Sandlot Southeast, a huge outdoor culture and entertainment space and food/drink garden showcasing Black-owned businesses, will open a second DC location in Georgetown on May 6. Sandlot Georgetown takes over the site of a demolished gas station, and will offer 240 outdoor seats, weekly live entertainment—recently permitted by DC’s revised Covid regulations—and a rotating cast of food and drink vendors.
Co-founder Ian Callender, a DC native and owner of event design firm Suite Nation, has been a game-changing force in Washington’s art and entertainment scene. He is on a mission to transform vacant or underutilized spaces, like the Georgetown gas station lot, into vibrant gathering places that tap into a diverse set of cultural resources. Nearly a decade ago, Callender was behind the transformation of Friendship Baptist Church in Southwest DC. The historic property, which sat vacant for over 20 years, was reinvented as Blind Whino (now Culture House DC), a gallery and event space.
In 2018, Callender and business partner Kevin Hallums of creative events agency Rock Creek Social Club launched the first Sandlot in Southwest DC, which was later relocated to Navy Yard in order to make way for development at Buzzard Point. That current iteration, called Sandlot Southeast, was designed with versatility and mobility in mind. Food and drink vendors set up shop in portable shipping containers, a mobile art gallery hosts exhibits, and a rotating cast of Go-Go and other musicians perform. Callender, who’s also Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife & Culture, continues to partner with developers to activate empty lots before their projects begin (EastBanc plans to build on the Georgetown site). Future Sandlot locations are also in the works for Anacostia and Tysons.
“You have empty locations that can be turned into a gallery space or other use, even if it’s temporary. But that’s often a fear,” says Callender. “You have a space that can be beautified and enhance the neighborhood, but then you have real estate groups that don’t think in that capacity and it’s just a hard no. Others, they get it, they’re more willing to be creative.”
Programming is still in the works for Sandlot Georgetown. Callender says he’s hoping to book jazz musicians for the outdoor space and DJs on weekends, though he’s emphatic that they’re working within the limits of the neighborhood’s noise ordinances. One definite: Callender will expand Sandlot Southeast’s commitment to showcasing Black-owned businesses. Earlier this year, Uber Eats launched a social impact program at the Navy Yard location that gave Black chefs and business owners free access to a commercial kitchen and a food truck at the site. Callender says they’re currently working with a pool of 60 Black chefs, restaurateurs, and caterers—narrowed down from a huge list of 370-plus applicants that stretched from New York to Richmond. Georgetown will also have a dedicated food truck for Black vendors, and will launch with DC-based Grub Rockstar Catering for opening weekend. A bar will pour beer, wine, and cold-pressed juice cocktails from Black producers, among others, and Callender says he’s sourcing dog treats for the pup-friendly space from a Black business in St. Louis.
In addition to the Uber-sponsored food truck, chef Spike Mendelsohn is popping up with his health-minded fast food concept, Plnt Burger, for the month of July (it’ll be the first location for the burgeoning chain outside a Whole Foods). Sandlot-goers will be able to book reservations on Tock—all parties of up to 10 must be seated, per the Mayor’s order, though Callender says he imagines the seated format will remain for the long haul. As for what else Sandlot is bringing to Georgetown? That’s up to the neighborhood.
“You try and fit into the neighborhood and see what’s needed. I hear people say that Georgetown isn’t what it used to be as other neighborhoods have come online, but I definitely feel like Georgetown will always have its unique character,” says Callender. “That’s what makes Sandlot unique—we’re creating something new and refreshing. It’s a different way of delivering entertainment and culture.”
Sandlot Georgetown. 2715 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest.