A metal gate draped with fishing net leads the way to Chesapeake Crab Shack & Bar, a permanent, all-outdoor crab house opening today at 4 p.m. in the heart of Shaw.
Restaurateur Daniel Kramer’s anticipated nautical venture, situated on a prime parcel at U and Vermont streets NW, brings the Bay to D.C. by dumping steamed and seasoned Maryland blue crabs on brown paper-topped tables (925 U Street NW). Crabs can’t be reserved in advanced, but patrons can book a table for up to eight on Resy. Hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesdays to Sundays, to start.
Crabs balanced on red trays come by the dozen or half dozen, in large or extra-large sizes (market price). There’s no time limit to partake in the popular Mid-Atlantic pastime, and when the day’s shipment of crabs are gone they’re gone. Prices remain high again this year, thanks to lower availability and rising supply chain costs.
Chef Allyn “Ink” Barrack, who also oversees the kitchen at Kramer’s English pubs Duke’s Grocery and Duke’s Counter, relies on local purveyors like Jessie Taylor Seafood at the Wharf to source Chesapeake blue crab. Barrack seasons crabs with an Old Bay-based mix flecked with hot chili powder, brown sugar, thyme, and oregano. Liquid butter is his go-to crab meat dipper of choice.
The namesake crustacean also shows up in tubs of vegetable soup and a side of mac and cheese. Starters also include tail-on shrimp, Old Bay vinaigrette-blasted cabbage slaw, and pasta salad. Along with Maryland (or Gulf) blue crabs, depending on availability, look for lobsters, snow crab legs, and other seasonal shellfish to fly on and off the menu.
A casual drinking station lined with white swivel stools and dockside decor like life rafts and buoys strives to look and taste like a Maryland beach bar. Bright blue plastic cups are the vessels for fresh-squeezed orange (or grapefruit) crushes, palomas, a watermelon gin Rickey, Red Bull mule, and all-DMV draft beers.
Year-round seafood shacks are relatively sparse inside city limits. In Ivy City, there’s The Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse, Hot N Juicy Crawfish in upper Northwest, and Chevy Chase’s roving Capital Crab truck.
Kramer, who also owns Korean barbecue place Gogi Yogi nearby, called dibs on the prized patch of grass last spring. Service Bar sits right across the street and operated a pandemic-era pop-up at the same sunny corner.
Next up for Kramer: opening a new Duke’s Grocery in Navy Yard with the hospitality group’s director of operations Angie Duran.