Correction to This Article
An Aug. 5 Weekend article about Galaxy Hut incorrectly said that the Arlington bar had lost its liquor license twice for selling alcohol to minors. The bar has been cited only once for underage sales. It currently does not have a license for hard liquor because it does not sell enough food to meet Virginia's minimum ratio of food sales to liquor sales.
On the Town

Alice Despard: Goodbye, Galaxy Hut

Galaxy Hut owner Alice Despard, left, is selling her popular yet small Clarendon neighborhood bar to Lary Hoffman, a longtime bartender.
Galaxy Hut owner Alice Despard, left, is selling her popular yet small Clarendon neighborhood bar to Lary Hoffman, a longtime bartender. "It just seems like the right time," Despard says. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 5, 2005

BEFORE THE Black Cat, DC9, Iota or even the now-shuttered Metro Cafe existed, before the 9:30 club moved to V Street NW, indie rockers, rockabilly cats and Americana singer-songwriters found a home at Galaxy Hut (2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-8646).

The one-room storefront bar is about the size of a studio apartment and lacks a permanent stage; tables and booths are stacked in a rear corner to make room for amplifiers and the drum kit when live music is featured Saturday through Monday. A capacity crowd at the Hut is 48 people, and there's never a cover charge for shows, just the way it has been since the place opened in fall 1990.

Touring bands from across the East Coast and Canada are featured regularly, and you never know if the band performing for nothing is going to be the Next Big Thing. New York post-punk rockers the Strokes and Canadian space-rock band Godspeed You Black Emperor! both played the Hut before moving on to bigger venues (stadiums and the 9:30 club, respectively). Since Galaxy Hut is owned and operated by the very cool singer-songwriter Alice Despard, it has developed excellent word of mouth among musicians.

"The charm of the Hut is that it's so small," Despard explains. "I wanted it to be like [the long-closed nightclub] d.c. space; d.c. space had a very special feel because you could just stand in front of the band and watch them play. It was like a living room."

But live music isn't the whole story.

Before Pottery Barn, Whole Foods and the Apple Store competed with six-figure condos for space, before a slew of bars popped up to cater to young professionals who flocked to the Clarendon neighborhood, offering sports on big screens, cheap happy hours and DJs on Friday nights, there was Galaxy Hut.

It's still a funky, bohemian gathering spot where rotating art shows hang on the walls, a stellar lineup of microbrew beers awaits and the customers hanging out at the bar are more likely to be regulars talking about their bands or their friends' bands than practicing pickup lines. "Simpsons" reruns trump "SportsCenter" on the lone TV, and get this: People actually come in, order a drink, open a book and begin to read.

Unlike at other spots in the neighborhood, you'll rarely see anyone with a BlackBerry and cell phone clipped to a belt, let alone wearing the dreaded blue-shirt-and-khakis uniform. There's a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. When I'm asked which bars I recommend for single women who just want to sit and have a drink by themselves, Galaxy Hut is always high on the list.

"Since we've opened," Despard says, "we've stayed the same," and a new generation of customers is noticing.

"I was talking to this kid -- he looked like he was about 24 -- and he said, 'Thank God for Galaxy Hut. You guys are like a refuge from Arlington.' I said, 'Excuse me?' He said, 'Yeah, Arlington is so uptight and full of yuppies.' And I was like, 'Say what? How long have you been here?' He said, 'Two years.' I said, 'Oh. That makes sense. You don't know what Arlington was like in the old days. Arlington was a refuge from yuppie D.C. That's why we opened out here.' "

Now, Despard is ready to move on.

As of Sept. 1, she's selling Galaxy Hut to longtime bartender Lary Hoffman. "I don't know what I'm going to do next," she says. "I'm a mother. I've got two teenagers. It just seems like the right time." But she admits that financial pressure was starting to get to her; she has paid thousands of dollars in upkeep and infrastructure in recent years, the rent is set to rise, and business, while steady, isn't keeping up.

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