Review Of Nationals Park in Washington DC
On approach, from the outside, Nationals Park looks like a large, round office building. There is a real feel of the old 70’s multipurpose stadiums like Veterans’, Three Rivers’ and Riverfront Stadiums. But once inside, it is clear that this is every bit the modern stadium, complete with great food, drinks and activities. Oh, yeah, they play baseball here, too. The best way to describe it would be to imagine that Three Rivers and Camden Yards got together and had an ugly baby with a great personality and disposition. It never cries, is always happy and laughing, but, man, is it hard to look at.
Here is the FANFARE rating for NATIONALS PARK:
Food & Beverage: 5 (out of 5)
Here is where Nationals Park truly shines. Between all of its vendors and bars (yes, bars, we’ll get to that in a moment) it boasts dozens of different kinds of beers on tap, everything from Budweiser to Peroni, Coors Light to Stella Artois. There are micro brews that even the most discerning beer lover will enjoy. They all cost $7.50, which is great for a ballpark Stella, not so much for a ballpark Bud.
The variety of food is impressive. It ranges from great local legends such as Five Guys (best burger you’ll ever have outside of a sit down restaurant, and better than most of those as well, fries are as addictive as heroin), Ben’s Chili Bowl, home of the legendary half-smoke sausage (think about the best kielbasa you ever had, only a hundred times better), and the Hard Times Café. They also have a couple of stands called “Taste of the Majors,” which, as the name implies, carry foods from the other four cities of the NL East. They include a Philly Cheesesteak, a Florida Cuban Sandwich, an Atlanta BBQ pork sandwich and a NY meatball sub. There are even several vegetarian and kosher options available. Truly, an impressive display, and all are reasonably priced. For a ballpark.
This is not a bad place to watch a game. Sightlines are great. One complaint is that if you are sitting in the lower level bleachers from center to left, you cannot see the main scoreboard at all, and the mini scoreboards on the sides that you can see are replaced by advertising at key situations sometimes. Hey, I get it; Papa John’s makes great pizza, what’s the count? But hey, it’s clean, has great food and drink, and still has that fun, new stadium feel. I would go back.
There is a tent covered bar called The Bullpen outside the park, but, really, there is nothing to do here. Nothing. Unless you are fascinated by the DC water and sewer headquarters or that of the U. S. Department of Transportation. I walked four blocks before I even saw a Starbucks.
Part of the problem is that the neighborhood is largely still under construction. The stadium is supposed to be the centerpiece of the revitalized DC waterfront. But the cool DC waterfront is in Georgetown, on the other side of town. But there’s a lot to do in the stadium!
The announced attendance on the day I went was 23,691. No chance there were over 10,000 people in there. There were several – several – whole sections empty. It was a pretty good game, too, the Nats came back to win after being down six, and it was almost like the crowd had to be told to cheer. When it is the top of the ninth, and there are two strikes, the scoreboard operator should not have to tell the crowd to stand up and applaud – or any time there are two strikes, really. The only reason they get one point here instead of zero is because I spoke to two knowledgeable fans and saw a third doing scorekeeping. So they are there, there are just not enough of them yet.
Parking is brutal. Brutal. Take public transit. The access from public transit is great. Parking ranges in price from $10 to $40. The $40 and $35 parking are on-site and very limited and are recommended to be pre purchased to guarantee a spot. The $20 and $15 parking is limited as well, and you are walking six to eight blocks to get there, in SE DC, an improving, but, let’s be honest, notoriously sketchy neighborhood. Look, it’s not Boston’s Combat Zone, or south central LA or anything, but, trust me, just take public transit. If you are coming from out of town, find a metro station here (www.wmata.com), in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs, and park there. Metro has plenty of parking, they cater to tourists, and the fare will be much cheaper than parking anyway.
Bathrooms are clean and plentiful. There are even family bathrooms for Dad to take his little girl or Mom to take the little guy. The great job on bathrooms here saves this from being a zero.
Return on Investment: 3
If you happen to be in DC and want to see a ballgame and eat well while doing it, Nationals Park is your place. This is not a park worth traveling to DC specifically; there are plenty of better things to do in this town. But for watching a game? Good place.
Extra Points: 3
If you do come for a game, be sure to check out the Red Porch Restaurant. With a two level, full, upscale bar in right center field, it is THE spot to watch the game. The menu is small, and slightly overpriced (but not quite ballpark overpriced), but with surprisingly good variety. It opens two and an half hours before game time, so you can do dinner, and then watch the game in the upstairs bar.
Another extra point feature is that you can buy “tickets” and have them sent to your mobile phone. When this option is selected, a text message is sent to your phone (separate texts are sent for each ticket), which is then scanned at the entrance. A receipt is printed as a stub to get to your seat, but since you will be following this guide, you won’t need it because you will have purchased the cheapest ticket available and be hanging out at the bar in right center.
FANFARE Total: 17 out of 35
Overall, this is a decent place to go if you like the Nats or your team is visiting. There is no history, it is not nice to look at and there is nothing to do outside the park. Inside it’s great. There are plenty of food and beverage options to please everyone, and lots of stuff for the kids, including video games and a Build-A-Bear workshop. If you like to sit in the outfield, bring your internet ready mobile device so you can follow the stats, because you won’t always be able to see them.
For a detailed explanation of the FANFARE rating scale or to see this and other stadium reviews go to www.stadiumjourney.com.