Waterfront Cafe Opens

Posted May 2, 2003 at 4:27pm

Spring’s long-dormant bulbs are now budding flowers, and the National Capitol Revitalization Corp. is hoping the Southwest waterfront will blossom again too.

The new Cantina Marina restaurant, which opens today, features New Orleans Creole and Texas coastal fare. Located at the gangplank Marina at 600 Water St. SW, Cantina Marina will be the first in a series of new businesses to open its doors as part of the redevelopment and revitalization efforts of the NCRC.

The NCRC granted a business development loan of $25,000 to the partner owners of Cantina Marina to purchase kitchen equipment and furnishings.

“This institution is a major part of the Southwest rebirth,” NCRC President Theodore Carter said. “We look forward to seeing the bustling signs of community members and tourists frequenting the Cantina Marina.”

The owners — Nicholas Fontana, Bruce Gates and Henry Gandy — are also hopeful their new endeavor will draw the masses to the underutilized site. All three men are involved with other successful restaurant ventures in the city: Fontana with Capital Q, a Chinatown BBQ restaurant, and Gates and Gandy are partners in the The Caucus Room at Ninth and D streets Northwest.

Fontana, who will run the daily operations of the restaurant, said that while opening a restaurant is always a gamble, he feels “the waterfront is going to be the new hot spot.”

While it’s close to the Hill and right by the Waterfront Metro stop, he said Cantina Marina is a “get away from D.C. kind of place.”

Fontana said the restaurant physically has a “Mexican resort” feel, complete with palm trees and a large bar on the veranda. Most of the seating for the restaurant is patio seating, both undercover and in the sun, and a raised deck is in the works. There is seating for between 75 and 100 outside, while inside there is seating for 30-40. For private events, such as fundraisers, upwards of 300 can be accommodated.

Fontana and his partners hope the prime location of the restaurant, which sits on top of the water on a pier, will attract boaters — both those who want to sit and dine and those who want to grab food and go. The restaurant will offer takeout packages for boaters wanting to pick up ready-to-go meals.

“As boaters we recognized that the Southwest waterfront was grossly underutilized compared to other cities,” Gates said. “There is a woeful lack of exciting stuff on the waterfront.”

With a shock of bright blue and yellow paint, the musical stylings of Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett heard from the patio speakers and plenty of margaritas, Cantina Marina hopes to change how people feel about the waterfront.

“When I first came to Washington 20 years ago the waterfront was a Hill hangout, and we’d like to see a return to that,” Gates said.

The music and libations will help its cause, as will the views of the river, monuments and Old Town Alexandria, but a restaurant is nothing without good food.

The menu will offer a quirky mix of Gulf Coast/Cajun flair with traditional New Orleans dishes in addition to some Tex-Mex cuisine. Look for everything from gumbo and barbecue shrimp and crabs to fish tacos and chicken fried steak to grace the menu. Fresh fish of the day will also be offered.

“This style plays to the strength of Nick and his team,” Gates said. “They have extensive experience with these type of menus.”

Fontana will be joined in the kitchen by former Café Atlantico chefs Christie Velie and Tom Przystawik.

The formal opening to the public is today, but additional grand opening celebrations are to come later this month.