Things to Do at Eastern Market When You’re Dead (Broke)
For better and for worse, the Eastern Market area is not what it once was: new businesses catering to higher-end customers are popping up like dandelions after a spring storm. We now have many more restaurants, but they are much more expensive. Our bartenders are suddenly less grizzled and have trendier tattoos; some of them may not even identify as bartenders, instead opting for the dreadful M word. Yes, there are also more luxury apartments and condos, and no, you cannot afford them.
In short, the birds of capital — some predatory hawks, some majestic macaws, some sweet-singing swallows — have flocked to Capitol Hill to roost (Yes, this bird metaphor was intended to trigger Jonathan Franzen). That is all fine and good if you are a cabinet secretary, have a trust fund, or have found your niche in a well-paying sector of the military industrial complex. But that isn’t you, is it reader? No, indeed. Unfortunately, as the Bard said, “famine is in thy cheeks, need and oppression starveth in thine eyes, contempt and beggary hang upon thy back.”
For the rest of us who are still slowly whittling away at our grad school debt and living with roommates even at age 30 plus, it can feel like the neighborhood is becoming a theme park for the rich. We will eventually eat them, perhaps, but in the meantime, we have a few solutions to tie you over.
Can good times still be got if you’re a nearly broke baller with a bantam weight budget? We say yes. That is because the neighborhood still has wonderful cheap, and sometimes even free, options.
Let us start with breakfast. Jimmy T’s, a greasy spoon joint on the corner of Fifth and East Capitol has plenty of plates for under $7. Another great move is to hit up The Market Lunch (which also has breakfast) inside Eastern Market. You can get a short stack of their famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes (if you don’t know, you would be well-advised to ask somebody) for $6.25. Another solid choice is Bullfrog Bagels. Their egg and cheese bagelwich is $5.50.
What about snacks, you ask. Good question. Let’s say you have been living off instant ramen for the past month and you are concerned that the pale yellow pallor in your cheeks could be a sign of scurvy. Lucky for you, fruit vendors hand out free samples on the weekends. “Oh, let me see if I like this exotic-looking Honeycrisp apple you’re selling,” you will say with feigned curiosity as you pluck from paper plate and pop into your pie hole. Scurvy staved off for another week.
A wise woman might also hit up the bakery at the southern end of the market, where you can find loads of cookies and sweets for just a dollar or two. If you are in really dire straits, you could even ask for a few samples at the cheese stand and pretend that you’re going to buy something and then bail after wolfing down a bit of brie and pecorino, but that maneuver should only be undertaken in cases of extreme poverty and hunger in which case, as Bertolt Brecht said, “first the food, then the morals.”
For lunch, you can grab a sandwich at Canales Deli in the market, or head to Tortilla Café. Both places are easy to do for under six or seven bucks, and it is perfectly appropriate to sneer at the people eating their $30 entrees at Acqua al 2 as you pass them on your way to get your $6 empanada platter.
Come evening, many of you will be in need of strong drink. This is where I have some really good news for you. We host events at Capitol Hill Books with free alcohol on the regular. On the second Saturday of every month, we offer free wine and cheese from 4 pm to 7 pm. Also once a month, we have two kegs of free, locally-brewed beer. And while you’re still likely reeling from that revelation, let us hit you with this — we have thousands upon thousands of very reasonably priced books. You can grab a mass market paperback for under $5 and guess what, your weekend entertainment has been taken care of. You’re welcome.
Dinner is when things get tricky. If it’s Monday, you can head to Mr. Henry’s for half-priced burgers. If not, your only real options are to grab frozen chicken tikka at the new Trader Joe’s for around $3.50, or try your luck at the Sizzling Express buffet. These are, admittedly, not the most elegant of options, but you are poor, and your pride must shrivel and die.
So there you have it, readers. All is not yet lost. You can still venture out of your cold, dark, basement studio apartment with whatever spare change you have left after paying the rent and make a go of it at Eastern Market.