Local bars worth your patronage
By Susan Anspach and Robert Fulton with Sarah Jones and the cast of ‘The Kane Show’ / Photography by Jonathan Timmes
Evening Star Cafe
2000 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-549-5051; www.eveningstarcafe.net
The Evening Star Cafe is the go-to place in the hip, yet family-friendly neighborhood of Del Ray. The main cafe offers everything from mussels to duck—two ways. The Majestic Lounge, behind the cafe, is a great place to relax and enjoy a drink (the selections are superb). And upstairs the No. 9 Lounge hosts frequent live music. All sections offer a low-lit, friendly, chill atmosphere. A perfect place to take a load off. $$
Specialties: Live music, wine
Attire: Laidback, going-out attire, or your hippest
Tip: Next door sits Planet Wine, offering more than 1,000 bottles of wine. Yes, that is vino, vino good. www.planetwineshop.com
The Light Horse
715 King St.; 703-549-0533; www.thelighthorserestaurant.com
The Light Horse offers an interesting dichotomy: a young-adult, high-energy atmosphere dominates upstairs and a peaceful dining room with fine food sits downstairs. The owner’s support of live, local music, particularly on Saturday nights, and the restaurant’s excellent beer and wine lists (each numbering in the dozens) are to be commended. Same goes for the fact they’ll add a fried egg to your cheeseburger. $$
Specialties: Live music, wine, beer, food
Attire: Upstairs, come as you are; downstairs, nice dinner attire
Tip: If solo, walk through the main dining room to the small bar in the back. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a drink, chat with the bartender and eat your burger with a fried egg.
728 King St.; 703-299-8385; restauranteve.com/eamonns/PX
If you don’t mind jumping through hoops and paying a premium for a drink, head to PX, a true cocktail lounge with delicious drink concoctions. Those and the ambiance make it worth the trouble. A blue light marks the location: If the light is on, feel free to knock, and maybe you’ll get seated. However, it is highly recommended to make a reservation, particularly for a weekend visit. $$$
Specialties: Fine cocktails, fresh ingredients
Attire: Sophisticated night-out attire
Tip: The people behind PX also have their hands in Eamonn’s, The Majestic and Restaurant Eve, all worth a look.
112 King St.; 703-739-1124; www.danieloconnells.com
In a region that is inundated with Irish bars that come with all the character of Italian chain restaurants, O’Connell’s is the exception. Maybe it’s because of the old carved wooden bar brought over from Ireland paired with the quaint feel of Old Town that gets the ambiance just right. The bar is comfortable, and dinner entrees run from $17 for a risotto to $32 for a tenderloin. Enjoy trivia on Wednesday, and happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m. $$
Specialties: Beef tenderloin, $10 quick lunch
Attire: Dress it up a bit
Tip: This isn’t a low-level watering hole where you stumble in for a pop.
Ramparts Tavern & Grill
1700 Fern St.; 703-998-6616; www.rampartstavern.com
What’s in a handshake? A whole lot.
When you saddle up to a bar, take off your coat and sit down, there’s nothing better than the bartender looking at you square in the eye, extending his arm to shake your hand and introducing himself.
Ramparts is that kind of place—friendly and comfortable—with a beer list hovering around 100 and a wine list at more than 50 bottles.
It’s not a sports bar, but the 16 screens keep patrons abreast of any athletic or news action.
Tavern food (steak, etc.) and nightly specials (wings, half-price wine bottles, etc.) make this a casual must. $$
Specialties: 100 beers, nightly food deals
Tip: When you walk through the door, there’s a small lobster tank. Yes, they have lobster.
Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastro Pub
2800 S. Randolph St.; 703-379-0122; www.samuelbecketts.com
The crowds have calmed a bit since January, when Samuel Beckett’s opened to the Shirlington community with equal parts fanfare and impatience (the gastro pub had earlier predicted an October 2010 opening date).But they have not dwindled.
