An outdoor events space aiming to service the D.C. community that dances to the bumping conga beat of Go-Go shows has relocated from Southwest to Southeast by taking over a 5,000-square-foot plot in Navy Yard.
Sandlot Southeast set up shop at 71 Potomac Avenue SE in September, planting a shipping container bar that sells cocktails mixed with cold-pressed juice in a lot bordering the dog park connected to the Dock 79 development and the Maren DC apartment building. Sandlot hosted the Little Miner Taco truck for its opening, then opened up online reservations in mid-October for six-person packages served across six picnic tables.
All the packages come with tailgate platters from B.Lin catering that include fried chicken bites, dry-rubbed chicken wings, quesadillas, crispy pork belly banh mi, fire roasted salsa, elote dip, chips, Buffalo chicken wontons, and pierogi with sour cream. Prices for reservations ($200 to $360) vary according to drink options. Bottomless rosé or unlimited bottled cocktails cover a 1 hour, 45 minute limit. A bottle service bundle (two bottles) includes a three-hour stay. Sponsor Dryy DC pitched in with a see-through tent that covers the space.
Five different bottled cocktails are available to order a la carte for $15. They’re named by color, with options like Black (pineapple, ginger, apple, charcoal, cognac) or Red (mint, pineapple, pear, beet, gin). Sandlot Southeast partnered with Turning Natural, the Black-owned juice bar with four locations around the District, to make the cocktails.
Due to D.C.’s Phase 2 Reopening restrictions, Sandlot can’t host any live music, noise levels have to be kept to a minimum, and sit-down customers aren’t allowed to stand up to dance.
The project started as Sandlot Southwest in 2018, when partners Ian Callender and Kevin Hallums wanted to take advantage of the hype surrounding the MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park. Callender owns event design firm Suite Nation and co-founded Blind Whino (now Culture House), the nonprofit art gallery and party space inside the mural-splashed, historic Friendship Baptist Church in Southwest. He serves as an artist member on D.C.’s Commission on Nightlife and Culture.
After adding a fence, the shipping container bar, a concrete floor, and some art installations, Sandlot Southwest became a place to hang out by Audi Field and take in live music until the late hours of the morning. Go-go acts like Backyard Band, Black Alley, and Sugar Bear and EU all showed up to play.
In a video promoting the Sandlot, Callender says the goal was to sustain the nightlife culture that developers rooted out of D.C.’s southern quadrants, namedropping Southeast clubs like Nation, Club 55, Nexus Gold Club, and Tracks, and Southwest clubs like the Pier 9 disco (later gay club Ziegfeld’s/Secrets), the East Side club/Buzz, Caribbean club Lime. The latter was one of the last holdouts in Southwest, closing early in the COVID-19 crisis. Many were forced to attempt a move or close when D.C. claimed eminent domain to build Nationals Park and Audi Field.
“I tried to document our city because no one’s really doing that,” Callender says, adding that “everyone’s talking about these new restaurants and what’s coming here. What about what this area used to be like?”
Sandlot Southwest was always going to be temporary, because MRP Realty bought the land with intentions to build a mixed-use development. When it was time for Sandlot to leave, the company helped it relocate to Southeast.
Callender says the new Sandlot is already adapting to challenges, including enforcing public health protocols for people who want to dance and grabbing a generator on a recent night without power. The venue has not applied to be part of D.C.’s live music pilot program, and future events could be at the mercy of residential neighbors and their noise complaints. Sandlot also manages a private events space inside the Maren building with room for up to 100 people that’s set to open next year.