Shaw’s Mexican mainstay El Rey expanded across state lines in late 2021, bringing Ballston, Virginia a graffiti-splashed spot to wash down reliable tacos with margaritas from a 50-foot bar. This weekend, the Ballston Exchange site grows with the addition of an adjacent performance venue and beer hall called Filling Station.
D.C. restaurateurs Ian and Eric Hilton strive to fill a live music void in the outer area of Arlington with the small new venue (4201 Wilson Boulevard).
“It’s a little out-of-the way spot, so we had to create our own party,” Ian Hilton tells Eater.
Look for a rotating schedule of musicians, bands, and comedians — and no cover charges. Leesburg, Virginia’s folk band Cowpoke christens the space on Friday, August 11. On Saturday, August 12, Arlington’s funk-rock band Skip House takes the stage.
Filling Station’s menu comes straight from El Rey’s kitchen. There’s quesadillas, nachos, torta sandwiches, fries, tots, and wings, plus a bar with 17 rotating beers on tap, draft cocktails, and concert-friendly rail liquors. A Sunday brunch is coming soon.
It was “part of the plan all along” to bring a two-part taqueria and music venue to Ballston, says Hilton. “It’s a long time coming.” County permitting delayed the other half’s arrival a bit, he explains. El Rey and Filling Station share the same bathrooms, kitchen, patio, and liquor license.
“You can kind go from one venue to the other without knowing it,” says Hilton.
Filling Station opens at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to start, with the expansion of Wednesday to Sunday hours starting in September. Large-screen and mounted TVs plan to air NFL football games and sports come fall.
The D.C.-centric hospitality group also behind American Ice Company, Crimson, Players Club, and Chez Billy Sud first broke into the Northern Virginia market in 2020 with the opening of French-themed Cafe Colline.
El Rey will add a third area location back inside city limits this year. The taco-and-tequila bar is currently tracking a winter opening in Navy Yard, he says. Hilton is also a partner at nearby tap room Solace.
The Hiltons’ neighboring Southwest portfolio will grow in 2024 with a new bar for Buzzard Point. The in-the-works venture “with a rec room feel” is headed to the foot of the Verge, a high-rise luxury apartment tower that opened last fall.
“We’re asking the building what their kind of hangout space would be. The kind of fun and goofy stuff ends up doing the best. If it sounds like fun, let’s do it,” he says.
Whereas Navy Yard’s booming residential clientele is there, the nightlife scene surrounding Audi Field has been slower to pop.
“Buzzard Point is going to take a minute,” he says. “We need to time it appropriately.”