” says Sarah Moore, MGM National Harbor’s executive director of brand and retail.
Even the seats are unusual. The venue uses telescopic seating, which allows for a variety of configurations. About 900 of the 3,000 seats are stored beneath the venue and can be added or removed at the push of a button. An elevator raises the stadium-style seats, which fold into each other, up and onto the floor. Without the seats, the floor can accommodate general-admission standing and the capacity increases to 4,000. There also are seven VIP suites on the second floor that seat 150 and feature table service, catering, plush couches, flatscreens and a VIP entrance and lobby. (There are additional balcony sections above the suites and floor.)
Moore says the theater, booked by Live Nation, “wants to be able to offer something for everyone.” Right now, that means a mix of big-name musicians, comedians and the finals of the 66th Miss World pageant (on Dec. 18). UFC and boxing are possibilities in the future, and the space can be used for conventions and as meeting space.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable shows on the theater’s initial schedule:
Boyz II Men: The R&B trio, which last released an album in 2014, will christen the venue with such songs as “I’ll Make Love to You” and “End of the Road.” Dec. 15, 8 p.m., $35.91-$63.18.
Duran Duran: Ring in the new year with the ’80s new wave act, which dropped the well-received “Paper Gods” last year. Dec. 31, 10:30 p.m., Jan. 1, 9 p.m., $113.64-$213.64.
Jim Gaffigan: The beloved clean comedian, who has yet to find a fast food item he couldn’t write a bit about, performs four stand-up sets over two nights. Jan. 6-7, 7:30 and 10 p.m., $53.64-$90.64.
Sting: After touring arenas with Paul Simon earlier this year, Sting gets intimate in support of his latest effort, “57th & 9th,” the former Police singer’s first rock album in more than a decade. March 12, 8 p.m., $81.83-$145.46.
Ricky Martin: The Latin superstar headlines two nights of shows fresh off a similar two-night run at Wolf Trap this year. May 5-6, 8 p.m., $81.37-$136.37. — Rudi Greenberg