Arlingtonians flock to Irish settler Mark Kirwan’s (he of Daniel O’Connell’s fame) latest creation like bees to honey-hued whiskey. It’s hard to miss the caboose-red exterior and cornerstone location; inside, warm walls scrawled with gold script wrap around 5,500 square feet, three full bars and two fireplaces.
Come spring, the throngs can spill out onto the outdoor patio—to enjoy their pints paired with some breathing room. $$
Specialties: Irish food that thinks outside the boxty; climate control (fireplaces in the winter and outdoor patio in the summer)
Attire: Smart casual
Tip: An establishment worth following on Facebook, Beckett’s established an active presence online long before opening its doors. Become a fan for updates on events and menu changes.
AT IOTA, NIGHT OWLS
Meet Early Birds
In late 2010, Clarendon’s Iota Club and Café turned the little hand back—way back. And now that spring has sprung, so has access to the new patio, completing the transformation—known as “Iotaday”—for the spot previously devoted exclusively to nightlife.
Back in December, the establishment began offering coffee drinks starting at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends. An extensive sandwich menu (includes plenty of items sans meat) was made available between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Weekends feature brunch with Bloody Mary bar from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free Wi-Fi and additional indoor seating lure the diurnal to the club/restaurant on rainy days, too.
Arlington Rooftop Bar and Grill
2424 Wilson Blvd.; 703-528-3030; www.arlingtonrooftopbarandgrill.com
At press time, the latest place to grab a drink in Clarendon was “still kind of a hidden gem,” according to manager John Cosgrove. Not for long.
If experience has taught Arlington anything, it’s that rooftops draw a crowd. As soon as the mercury levels climb high enough, the floodgates will open for the 7,000-square-foot bar that arrived last December under native Arlingtonian ownership.
The synchronized blink of 35 flat-screen TVs can be seen from bustling Wilson Boulevard below (the warm brown-and-muted orange barroom is reached by climbing a one-story stairwell). Three draft stations irrigate the 40-foot bar, where brews cost between $5 and $6.
Cosgrove says it’s too soon to classify his customer base.
“We had a guy buy a bottle of Dom Perignon in flip-flops,” he says. “We want to please as many people as possible.” $$
Specialty: With a view spanning from Ballston to Georgetown, the establishment’s rooftop—boasting a full bar, full menu and seating for 50—is scheduled to open April 1.
Attire: As fancy as you wish
Tip: A handwritten Sunday brunch menu is subject to change and reflects customer requests.
Wilson’s on Whitlow’s, the new rooftop bar perched atop Whitlow’s bar on Wilson Boulevard, is anticipating its first heavy foot traffic, now that its first spring/summer seasons are upon it.
After a string of county permitting delays in 2010, the rooftop finally opened in March to feature gleaming hardwood, a thatched-roof drink station, tiki theme and capacity for 285 people.
Jay’s Saloon & Grille
3114 N. 10th St.; 703-527-3093; www.jayssaloon.com
At Jay’s, a scruffy bartender is quick with a smile, as well as your order—so long as you stick to the basics.
“No Cosmos allowed,” says owner Kathi Moore. “We don’t have a blender.” (Fair enough. Pink wouldn’t match the decor, anyhow.)
The saloon features a grungy accumulation of flare; including bobble heads, Christmas lights and a wall plastered with license plates donated by customers.
Clientele are a similarly motley crew, ranging from 20-somethings on weekends to denim-clad construction workers gathered for after-work discounts.
In general, however, everyone keeps it casual. “When people walk in in a suit and tie, it’s either for a funeral, a wedding, or they’re going to court,” says Moore. $
Specialty: Friday nights feature an oldies deejay who still uses cassettes. “The 20-somethings are fascinated by it,” says owner Kathi Moore.
Attire: Smart casual
Tip: The establishment’s warm-weather patio is pooch-friendly.
Jay’s Saloon is the last of a dying breed.
“We’re one of the last dive bars in Arlington,” says owner Kathi Moore, who counts Whitey’s (served its last customer in 2003) and Royal Lee (shut its doors in 2008) as fallen brethren.
