Photo by jsmjr on Flickr.

Some neighborhoods argue that a saturation of restaurants saps a neighborhood’s vibrancy.  NoMa, a neighborhood recently recreated from old industrial land, lacks vibrancy at night because the neighborhood’s restaurants close soon after the office workers go home. 

Though office, residential, and hotel development took off in this area once dominated by parking lots, the new buildings have not brought the street vitality of Washington’s other cherished neighborhoods. 

NoMa is a unique local example of trying to create a neighborhood where one didn’t exist before. Though it’s surrounded by well-established neighborhoods, NoMA itself used to be industrial space adjacent to the railroad, once the main conduit for freight into and out of DC.

I live in Bloomingdale and work near Union Station. I worked until 7 pm recently and expected to be able to grab a bite at one of the new restaurants on 1st Street NE, NoMa’s main street.

Much to my dismay, I got there just as Roti and Potbelly were closing, and Tynan Coffee & Tea was already closed, along with Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli on 2nd Street. My only remaining food options were Harris Teeter, 7-Eleven and no less than four burger joints: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Five Guys, and Burger King.

Being a vegetarian, Harris Teeter offered by far the greatest selection, so that’s where I wound up. But what do the limited hours of NoMa’s healthier restaurants mean for the NoMa BID’s efforts to create a more vibrant neighborhood?

Presumably, as more residents fill the new apartments and condos around New York Avenue Metro, they will increase demand for neighborhood venues that offer a dining experience a cut above fast food.

Yet it is somewhat surprising that Tynan and Roti aren’t open later, given how much residents of nearby Truxton Circle and Eckington have been clamoring for sit-down restaurants in their neighborhoods. With the opening of Rustik Tavern and the extension of Big Bear Cafe’s hours, Bloomingdale now has two restaurants, and both are often crowded.

More eateries like Roti and Heidi’s would fill a niche for a dinner that is better than fast food, but less expensive than a restaurant like Rustik. Perhaps one of them should try staying open until 9 or 10 pm one or two days a week, promote the special hours to the nearby neighborhoods, and see how many customers come in after 7pm.

Restaurants improved Barracks Row and have a similar opportunity to revitalize NoMa.  The neighborhood has the potential to become a destination not only during the day, but after the offices close for the night as well.

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Tagged: dc, food, noma, retail

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC’s NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own.