Editors' pick

Spider Kelly's

Sports Bar, Billiards Bar, Bar
Spider Kelly's photo
(Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)

Editorial Review

Spider Kelly's spins a bigger, hotter web on Wilson Boulevard
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, May 14, 2010

The buzz: You may remember a place in Clarendon called Spider Kelly's. It was a one-room urban hangout of the first order, with a small bar, no draft beer, modern photographs on the walls and dining tables in the back where you could get above-average food.

You might not recognize it now.

What was once a great spot for taking a breather from the Clarendon Ballroom/Grill crowd is now the hottest bar in the Wilson Boulevard corridor. Earlier this year, Spider Kelly's expanded into the two adjacent storefronts, more than quadrupling in size. Its owners added a gigantic island bar, couch-filled lounge areas, dart lanes and shuffleboard tables, and a side game room as big as the original Spider's with pool and shuffleboard tables, video games and a Pop-a-Shot machine. Flat-screen TVs show sports from every angle, while an Internet jukebox plays Top-40 and retro hits. Add it all up, and there's room for more than 450 people, and on weekends, lines still extend down the block.

"We wanted to do what we would have done in the first place if we had had the space," says Nick Freshman, who opened the original Spider Kelly's two years ago with his high school buddy Nick Langman. It's hard to reconcile the bustling, primary-colored look of the new spot with the old Spider's, because, Freshman says, "you can't do a laid-back vibe with 8,000 square feet. But we didn't want to make a cavernous, soulless room."

Instead, they've kept the same rough layout of the stores to create three discrete spaces. You walk in to the bustling main bar, with couches and armchairs in front of the tall plate-glass windows, and a couple of shuffleboard tables beyond the bar. In the back, on a raised platform, are more love seats and low-slung chairs and tables, plus a trio of dart lanes.

Through two large doorways on the left is the game room, where the orange felt of the pool tables nicely complements the exposed brick walls. On the other side of the main bar, a wide doorway leads to the original Spider Kelly's, which is pretty much intact, though it's used primarily as the dining room these days.

The scene: Spider Kelly's draws from a variety of different scenes: preppy guys with popped collars, women in sundresses catching up over cocktails, groups of men who order vodka drinks chased with pitchers of beer. The crowd is mostly Arlingtonians through the first half of the week, but on weekends, Clarendon draws more of a party crowd from the outer 'burbs, lines get long outside and it can be hard to move around the bar.

At a Thursday happy hour, all three rooms were full of groups in their mid-to-late 20s.

"The atmosphere is pretty cool," said Monica Powell, an engineer. "I like how there's different settings in each area - a little bar over there, a bigger bar here."

"It's manly," added Hally Brewster, who teaches at a private school in McLean, referring to all the TVs showing ESPN, the pool tables and all the games. "On a Saturday night, it was wall-to-wall guys." She thought it needed a dance floor.

Her friend, an engineer named Eric Phillips, waved that off. "I'd recommend it as an after-work happy hour. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a night on the town. The specials are good, the music isn't too loud and it offers lots of space for a group."

The group's main gripe: Powell found the food "marginal. It was good for bar food."

In your glass: With expansion came the capacity for draft beer. The main bar has 16 taps, which feature a good mix of big names and craft brews, from Miller Lite to Lagunitas. There are a pair of tap handles from Starr Hill, near Charlottesville ("I've never tasted anything from that brewery I didn't like," Freshman said), a brown ale from Legend in Richmond and a seasonal brew from Frederick's Flying Dog.

Women at the bar tend to drink cocktails, especially the multiple mojito variations with raspberry and mango purees, or the sweet, fruity Sex on Wilson, which blends limoncello, Cointreau and citron vodka with lime and cranberry.

On your plate: Better-than-average bar food - super burgers, solid wings, heaping plates of nachos with fajita chicken. But the rosemary-and-garlic fries sometimes come out soggy, and the bowl of fried pickles was hit-and-miss. The kitchen is open until last call, which means you can order food until 1 or 1:15 a.m., Freshman said.

Price points: Most beers are about $5, with $4 PBR drafts at the low end. Cocktails are $8. But there are numerous deals to be had throughout the week (see "Happy hour"). Huge nacho plates are $9, burgers are $8, as are most sandwiches and wraps.

Need to know: All seats in the bar and game room, including the popular couches, are first-come, first-seated. "People call me all the time and say, 'Can you hold [the couch area] for me for 7 p.m.,' but we don't do that," Freshman said, although they do rent it out on occasion. (Expect to meet a minimum tab of about $1,000 on weekends, less during the week.)

Nice to know: This week saw the addition of outdoor tables along Wilson Boulevard, with room for 18 to 20 people.

Happy hour: Specials run longer than most, lasting from 4 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Expect $2.75 draft beers and half-price burgers on Tuesdays, 50-cent wings and $2 bottles of beer on Wednesdays, $3 rail drinks, half-price cocktails and $4 off all pitchers on Fridays, and $10 pitchers of selected beers on Saturdays.