Jay’s building, too, is on the market. According to Moore, the establishment expects to close at the end of 2011.
The bar opened in 1993 and has since become a truly local fixture—its cheap beer, friendly staff and chintzy furnishings attracting blue-collar workers and young professionals alike.
Get it while the getting’s good. “We won’t be here much longer,” she adds.
2711 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-8646; www.galaxyhut.com
Long before the peak of the hipster movement, Galaxy Hut established itself as the indie-light alternative to Clarendon’s nightlife of sports-junkie establishments and bass-throbbing dance floors.
A no-gimmick recipe for success—no liquor, no television and no opening earlier than 5 p.m.—has kept a steady flow of 20- and 30-somethings happy ever since. (Somehow, they manage to make do with the 20 taps, Pac-Man/pinball machines that double as tables, as well as the micro-bar patio out back.) $
Specialties: Offbeat craft and import beers (bottles and 20 taps); original live music on Sundays and Mondays (with the occasional $5 cover charge)
Tip: Vegetarians delight; most meat items share menu space with a veggie alternative (seitan cheesesteaks, black-bean patties and “hummiches,” to name a few).
Tortoise & Hare Bar and Grille
67 S. 23rd St.; 703-979-1872; www.tortoiseandharebar.com
The anchor in Crystal City’s tiny light-festooned block of local businesses, Tortoise & Hare is the last establishment you reach before crossing into the residential zone.
With walking distance on its side, the bar doesn’t need to rely on gimmicks. Locals know the drill: Have a stool. Have a beer. Bend an ear. The owners bartend, and the staff turnover rate is low.
“If you come in and meet someone, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see them again soon,” says co-owner Erik Dahlseid. $$
Specialties: Free live music Thursdays through Saturdays; trivia on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.; Pennsylvania sports team loyalty
Attire: Come as you are
Tip: Tickets for Rock the Lot, the bar’s annual back-lot party, go on sale online in the beginning of May (prices increase closer to the day of the June event).
3181 Wilson Blvd.; 703-312-8888; www.spiderkellys.com
Located in a prime spot in Arlington—read across from the Clarendon Metro and at the intersection of Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards—Spider Kelly’s is a happening place, especially after their expansion last year.
With the liquids flowing from the island bar, the main pull is SK’s plethora of entertainment—pool, video games, shuffleboard, darts and more. Just get there early to avoid waiting in line. $$
Specialties: Games galore—think basketball, arcade games, pool and shuffle board (not just one but two)
Attire: Anything goes
Tip: Weekend nights the line gets long. Stop by a little earlier in the day, maybe grab some lunch, and get your hand stamped. Return later, and voila!
The Auld Shebeen
3971 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax; 703-293-9600; www.theauldshebeenva.com
While it can be quick to peg the pub as a Mason frat magnet, locals have staked out their territory at Auld Shebeen’s bar—and are holding their ground for the sake of their all too often flowing pints of Guinness.
The bar formerly known as Ned Devine’s features standard Irish-American pub kitsch (think: Gaelic epithets scrawled across the walls, a dull roar of Celtic instruments piping over the speakers, prominent corned beef-and-cabbage menu placement).
But that’s in addition to a crackling fire, dark-wood motif and long, cold draws of (reasonably priced) Harp and Boddingtons.
All to which the locals say, Sláinte. (A drinking toast for those of non-Irish decent.) $
Specialties: Half-price Irish food Monday evenings; pub quiz on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.; live Irish music in the upstairs restaurant Fridays and Saturdays.
Tip: A basement level doubles as a dance floor Thursdays and Saturdays, in addition to hosting live music on Fridays.
11213-A Lee Highway, Fairfax; 703-352-9193; www.epicurecafe.org
Blink and you’ll miss Epicure Café’s bookend location on a stretch of Lee Highway storefronts. In less than a year, though, the Iranian family-run establishment’s managed to assemble a cluster of regulars—almost exclusively night owls who appreciate the restaurant’s nod to local artistry.
