Read any guidebook for Washington, D.C. and you’ll learn that a popular destination for locals and tourists alike is Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market, an indoor/outdoor bazaar and food market filled with vendors selling everything from fresh local tomatoes to vintage top hats.
But since late last year, many in-the-know Washingtonians have eschewed this destination for its newer, more upscale counterpart — Union Market. Buzzed-about around town as a “chef’s market,” many of the city’s best vendors, selling everything from cheese and wine to home goods and flowers, have converged on this space near the up-and-coming Atlas District. The area has a rich history.
Opened as Centre Market in 1871 and renamed Union Terminal Market in 1931, the location has featured as many as 700 vendors at one time and was once one of the city’s most bustling commercial areas. Legal changes in the early 1960s that banned outdoor sales of meats and eggs hurt the market’s business model, and by the 1980s, many vendors had moved on to greener pastures. Lucky for D.C., though, in 2012 it reopened as an indoor facility under the name Union Market. And today, more than 100 businesses reside in the “market district” (as the area’s called), and more than 25 of them are inside Union Market proper.
On a recent weekend morning visit, we found the market packed with a cross-section of Washingtonians eager to attend a book signing with celebrity chef Mike Isabella at home goods shop Salt & Sundry; to nosh on house-made bagels and bacon-topped Bloody Marys at vintage soda shop Buffalo & Bergen; or, to snag a massive bacon meatloaf sandwich at popular meat and deli Red Apron Butchery.
Outside the market, its warehouses may look dingy and uninhabited, but inside, light streams from massive windows, and gleaming floors and open stalls lend an airy feel to the space. It’s the chef-style pantry D.C. has never had but always wanted. And the open setup makes it easy for visitors to dash in and dash out with a fully-prepared gourmet feast or quality ingredients for a lunch, brunch or dinner of any ethnic style.
Many vendors are still scouting locations in the market, and a rotating selection of pop-up artisans (kept current on the Market’s website) keeps the marketplace feeling fresh. We look forward to finding out what Union Market has in store next, and what the growing space means for the revitalization of the area.
Photos Courtesy of Union Market