With The Point, Gregory Casten is banking on both consistency and change.
From the outdoor patio of The Point (2100 Second St. SW), Casten’s new restaurant, diners have a gorgeous view of boats sailing down the Anacostia River at James Creek Marina, near where the Anacostia meets the Potomac. Casten says he expects that view to remain pristine, framed as it is by Fort McNair to the east and the Anacostia Park across the river.
“You’ve got this beautiful view at the confluence of the two rivers –there’s really nothing else like it in the District,” Casten mused, looking out from the bar.
But behind the converted former headquarters of the U.S. Coast Guard, where The Point now occupies the main floor, Casten expects everything to change. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if there’s 25 acres of untouched property in the District, it is not going to stay that way for long,” Casten observed.
Right now, it might look like The Point is a giant white elephant dropped in the middle of nowhere. The $7 million, 400-seat seafood restaurant from the co-founder of eateries such as Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place (3000 K St. NW) and Ivy City Smokehouse (1356 Okie St. NE) is set at the furthest possible end of the Buzzard Point peninsula. Sitting on the main floor of the Riverpoint Apartments, the brand-new restaurant is framed by empty lots and Audi Field looming directly to the north.
It might look like a huge risk to the untrained observer. But to Casten, who has signed a 30-year lease, The Point is a harbinger –a destination in a neighborhood that he says will shortly become the District’s playground of choice.
Back to the Water
In conversation, Casten keeps coming back to themes of the water. In doing so, he is returning home. He was born into modest beginnings in Hull, Massachusetts, a tiny fishing town also on a peninsula–this one at the northern end of Boston Harbor.
With money tight at home, Casten started working in his early teens at Paragon Park, an amusement park in Hull. When he was 19, Casten came to the District to help his uncle Tony Cibel out at his restaurant, the legendary Dancing Crab. “He had me planning these boat parties for Marion Barry,” Casten recollected. “I couldn’t go to them –but they were fun.”
With his uncle and partner and friend Ron Goodman, the latter of whom Casten would join to form the Fish and Fire Food Group in 2019, Casten went on to open Tony and Joe’s in 1987. That restaurant is also along a river –this one the Potomac, in Georgetown. He founded the company Profish shortly afterward to ensure a steady supply of fresh seafood.
Ivy City Smokehouse opened in 2015 in Ivy City, where it was also one of the first major businesses in a neighborhood on the cusp of change.
Change is Coming
Similar change is coming, and coming fast, to the area around The Point. When Western Development Corporation (WDC) founder Herb Miller acquired the building that housed the US Coast Guard headquarters in 2016, he had a vision for the future of the area. “He always saw this being the next, new neighborhood and us being one of the first new developers down there,” said WDC Vice President Paige Grzelak. “It is really quite remarkable to see what’s going on down there; it really is basically what Herb kind of envisioned.”
Miller and WDC are also the developers behind Gallery Place and Georgetown’s Washington Harbor, where Tony and Joe’s is located. So, when he was looking for retail, Miller went to Casten, who was the first to sign a lease, inking the contract while Riverpoint was still in the demolition stage.
For him to come in, and so early, was one of the best things that happened for the project, Grzelak said. “He’s big in the city,” she said. “It gets people saying, “Hey, if he sees something down there, I don’t want to miss out on that opportunity.”
Michael Stevens agrees. Stevens is the President of the Capitol Riverfront BID, the organization that supports the development of the neighborhood, consisting of 500 acres between the I-395 and the Anacostia River. Stevens said that, as the first restaurant in Buzzard Point, The Point offers proof of concept, showing that people want to dine in the area.
“It reinforces that this is a real neighborhood with new housing and residents, Audi Field, and the charter school at Watermark – he is the first in as a restaurant and more will follow,” Steven said.
Simultaneous with WDC work on Riverpoint, Douglas Jemal’s Capitol City Development built nearby luxury condominium Peninsula 88 (88 V St. SW) and the Watermark apartments (1900 Half St. SW) at about the same time. To the east of Audi field, developer PN Hoffman is planning to build two connected towers housing retail, office space and senior and market-rate housing.
These projects and Riverpoint will be dwarfed by the huge project planned south of the soccer stadium. More than 2 million square feet of property on the 100 block of V Street SW is slated for development by Akridge Investment. Construction of the first phase is slated to start in 2022, and the finished project will include more than 2,000 residential units as well as retail, hotels, office space and a 15,000 square-foot park connected to the Anacostia Riverwalk.
So, there soon will be more than enough people in the area to fill The Point’s 400 seats.
A Place to Get Away
The sense of isolation is something that Casten loves about The Point, however, and loves that the view is expected to remain relatively unchanged. “This is a place to come, relax, get a good meal and have a good time,” Casten said. “People are always telling us, “it doesn’t even feel like I’m in the city.”
The Point’s General Manager, Matthew Stickney, said that the staff wants to provide a relaxing experience. The Point balances a casual atmosphere with fine dining, he said. “In a time when everyone is going small and going remote, The Point is big and feels inclusive. It feels like it fits for everyone,” he said. “It’s not like an experience you would have at a normal city restaurant.”
Casten values simple, fresh ingredients. The menu created by Executive Chef Benjamin Lambert places simple fare next to the dynamic, with hush puppies on the list with mahi mahi tostadas and wood roasted Chesapeake oysters. You can grab a designer cocktail such as the Blackberry Bourbon Basil Smash or The Point Punch. Or you can keep it simple with a White Claw or Miller Lite.
Casten wants it to be easy. He wants The Point to be an experience. And he isn’t done yet with his vision for the restaurant; he has plans in the works to build a pier out into the river, where he wants to have an 80-seat summer garden for dining right over the water.
Ten years from now, he said, he thinks Buzzard Point will be the place where the people who really live in DC come to be near the river, leaving The Wharf for the visitors.
By then, he visualizes boats pulling up to public piers, tying up in front of storefronts and restaurants dotted along the river. He visualizes Buzzard Point as a bustling neighborhood as much like a little fishing village as it is a part of the nation’s capital.
For Casten, everything comes back to the water.