Union Market in NE Washington D.C. is more than just a place where cool kids meet on the weekends to shuck oysters and drink rosé before shopping for artisanal bread and cheese. It is also a place with a long industrial history and deep roots in the local community. These roots can be traced back to Centre Market, which in 1871 was the largest outdoor food market in the city. When vendors were forced to move to make room for the construction of what is now the National Archives, they settled in the current location, which was closer to the rail yards. Union Terminal Market was built in 1931 and featured open-air stalls, but an indoor space was eventually built in 1967, after the city banned the outdoor sale of meats and eggs. But that’s not the end of the story.
In 2011, what was then Union Market burned to the ground in an electrical fire. EDENS, the owners of the building and much of the surrounding neighborhood, capitalized on the opportunity to recreate a completely different environment, both in terms of design and content. The result was 13,500 square feet of what can best be described as a gourmet -food destination in a modern, industrial hall. Design features include mostly open space, high ceilings, and tall windows that let in lots of light.
In terms of content, the market includes a wide variety of culinary options and formats. There are restaurants such as Buffalo & Bergen, Rappahannock Oyster Co., or the more upscale Bidwell, to name a few. Seating is also available throughout the space for visitors who prefer to eat food-truck style food (choices include empanadas, Mediterranean dishes, Korean tacos, sandwiches, dosas, and freshly made soup) on the fly.
The shopping options are equally diverse, including stands selling olive oil and vinegar, bath and beauty products, artisanal chocolate, freshly baked bread, pastries, cheese, wine, organic fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, and even one specializing in exotic spices. Salt & Sundry, a “lifestyle shop” is full of unique, pretty things to decorate your home, give as gifts, or just admire from afar.
But the real reason that I like Union Market so much is that it reminds me of a bustling Parisian marché. The markets in Paris serve both a practical and social purpose: one goes to purchase food and other goods (you would be surprised at what you can find at some of them), but there is also a convivial aspect to the the exchanges that take place at marchés (except, of course, when you hear “C’est à qui?!” – “Who is next?” – bellowed by a very large vendor holding a butcher’s knife or other sharp instrument). All the sights, sounds, and smells are electric and inspiring. Union Market – or Marché as I like to call it – is the closest I have found to that experience in the District. Allez-y!
Union Market – 1309 5th Street NE – WDC 20002 – (301) 347 – 3998