Four nights out of the week, Epicure plays host to live original performers (Fridays and Saturdays) and open mic participants (Mondays and Thursdays). Further enticement to linger comes in the form of beers on tap, a student discount, free WiFi and plenty of time—the cafe doesn’t close until 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday, lending a bite-sized bit of late-night to the neighborhood’s nocturnal set. $
Specialties: Free live music Fridays and Saturdays featuring original artists; open mic nights on Mondays
Tip: All proceeds from the original paintings covering the interior walls go directly to the local artists who created them.
11104 Lee Highway, Fairfax; 703-352-7222
John’s Place is your grandfather’s idea of a no-frills dive bar—quite literally, if your family’s been around this neck of the woods for a while.
“I served the grandfather, I served the son, I serve the grandson,” says John Shokoor, bar owner since 1976.
The bar offers no liquor—“no headaches,” explains Shokoor—but does beer right: cold, cheap and seasonally available at the outdoor rooftop tiki bar.
Inside, the mishmash of decor—faux wood paneling, deer heads and one rather conspicuous wall of lingerie—hasn’t seen many updates in Shokoor’s time. The owner insists his clientele prefers it that way.
“Most people are old-timers,” he describes the bar’s main clientele. “People come every day, for one beer, or two beers, every year for 30 years.” $
Specialties: The bar’s three pool tables and 10 vintage pinball machines are the crowd magnets; John’s Place hosts Free State Pinball Association tournaments on Monday nights, drawing game enthusiasts from across the region.
Tip: Pinball fanatics aren’t the only JP loyalists. Since the bar remains one of few where Virginians can still smoke indoors, a lot of repeat visitors come with the intention of lighting up.
Church St. Cellars
111 Church St., Suite 103, Vienna; 703-255-0550; www.churchstreetcellars.com
Church St. Cellars, located just a few steps away from popular shops The Dandelion Patch and Valerianne in downtown Vienna, has lost a few chefs since first opening its doors in 2007, yet patronage doesn’t seem to flag.
Something—perhaps the wall-to-wall bottles on display at every turn—hints that comers and goers may not be in it just for the food.
Oenophiles choose their own adventures via the Enomatic wine dispenser that squirts out 1-, 3- and 5-ounce preferred pours on command, while a tapas-style menu does a good job at keeping any munchies at bay. $$
Specialty: An Enomatic wine dispenser grants tipplers access to 32 bottles and their choice of 1-, 3- and 5-ounce pours (individually available for purchase with a chip card that tracks your acquisitions).
Attire: Smart casual
Tip: Save when purchasing a case of 12 (shave five percent off all mixed-bottle selections and 10 percent off all solid cases); splurge when you drink in-house (each bottle bought off the wall can be had for a $10 corkage free).
2190 E. Pimmit Drive, Falls Church; 703-356-3822; www.markspub.com
What you see is what you get at Mark’s Pub, an unassuming watering hole surreptitiously tucked behind the Falls Church Whole Foods shopping center.
A rough-and-tumble patronage gathers for ‘Skins games and frosty cold pitchers on the dozen or so red leather stools lining the single bar, which runs the entire length of the come-as-you-are establishment.
The shoebox-sized dive boasts a full bar, but get your martini fix elsewhere—sorry, Cosmo clutchers. The denim-clad clientele chews the fat over beer, wine and simple pub food ordered off of a menu that doesn’t rotate (one gets the sense that the barflies don’t much, either). $
Specialties: Standard after-work discounts on drinks and American fare, occasional karaoke, allegiance to the burgundy and gold
Tip: Check the bar’s website or outdoor blackboard for the karaoke schedule; management hosts the Saturday song nights as it sees fit.
44110 Ashburn Village Shopping Plaza, Ashburn; 703-724-0755; www.theashburnpub.com
Walking into the small Ashburn Pub, one is greeted with an intimate old-school feeling. Filled with come-as-you-are locals, the bar highlights typical drink offerings and limited taps.
