Though we are DIY bloggers, we also enjoy getting out and about in Old Town to check out the latest openings, especially those of the culinary variety. We were excited to check out the soft launch of Society Fair, a European-inspired market and restaurant/wine bar in the heart of Old Town.
Cathal Armstrong was one of the first chefs to shine a spotlight on Old Town Alexandria's restaurant scene when he and his wife, Meshelle, opened Restaurant Eve on Old Town's Pitt St. in 2004. They quickly gained acclaim from most who visited, both critics and everyday diners alike. Following the success of Eve, the Armstrongs began branching out and created The Majestic (reopened actually, and now one of Wendy's and my favorite restaurants), Eamonn's - A Dublin Chipper (for authentic fish & chips...and fried Milky-Way bars), PX (for a swank speakeasy-like experience with some of the best drinks you'll ever taste), and more recently Virtue Feed & Grain. Well, they're expanding once again with their new addition, Society Fair at 277 S. Washington St.
The Armstrongs have been kicking around the idea of a European-inspired butcher, bakery, wine bar, gourmet market, and cafe in earnest since at least late 2007 or early 2008. Now in 2012, that vision is coming to fruition with a location that several food critics and publications, as well as its creators, have been comparing to Mario Batali's Eately in New York (incidentally, D.C. is supposed to get its own Eately sometime in 2012). Though it is considerably smaller than the 50,000 square foot Italian food extravaganza.
People often remark how much Old Town tends to remind them of a quaint walkable European town, and the Armstrongs understand this as well as anyone. They're also keenly aware of a hole in the market that an establishment like Society Fair is perfect to fill.
Over the past few months we've been keeping our eyes on their location as their renovation took place. Recently we noticed their signage going up and the store really beginning to take shape. To say we were excited is an understatement. It's always fun to see new places like this opening in the neighborhood. It only adds to the wonderful qualities that make living in our area extra special. And you know us, we also love the renovation aspects of any project like this.
Our eager anticipation paid off as a few days ago I saw a notice that Society Fair would be opening to the public "soon," but they would be holding a soft opening for "friends, family, and the curious" starting Jan. 17. While I'm not so sure we can bill ourselves as friends or family even on our best days, we figured we could soundly put ourselves into the "curious" category and should drop by out of responsibility to Old Town and the blog reading community that might appreciate it. Yeah, we'll take one for the team like that.
Approaching the storefront on opening night we were met with a warm and comfortably lit environment that really did remind us of some of the markets and food shops we absolutely love in London. They nailed the ambiance and feel of those great shops the United States is too often without.
Upon entry, the staff behind the counter seemed genuinely excited to have us and were eager to help. I can only imagine the huge sense of relief to finally be open after months of building anticipation for this day. So much time, effort, and training went into this opening, so I can absolutely appreciate their enthusiasm.
When you walk through the front door you enter into the main market and butcher area of the shop. The large black checkout counter with shop staff waiting to help you is actually the first thing you see. The store is divided pretty roughly in half, with a bar and restaurant portion to the left, and the market and butcher to the right. Wendy and I decided to peruse the market before eating to see what unique items Society Fair is offering.
First we explored the fresh baked bread and sweet dessert treats. From loaves and baguettes to cakes and pies, everything down to even the wrappings were wonderfully presented.
Near the back of the store, opposite from the butcher's counter is a large and brightly lit open refrigeration section. It's in this large cabinet where you can find the assorted selections of jarred goods, eggs, dairy, produce, a domestic and imported beer selection, and even the supplies needed to create the drinks made famous at Eve, Majestic, and PX by Todd Thrasher and Clinton Terry, Old Town's resident expert mixologists. Hint-hint, we've got a little project going on in our sun porch area where some of these items could come in handy.
In the middle island of this portion of the store you can find the ingredients you'll need if you want to create that perfect starchy pasta based feast. From hand made pastas to imported tomatos for sauce, they have everything on hand.
Just around the corner from the refrigeration case there's actually a large chalk board that lists out the current sandwich offering (see photo). Don't expect this to stay the same from day to day, as I'm sure the menu will be changing often (especially early on), so this is just an example of what they were offering on day one.
If you're in the mood for some wine with your food, they've surely got you covered there. In the center of the store is an expansive wine cellar that I like as much for the look as the massive number of bottles it holds. The whole time I kept looking at it and thinking how we could maybe, just maybe, incorporate something similar in our basement. I can dream can't I?
As you can hopefully tell from our description, and see from the attached photos, the addition of Society Fair to Old Town's gourmet arsenal is an exciting move that is sure to round out the menus of locals and visitors. We're looking forward to watching this store grow and change as it becomes more established. One thing is for absolutely sure, as residents of Old Town we are both appreciative and very fortunate to have people like the owners of this and the various boutique and speciality stores in and around Old Town. They are a large part of the reason why our town is such as special place to live.
You can see more details on our evening, and a recap of our food, drinks, and decadent dessert over on Old Town Home.