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New York Avenue Beach Bar's Sand-Filled First Month

Robert Bailey
Robert Bailey
Photo: R. Lopez

Minds were boggled with the late May opening of the New York Avenue Beach Bar and its 70 tons of sand dumped directly from Ocean City into a vacant parking lot around the corner from The Passenger. The place has been a hype machine in the month-plus that has followed — Mayor Vince Gray stopped in to play cornhole on opening day, beloved sandwich-makers Sundevich debuted their food truck on site and the early word was...vocal.

Now that things have settled into a groove, co-owner Robert Bailey talks with Eater about the New York Avenue Beach Bar's first month and what's still to come — including the just-launched rotation of the food trucks, now featuring Goode's Mobile Kitchen.

Tell me about your opening day.
Opening day we had the mayor come out to do the ribbon-cutting. We had to wait a little while because he had a meeting. We had about 150 folks in line waiting to get in and finally we said we're going to let the people in, they can start the party, when the mayor gets here we'll do the ribbon-cutting. By the time he got here we had about 200-250 people in here. Then he did the ribbon-cutting, he hung around about an hour and a half. He fell in love with the corn toss game. Every time I looked over he was tossing corn bags and just having a great time. The hype was good. The people were partying.

How has the sand been holding up?
Very well. We take very good care of our sand because we know that's one of our greatest assets. Every night we rake through the sand. Any debris, any trash, we pull it out. And rain is good for us because we have really good drainage on this lot, so the rain helps to keep the soil fresh. So as you can see the sand still looks real good. And we do plan to refresh it during the course of the summer.

What are the logistics on that?
We haven't figured it out. We figure sometime mid-July we'll bring in some more sand.

And how did the storm last Friday affect it?
Let's go back to the week before we had the storm. We monitor the storms on our phones through doppler radar. We could see it would be a quick passing storm so we had about 20 people who hung out with us. As soon as the rain ended, we set the music back up and we partied.

Now last week's storm, which is the big one, we went to about 11:00. By 11:00 is when we could see it coming in, we could track it, but all of a sudden the wind came through here, we shut it down, opened the gates real wide, everybody exited orderly and we were done for the night. It was pretty rough. The wind wasn't bad because we're sort of protected from the winds being in this cavern-like, but the rain kind of got us. But we were open back up on Saturday, partying again. We recovered well from it.

How about the heat?
Yeah, it's just part of being on the beach. When you're on the beach, you've got the sun, you've got the heat. We've brought in three misting fans so you can stand in front of the misting fans and get a nice cool breeze and a cool mist. And folks have still been showing up. I think people realize that's what it is at the beach. Whatever the weather is, that's what it's going to be at the beach.

What's been working and what hasn't been working? Have you made any changes?
We've added happy hour now. Every day of the week we added a happy hour. As you can see, we rotated our food truck. Starting today we have Goode's Mobile Kitchen. We plan to try to change it up every week, every two weeks, have a different food truck. I think it gives us some variety.

We've been tweaking things along the way. There's really nothing I would say "not working." We're always looking at ways to enhance people's experience when they come here. The bottom line is you want it to be laid back. We have people come in here with tuxedos coming from the convention center. We have people in shorts and tank tops. Everybody feels comfortable coming here and hanging out, which is a good thing. You ain't got to dress a certain way, you ain't got to look a certain way. And that's a thing I think people like about it. And they love that corn toss game too.

Is there a line for it?
There normally is, yes.

How about your drink menu?
We didn't have Red Stripe in the beginning, so we added that. Some Patron has been added, Grand Marnier, Grey Goose. Some of the high-end stuff. We've been getting requests for that.

How has the response been from the area, given you're outside in a parking lot with the music playing? Have you heard anything?
No because we have a bar on each side of us and there's really no residential and then across the street there's an empty lot. We've had the government come in. They came out the first couple of nights and checked our sound for us so now we've got a good feel for where we need to be on the sound levels to be within legal range. We got all our paperwork in order and it's been checked multiple times by the proper authorities. And we want to foster a good relationship with all the authorities.

How about your relationship with your regulars? Do you have a lot of regulars already?
Yes we do. We have people that come here every weekend and hang out all weekend. They'll come in here 2 or 3 o'clock on a Saturday and they'll stay until 3 in the morning. Some people, they love the beach. It's four to eight hours to the beach. But you can come right down here, put your feet in the sand. We've got nice bars, misting fans. A lot of people say we're similar to Secrets, which is in Ocean City. I've never been there.

Bathroom's been holding up. They're air conditioned. They've got radio in them, hardwood floors, granite countertops. Most people are surprised when they go in there. They're like, "wow, this is better than home." They can get sandy at times because we're at the beach, but that's part of the beach.

When are your busy times?
Friday and Saturday. At about 8 o'clock.

What about during the day on the weekends?
It's busy. Last Saturday before last in the afternoon it was kind of busy all day. But most of the time our crowd picks up in the evening going into the nighttime because we have a live DJ Friday night, Saturday night right now. So people start building up for that.

So say I come at 8:00 on a Friday or Saturday night...
There's probably going to be about 150-200 people there.

And how long of a wait would it be to get in?
Our wait usually starts at about 10, so usually by 8 o'clock there's not a wait.

So at 10?
It's probably about a 20-minute wait.

What's in store for the rest of the summer?
We're trying to keep the party going all summer long. We are going to add some DJs. We've got DJ Trayze tonight. We're talking to DJ Chris Styles from Hot 99.5. So that's one thing we're going to be adding. More day parties like on Sundays, Sunday afternoons. But keep this a clean fun atmosphere that our clients come in and they know they're going to have a great time. No pressures at the beach. We may paint the wall at some point if we can get permission to do that. We have been doing movie nights. We've been showing Sponge Bob and Daffy Duck and some nice movies, oh, some surfing bloopers the other night.

And so looking ahead, what's the end of the operation?
Right now, we're scheduled to go through Halloween. The plan is if it's off the hook, everybody's having a party every weekend, we may put a tent over top of it and go on through the winter with a heated tent. But we're going to make those decisions later on. Right now we're going to just keep the party going as long as we can.

And would you be back next year?
That's the plan. Hopefully in this location, but as you can see a lot of stuff is happening in this area. The word is out they're going to be actually moving buildings around. We'll see. There's other spots in town. [Developer] Douglas Jemal told me to give him a call, he had lots all over town.

Does it feel like it's been a month?
Feels like it's been a year for me. Oh my goodness, these hours. I wasn't used to working these hours. I was a 9 to 5 guy before this. But it's fun. It's great. It's good being able to make people have enjoyable times.

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New York Avenue Beach Bar

645 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001 202 656 9229