Expect plenty of screens, with some turned to trivia.
The menu features typical pub food, such as wings, sandwiches and burgers, and a steak at $15.
Happy hour on Friday runs from 3-7 p.m., ladies’ night comes Thursday, and there are poker nights, karaoke and live music. $
Specialties: Trivia, cheap food and drink
Tip: The trivia is a great touch, with Monday trivia night. Saturday brings a buy-one-steak-dinner-get-one-free deal.
7 N. King St., Leesburg; 703-669-3090
Yes, it’s a biker bar—or, more accurately from a sign inside, “Hog Heaven”—but that in no way means anyone should be intimidated from stopping in for a drink.
Character exudes from Leesburg’s Downtown Saloon. Bras hang from the ceiling, and an honest-to-goodness wooden Indian stands in the corner. Live music, a handful of high-definition flatscreens and cheap bar food round out the joint.
Biker clothing helps you fit in, but if you aren’t a biker, just dress how you usually do. Also, like the sign says, remember it’s “better here than across the street.” Across the street? The courthouse. $
Specialties: Pretentious-free friendliness, cold Yuengling
Attire: Biker-chic, or as you are
Tip: An old-school cigarette machine sells packs of smokes for $7.
Finnegan’s Irish Pub
44050 Ashburn Village Shopping Plaza, Ashburn; 703-723-5885; www.finnegansbar.com
Formerly Kirkpatrick’s, there are a number of reasons to frequent Finnegan’s. Start off with the lunch specials: $5 burgers and $8 sandwiches. Did we mention $5 burgers?
Nice clean L-shaped bar with a number of televisions, regular liquid fare (Loose Cannon out of Baltimore on tap is nice). Great place to catch a game with personal TVs in a number of booths.
Frequent live bands, DJs and poker make this a destination, but get the party started with weekday happy hour from 3-8 p.m. $
Specialties: Sandwiches, whiskey, sports viewing, poker
Tip: Wine Wednesday offers two entrees and a bottle of vino for $40.
538 E. Market St., Leesburg; 703-777-2454; www.spankyspub.net
Any place named “Shenanigans” holds promise.
As you face the entrance of this Leesburg pub, to the left sits the smoking side where you can light up. On the right lies the nonsmoking side. It works, and a recent lunch was not ruined by any whiff of an errant cigarette.
Sandwiches start at $7.25 for a BLT heavy on the B, and dinner entrees top out at $19.95 (crablegs), and don’t overlook breakfast. There are weekday food deals, and a small stage in the corner hosts live music. $
Specialties: Live music, breakfast
Tip: When asked if the iced tea you ordered be sweet or not, say sweet.
Westover Market’s “Great Wall of Beer” is the regional nonpareil for brew variety, making the mart’s attached outdoor beer garden a no-brainer for locals looking to kick back with a recently purchased six-pack to the tune of live music (Fridays and Saturdays) or open mic night (Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
That is, up until last August, when Arlington County came down on the garden with facility violations after noise complaints from neighbors.
To meet the demands of the board, Westover has since installed two handicapped bathrooms and an indoor restaurant that features a bar with seating for eight, a 10-draft line system and connectivity to the garden—which will reopen in April, according to general manager Devin Hicks.
45980 Waterview Plaza, Sterling; 571-434-6500; www.greatamericanrestaurants.com/sweetMainSter
If Sweetwater Tavern was in Washington, D.C. or Arlington, it would be heralded. Nevertheless, the Sterling establishment is a destination for beer lovers.
Huge bar in the middle of the room seats plenty. Food ranges from $10 for sandwiches to $29 for a 16-ounce prime rib. But you’re here for the warm reassurance of a good beer, you can’t go wrong with the Great American Restaurants Pale Ale, among others on tap, and all pints go for $4.75.
Sweetwater is brought to us by Great American Restaurants, the same folks behind Carlye and the excellent Artie’s, among others, but the corporate atmosphere can be overlooked. $$
Specialties: Beer, beer, beer
Attire: Smart, clean casual
Tip: Can’t decide on a brew? The friendly bartender can probably arrange for a small taste. Or, better yet, purchase a five-beer sampler for $8.
