D.C’s Wharf development is a top destination for waterfront dining and gathering, with both cheap eats and upscale restaurants from acclaimed chefs. For all that variety though, the middle ground can be hard to find, especially for larger groups. That relative lack of neighborhood spaces is a hole the newly-opened Boardwalk Bar and Arcade hopes to fill.
“We felt like there was nothing like the casual environment that Boardwalk offers,” says Ryan Seelbach, founder and CEO of Better Hospitality Group, which operates two Boardwalk locations in D.C. in addition to Cortez and Takoda in Shaw.
Initial discussions for the project, which Seelbach calls “a dream come true,” began in late 2019. The pandemic put a halt on talks until last year, with construction beginning in summer 2021.
Like its sibling in Penn Quarter, Boardwalk Wharf transports guests to vacation mode, with beach vibes felt in the decor and across the menu. A pelican silhouette spans one wall of the brightly-lit space, while bikes hang from the ceiling behind the main bar. Classic and modern arcade games like pinball, four-person mini basketball and Dance Dance Revolution provide the entertainment. There’s also a large outdoor area that’s equipped with heaters, fans and operable walls and roofs for year-round use.
Not only is this Boardwalk location twice as big as the original, it’s also outfitted with a full kitchen, which means serving more than just hotdogs and popcorn. Seelbach says he wanted to create a spot that’s welcoming to everyone and provides a mid-range hangout at The Wharf.
“We want all of our patrons to feel like they are getting good, strong value,” he says.
The seaside-inspired menu includes plates like blackened mahi-mahi fish tacos, a cuban sandwich and corn dogs. Cocktails stick to the theme as well, like the vodka-based candy apple spritz and the Coney club, made with gin and lavender. Happy hour features $9 draft cocktails, $5 Boardwalk lager beers, $6 rail drinks and even a $8 “happy meal” combo of a 10 ounce beer, a shot and some popcorn. Those specials run Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. A full brunch and kids menu also recently launched.
And while pandemic-era options like QR ordering are in place (there’s no option to pay this way just yet), Boardwalk’s overall feel prioritizes socialization and interaction, with a full staff of servers and real glassware and plates that make a day or evening out feel well worth the effort.
“I’m a huge believer in the hospitality business,” Seelbach says. “It’s been around for thousands of years and I think it’s going to be around for thousands of years into the future.”
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