Sunday, December 2, 2007

Out and About: Eastern Market

Saturday marked the first time that I've had a chance to get out to Eastern Market on a weekend since a terrible fire devastated the 125+ year old structure last May. Part of me didn't want to see the venerable market in such a state. The morning after the fire I went to work feeling as if I'd been punched in the gut, Capitol Hill being my favorite neighborhood in the city, after Mt Pleasant. This section of the Capitol Hill neighborhood is anchored by the Eastern Market building, designed by German-born Adolf Cluss (also Sumner School, Franklin School, Arts and Industries, and more). It was completed in 1873. As the only remaining traditional farmer's and crafts market in the city with its own building, the Eastern Market defines the neighborhood and is part of what makes Capitol Hill such a pleasant and pretty place to call home. Earlier this year, Eastern Market was named one of the greatest neighborhoods in the country by the American Planning Association.

The area east of the Capitol Building and north of the Navy Yard is the home to the oldest continuously populated area in DC. During the early years of the District, the ship building and military presence at the Navy Yard coupled with the boarding houses and legislative work going on around the Capitol ensured that the areas in between the two would be the first to become real, lasting communities.

The neighborhood, however, is more than the Market building. The Metro Station and proximity to the Capitol Hill office complex have ensured that outside money and attention pour into the neighborhood year round. The two main retail areas are Pennsylvania Avenue SE and 7th St SE. The many restaurants, cafes, galleries, and shops can easily make a good half-day visit. There's YES! Organic Market, Bread and Chocolate (yes, located at 666 Penn Ave SE) and my favorite coffee east of the Hill, Murky. Specialty shops line 7th Street, like Uncle Brutha's Gourmet Hot Sauce and Silk Road. At the northern end of the 7th Street strip are Port City Coffee, Tunnicliff's Tavern and many others. Most businesses on 7th Street and Penn Ave are open on the weekends along with the Market.

Since the fire, a temporary "East Hall" structure has housed the businesses which formerly occupied the damaged South Hall. The city owns and operates the Market, and Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to rebuild the Market in a timely fashion, while providing a workable space for the merchants to sell their foods and products in the meantime. The East Hall Building is across 7th Street form original, damaged South Hall, and is very clean and inviting. Sitting down at the Market Lunch isn't quite the same in such a sterile environment, but to the establishments, the building is a means to continuing their livelihoods until the Market is rebuilt.

The market can be reached by taking the 42 bus to McPherson Square Metro, then a Blue or Orange Line train to Eastern Market. East Hall is open every day except Monday. The Open Air "Farmer's Line" operates on Saturday and Sunday, as does the Market 5 Gallery, and Flea Market. To be continued, chronicling Eastern Market's sister neighborhood to the south, Barracks Row...