A Clarendon stalwart gets a facelift
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2010
Clarendon Grill was one of the pioneers in its namesake neighborhood back in the '90s, drawing locals for hot cover bands and then-novel microbrews. But time passed, and a recent influx of new and buzz-worthy bars and restaurants had the Grill looking and feeling more than a little tired.
Coincidentally, the office building that houses Clarendon Grill was scheduled for renovation, so owner Peter Pflug decided to temporarily shutter his bar, beginning in August. That stretched nearly two months as work continued: The concrete bar was swapped for a larger one with a smooth marble top and multiple "bump-out" extensions, which allow groups to face each other instead of sitting in a straight line. The "under construction" decor - mostly picked up at Lowe's, jokes Pflug - is out, with columns of colored 2-by-4s traded for cool industrial lights and darker colors that feel more downtown than Arlington. (The paintings by local artists have remained.) Sports fans will appreciate the plethora of new flat-screen TVs behind the bar.
Some things haven't changed: Thursday's happy hour brings $1.50 domestic beers until 9, burgers are half-price on Wednesdays, and on weekends, the late-20s/early-30s crowd jumps up and down to '80s hits performed by party-pleasing cover bands. The spacious back patio can host corn hole leagues and will stay warm all winter, thanks to overhead heating units.
The new menu covers more bases than the old one (tuna tartare and shrimp and grits sit alongside nachos and sliders), and to give people a chance to eat, the entertainment now starts at 10:30. But what has really changed? We went out on a weekend night to talk to regulars and see what they think of the new Clarendon Grill.
Kim Collins, a 38-year-old human resources professional, has been coming to the Grill for more than six years. Her take: "It's more modern, it has a cleaner look," while still offering "good bands and good DJs."
"It's like they grew up a little bit" because of the competition, said her friend Jeff Harrold, a 36-year-old manager at a staffing company who lives in Tysons Corner. "You see the lines out the door at Spider Kelly's, and there's nothing interesting about that place. It's just because it's new."
But Collins said the Grill has its own vibe. "You don't want the [Clarendon] Ballroom - it's hip-hop clubby. Here, you can see good local bands and still watch college basketball at the same time." (It's worth noting that Clarendon Grill owner Pflug is also a partner in the Ballroom and Spider Kelly's.)
Out on the patio, Allie Chin of Rockville and her friends staked out a spot for the smokers in their ranks. "The inside seems less crowded," Chin said. "It used to be impossible to get to the bar."
On the other hand, said Kelly O'Connell, an Arlington preschool teacher, "there's still a cover. That's not good. Most of the other places [in the neighborhood] don't have covers."
At the bar, another group was reminiscing about the Grill. "I bring my friends here all the time," said Aleatra Jones, 28, a chef at Gonzaga College High School who finds the place comfortable. "Same old staff, familiar faces. It's not one of those bars where people can be antisocial."
The best part of the redo, said Gus Urrutia, a 28-year-old engineer from Falls Church, is that "the bar is bigger - you don't have to wait in line so much. I got more elbow room!" At the same time, he is more ambivalent about the patio. "It's a little claustrophobic - the buildings are so tall, it's harder to see the sky. I bet in the summer it'll be better, when they roll up the awning."