Clarke’s Grill & Sports Emporium
9103 Andrew Drive, Manassas Park; 703-330-1213; www.clarkesgrill.com
A handful of TVs accommodate this Manassas Park sports bar, which opened in 2009 in the former Clearwater Grill location. The 800-square-foot patio makes up for the limited indoor space. Expect basic bar and grill fare (burgers start at $9, pizza $7, sirloin steak $16) in a come-as-you-are neighborhood atmosphere.
A bartender vouched for the food on a recent visit, and the fried oysters supported her claims. Even the presentation on the plate went a step beyond what one expects from a sports bar. Nice touch. $
Specialties: Sports viewing, hot dog menu
Tip: Clarke’s offers more than sports, with live music, karaoke and a movie night. Check the website for details.
Lion & Bull
5351 Merchants View Square, Haymarket; 703-754-1166; www.lionandbull.com
Lion & Bull, the site of the former Kirkpatrick’s, resides in a Haymarket shopping center off Route 15. New ownership gutted the bar, making for a wide-open feel.
In the evening, L&B operates as an entertainment destination. The bar seats 15, and an additional dining room away from live entertainment makes for a quieter experience.
A sandwich or burger runs $8 to $10, and entrees range from $13 (half-rack of ribs) to $20 (crabcakes). L&B balances between a hangout for Haymarket locals and a Prince William County destination for entertainment and music lovers. $$
Specialties: Live music
Attire: Nice Casual
Tip: Every night there’s something: Monday poker; Tuesday open mic and karaoke; Wednesday trivia; and Thursday through Saturday welcomes live local and national music. Call ahead or visit the website for a schedule.
9413 Main St., Manassas; 703-393-1776; www.philadelphiatavern.com
Designed to look like an establishment not out of place in the City of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Tavern in downtown Manassas serves excellent cheesesteaks ($9) and delicious hoagies ($8-$11). Wallet-friendly specials include $2 Corona and seafood nights. And the first Friday of every month offers karaoke.
Super-friendly oldies play over the radio, echoing across the 12-seat bar, booths and tables. Come as you are, and make a new friend. Just ignore the Eagles swag in Redskins territory. $
Specialties: Cheesesteaks and hoagies
Attire: Come as you are
Tip: The bread for the sandwiches is trucked down from Philadelphia’s well-known Amoroso’s Baking Co.
Thursday’s Restaurant & Sports Bar
7901 Heritage Village Plaza, Gainesville; 571-261-1730; www.thethursdayssportsbar.com
This watering hole’s U-shaped center bar distinguishes the Gainesville establishment: Not a bad seat in the house, and the U-shaped aspect of Thursday’s bar lends a Feng Shui vibe of drinking and people-watching harmony.
The menu features reasonably priced bar and grill goods such as burgers and sandwiches ($7 for a BLT), steak and ribs ($22 for a full slab). Moved to Gainesville in 2007 from Fairfax, where it was known as Friday’s. $
Specialties: Saturday happy hour, NASCAR viewing
Tip: Bar has NASCAR specials on Sunday, drink specials from noon-6 p.m. on Saturday. Plus: Just a couple of miles from Jiffy Lube Live—good place to wait out the traffic.
City Tavern Grille
9405 Main St., Manassas; 703-330-0076; www.citytaverngrille.com
Since 1995, City Tavern Grille has given those in Old Town Manassas a place to enjoy a bite to eat and a place to unwind. The resturant and banquet room are separated from the bar (with games and 12 TVs throughout) and outdoor patio. And DJs are there every night spinning tunes.
Also happening weekly: Happy hour specials with half-priced appetizers Mondays through Fridays. Tuesdays call for poker, and Thursdays are for the ladies. $
Specialties: Half-priced appetizers Mondays through Friday
Tip: Get in early for poker, fills up fast.