Society Fair: Eataly On a Smaller Scale

by Rebecca Cooper

Inside Society Fair.

The last time Mario Batali talked about the potential DC location of Eataly, his Italian food and dining emporium, he told the Washington Post that he wasn’t going to tone it down or make it any smaller than the 40,000-square foot New York flagship. Fair enough — far be it from UrbanTurf to argue that the enormity of Eataly isn’t a huge part of its allure.

But as the DC area waits for Batali and co. to find an appropriately sized location, we wondered what the market slash eatery would look like on a smaller scale. For an answer, look no further than Society Fair, the gourmet market and wine bar that opened last weekend in Alexandria. Owners Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong, the team behind Restaurant Eve, Eamonn’s, and Virtue Feed & Grain, acknowledged that the idea was modeled after Eataly, but there are several key differences and not all of them are related to scale.

For example, Society Fair stocks mostly items from the United States, whereas Eataly stocks nearly 100 kinds of Italian olive oil. With its handful of seats at the front and back of the market, Society Fair’s setup is much more conducive to grab-and-go during the day, whereas Eataly has more than 400 seats, encouraging people to linger and wander on to the next attraction. (As a result, Eataly employs more than 500 people; Society Fair, just over 50.)

Jar of Todd Thrasher-crafted simple syrup runs you $4.

Society Fair makes industrious use of its 7,000-square foot space on Washington Street in Old Town, however. The wine bar takes up half of the front of the house, while the other half is a wonder of design, managing to feel spacious even as it’s packed with a butcher/deli counter, a cheesemonger, a bakery counter, an above ground wine storage area, a barista station, and the aforementioned handful of seats.

Surrounding it all are shelves of gourmet ingredients and prepared foods capitalizing on the popularity of the owners’ other establishments. Need some dirty martini mix that is PX mixologist Todd Thrasher-approved, or a bottle of the dressing you’ve tasted on your salad at Restaurant Eve? It’s right there. So are the breads and pastries — including the coconut cake — from the EatGoodFood group’s various other outposts, as well as a wider range of butchery and bakery items.

The design of Society Fair — whose name combines an influence of the Royal Dublin Society cultural group and the idea of a fair for food lovers, says Meshelle Armstrong — is more fanciful than that of Eataly, with purple tones, fair-inspired signs and elaborate chandeliers.

Judging by the difficulty getting one of the seats in the market during lunch last Saturday, Society Fair is working for the Armstrongs, and Alexandria. If you don’t have it in you to head down to just to sample seven different kinds of sea salt, however, fear not…the owners told Huffington Post last month that they envision opening similar concepts in other locations around DC. The only question is will they open other locations before Eataly makes its long-anticipated arrival?

See other articles related to: society fair, old town, eataly, alexandria

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/society_fair_eataly_on_a_smaller_scale/5039


  1. MP said at 4:14 pm on Wednesday February 1, 2012:

    $4 for simple syrup?  People do realize that it’s just equal parts sugar and water right?  1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, heat the water (stove or microwave), mix in sugar and done!

  1. C.A. said at 5:16 pm on Wednesday February 1, 2012:

    The design of the store is abolsutely beautiful. However, the amount and variety of items available is very small, too tiny to compete with Whole Foods or Cheesetique in nearby Del Ray or Cork on 14th Street. Also, the staff was not as knowledgeable or passionate about cheese like Cheesetique. In other words, it cannot definetely be compared to Eataly.

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