Most people visiting DC want to stand in awe of monuments or hustle through its amazing museums. They’ll take the evening to explore Alexandria’s old streets or Georgetown’s shopping on M. They want to work their way through U Street for live music and bar hopping. But most will miss a small little gem of seafood history, right around the corner from the Jefferson!
Don’t worry, it took me a couple years to find it, even as a resident! But if you venture down Maine Avenue to the District Wharf, you’ll get caught in the aromas of fresh fish, steamed shrimp and Old Bay. You’ll know when your close. As the boardwalk begins, glance to the right and welcome yourself to the oldest surviving open-air seafood market in the USA (1805!).
Seafood vendors line up in a U shape on floating barges (like old buy boats) full of deli style seafood offerings on ice. Thousands of oysters are piled in nearly every which way, at less than half the price you’ll pay in a restaurant. Capable women and men are there to pack them up for home shucks or slice them open right there for you. Maryland blue crabs lay in heaps surrounded by clumps of Old Bay spice, and the fish lay wide eyed and chilled for your choosing.
To even see it and marvel at the energy is enough. Soon enough the whole area will be redeveloped. At first I was a bit apprehensive given it’s historical charm, but the updates sound pretty freaking cool:
“The reimagined Municipal Fish Market includes the restoration of the historic oyster shed, a new operations building, a new fish-cleaning building, a new distillery, as well as a new market hall and retail additions that include a market shed and two small market pavilions. To reduce congestion, we are also adding new below-grade parking and a Maine Avenue signaled intersection that will improve vehicular access into the site. Finally, we will be adding a new Market Plaza, Market Pier, and Market Square that will enhance the public enjoyment of this one-of-a-kind experience on the waterfront.”
So next time you’re in town, grab some Chincoteaque Salts on the half, slurp them down, and pop over to the Wharf for a cold Margarita at Cantina Bambina like a true local.