King StreetsRestaurant Row heats up


Alexandria has always been a magnet for new restaurateurs.

King Streets Restaurant Row, and its connecting side streets, is often the place where these chef-owners bring their pots, pans and dreams of culinary triumph.

The Irish-born Cathal Armstrong, chef and impresario of Restaurant Eve, The Majestic and Eamonns Dublin Chipper, made his mark here, winning both a 2007 James Beard Award and taking top awards at the 25th annual Rammy Awards in June, including Chef of the Year and Wine and Beverage Program of the Year. 

Last year, Ivory Coast-born chef Morou Outtara, the Food Networks Iron Chef, brought his modern tribal cuisine approach to Farah Olivia on Franklin Street, further shaking up the restaurant scene, leaving local diners with less reasons to go downtown.

While some eateries shutter or wash out, others take the culinary barometer and give the Historic District a run. This fall, add two more to the mix.

In two weeks, Hanks Oyster Bar opens its doors, and in mid-October, Bookbinders puts its stamp on the restaurant scene, both funded by area investors.

Hanks Oyster Bar
Hanks Oyster Bar anticipates a Sept. 15 opening at 1026 King Street, formerly the site of a Cuban-styled restaurant, Bohios.  

Chef/owner Jamie Leeds, who trained at the famous Union Square Cafe in New York, and partner Sandy Lewis of Arlington plan to bring the New England-styled beach fare and rustic charm found in their popular Dupont Circle eatery. Restaurant-goers can also expect to find the same signature exposed brick walls, chalkboard menus, marble bar and expansive fresh oyster selection as across the river. 

Hanks will to open with 40 seats inside, and plans to apply to City Council by November for 12-16 sidewalk seats. We really just loved the space, being in Old Town. It just fell into our laps, she said.

Hanks resident chef will be Troy Walker, brought in from the Beacon Hotel in D.C. Walker likes to cook simple, approachable seafood, with small and large plates for sharing. We dont have a freezer, Lewis said. Nothing is frozen. Everything comes in that day.

For three decades, Portners at 109 So. St. Asaphs Street had been an Old Town institution. It was once Zagats highest-rated Alexandria eatery. Portners, which had once been operated by Beverly Hills-based Hamburger Hamlet, shuttered in 2006.

But a local group of investors, led by Ralph and Lisa Capobianco of King Street Blues and Birchmere fame (Ralph was once VP of Operations for Hamburger Hamlet) have put up a new awning for an October revival. Also providing capital and advice to the venture are Old Town-based builder Murray Bonnit, Old Town attorney Jay Test and his wife Jan, Clark & Sampson insurance company partner Bill Howard of Old Town and his wife Julie, as well as Union Street Pub and Birchmere investor Jimmy Mathews of Arlington and investor Joannie Mathews.

Restaurateur Stephen Parry of Richmond has licensed Bookbinders name to the local investors in preparation of a white table cloth steak and seafood house, much like the ones hes helped build in Richmond, Midlothian, Lynchburg and Charlottesville.

Built as the Columbia Firehouse in 1883, Parry said the construction at the old Portners works to preserve much of the old millwork and nostalgic environment. Its a timepiece, he said. 

Summer fades away
Last week, Mayor William D. Euille, Councilman Paul Smedburg and the citys Public Assistance Director Rose Boyd headed to Alexandrias sister cities of Helsingborg, Sweden and Dundee, Scotland. The citys delegation was accompanied by members of the Alexandria Rugby Team, which played an exhibition match against Dundees team. 

For six years, Mount Vernon Marketing Director Stephanie Brown went vacationless, other than a maternity leave. But before starting work last week as the incoming CEO of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, Brown felt she needed at least a weeks break between jobs. And where did the citys chief marketing officer go? Walt Disney World, of course.

For state Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30th), all summer vacation plans were scratched when her husband Jack became ill with pulmonary fibrosis. The couple, who have four children and five grandchildren, have been married 51 years. They met in 1956 when her parents worked on Jack Ticers election campaign to Alexandria City Council, and they were married six months later during his first term on City Council.

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