Old Town Alexandria
American history buffs won’t find a better place to live: Not only can this buyer claim to live on land that once comprised one of George Washington’s five farms, but he or she will be just a short drive from Old Town Alexandria, where riverfront warehouses and factories that once populated the Potomac River shoreline have given way to art studios, galleries, shops and restaurants. Here’s a snapshot of some one-of-a-kind destinations:
The Old Dominion Boat Club, which recently moved to a new location on the Old Town waterfront, continues to celebrate traditions going back to its founding in 1880. The second-oldest boat club in Virginia occupies a new, modern building completed in 2018. You can pull your boat up to one of its “tee” docks if you don’t hold one of the club’s 53 slips, and belly up to the bar at its tap room.
The Old Town Farmer’s Market in front of Alexandria’s City Hall is the nation’s oldest farmer’s market that’s been held continuously at the same site, where Washington himself once sent his fruit and vegetables to be sold. More than 70 vendors gather each weekend at this year-round market to sell produce, meat, cheeses, breads and pastry, fresh pasta, cut flowers, potted plants, soaps, jewelry and art.
The European fashion ateliers are close at hand through Donna Lewis, a couture boutique whose owners, Donna and Chris Lewis, scour the salons of Italy, France and other continental locales to offer men’s and women’s brands that can’t be found anywhere else in DC.
Under the guidance of husband-and-wife team Tim Shaheen and Meaghan Foran, the Alx&Co. Workshop and Design Studio fabricates and restores fine jewelry and sterling-silver holloware. The studio also offers an ever-changing selection of antique and contemporary fine jewelry.
Close friends Amanda Mertins and Kimberly Weiler have channeled their mutual passion for design into Patina Polished Living, a home-décor shop that mixes vintage auction and estate-sale finds with new pieces in this converted Old Town home. Customers can also buy fresh flower arrangements.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center houses three levels of working artists’ studios—the largest center of its kind in the nation. Visitors can buy art in almost any genre, including painting, ceramics, photography, jewelry, stained glass, fiber, printmaking and sculpture.
Just like the farmer’s market around the corner, Gadsby’s Tavern has been serving dinner at its Royal Street location since 1770. Waiters dress in period costumes in the restaurant’s Colonial dining rooms, which adjoins the historic tavern-turned-museum.
Cheese and charcuterie have their own menus in addition to the appetizers and entrees at the wine-driven La Fromagerie, where sommelier Ben Kuna hosts regular tastings and seasonal wine dinners.
The waterfront’s history is memorialized in both architecture and décor at Virtue Feed and Grain, which is housed in a 19th-century feed house on the river.
Every neighborhood needs a destination for locals, and Old Town’s got two longtime institutions: Landini Brothers, an Italian restaurant serving all the classics in an historic rowhouse with wood paneling and exposed-stone walls; and the equally classic Greek cuisine at Taverna Cretekou, with Santorini-inspired whitewashed stucco walls and a tradition of live music and the breaking of plates.
Old Town is so steeped in history, you can hardly walk a block without running into a museum or memorial. Its main history museum is housed in The Lyceum, originally a 19th-century cultural center that also served as a Civil War hospital.
The Carlyle House, a pre-revolutionary mansion where royal governors once convened, is an example of aristocratic living in the 18th century.
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothocary Museum holds a vast collection of 18th- and 19th-centure potions and medical equipment, with old prescription and formula books dating to Washington’s time.
The Alexandria Black History Museum incorporates the original segregated library built for African American residents in 1940 following a “sit down” strike in the city’s all-white library.