Feb 8, 2024 - Business

As D.C.'s lunch crowd dwindles, Midtown Center looks to late night

New club The Arcade with red banquettes, fire tables and a bonzai

New exclusive club, The Arcade. Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

Given all the "downtown D.C. is dead" paranoia, you'd think the ritzy corridor along 15th Street would be in sleep mode. But Midtown Center is all in on late night.

Why it matters: City leaders and businesspeople are desperate to get bodies back downtown — cue Mayor Bowser's free coffee program — but restaurants in the high-profile, oft-troubled development are finding success leaning less on daywalkers and embracing nightlife.

What's happening: Fannie Mae is out. Clubstraunts are in.

  • The mortgage magnate dealt a blow to Midtown Center last month when the news dropped that the company would pull out of its 15-year, $770 million lease by 2029, five years early.
  • That's after some year-end reports from commercial real estate brokerages found D.C.'s office vacancy rate to be the highest since these groups began recording such figures, according to Washington Business Journal.

Yes, but: Just beneath Fannie Mae's offices, the owners of red-sauce restaurant Grazie Nonna recently opened a supper-clubby DJ cocktail bar, Grazie Mille, drawing musical talents from Miami to Los Angeles.

  • Casey Patten, who co-owns the spots, tells Axios that Fannie Mae's exit could actually be "the best thing for Midtown Center."

By the numbers: Pre-pandemic, its massive office acreage was expected to house 3,500 Fannie Mae employees, per the Washington Business Journal.

  • But now, "there's maybe 300 people upstairs on any given day," Patten says.

With that reality, the Grazie owners "found we had to lean on being a destination," Patten's business partner Gerald Addison says.

  • At the sibling spots, patrons will come into Nonna for an 8pm dinner and linger over cocktails in Mille's dark, sexy booths until 2 am, the owners tell Axios.

Zoom out: Mille is one of three new DJ destinations in the development, including Greek wine bar Kaimaki — recently reopened by chef Nicholas Stefanelli after his high-end Midtown Center restaurant, Philotimo, suffered a fire (and potentially worse). Originally Kaimaki was supposed to open at 8am and run all day, but Stefanelli is leaning into weekend music and the cocktail crowd.

  • According to the restaurateurs, it's about creating a vibe, an experience, and a captive dinner-to-late-night audience.
  • "Happy hours aren't what they used to be," Stefanelli, who also operates all-day trattoria Officina nearby, tells Axios. "Tuesday through Thursday are better for lunch, but Monday and Friday go to ghost towns."

Reality check: Patten says lunch at Grazie Nonna is packed. But it helps to have a schtick (in their case, Olive Garden-style unlimited soup, salad, and bread for $29).

What's new: Headlining Midtown Center is The Arcade. The lounge from scene-y sushi spot Shōtō is open exclusively on weekend nights from 10pm to 3am. It has only 35 tables, imports DJs from Ibiza and Mykonos, and specializes in bottle service with premium Champagnes.

  • Like sister Shōtō, there's a velvet rope and an eternally controversial dress code. Ritzier than the restaurant, the club will launch a multi-tier membership club in March with privileged access, "bespoke newsletters," invite-only events, and other perks.
  • A Japanese street food-style fast-casual, ĀKĒDO, will join it soon, serving late-night ramen and skewers to hungry clubbers.

What they're saying: "We wanted it to be more exclusive, we're not advertising or selling tickets," owner Arman Naqi tells Axios. "We wanted to create a sophisticated hangout for like-minded individuals."

  • Reservations are limited and highly recommended, though drop-ins are welcomed (Naqi says the door will run a VIP guestlist that will be "refreshed on occasion"). It's all part of creating a reason to get in your Uber Lux and go to Midtown.
  • "Everything in this part of town has become destination-oriented," says Naqi.
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