Walk into Whitey's in Arlington for the first time and your first thought may be that it will also be the last time: The descriptive words that leap to mind are joint, hangout, dive . . .

Resist the impulse to turn and flee. Whitey's ain't fancy, but it's a nice place, with good food, reasonable prices, and engaging entertainment.

Whitey's is a neighborhood watering hole, and part of what makes it interesting is the diversity of the neighborhood around the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Pershing Drive, known as Lyon Park.

A few blocks east is Fort Myer, home of the 3d Infantry, the Army's spit-and-polish ceremonial unit. Nearby, to the north, is Clarendon, which has a Metro stop and such a proliferation of Southeast Asian stores and restaurants that it's becoming known as Little Saigon. A mile or so to the west is Buckingham, a vast garden-apartment complex dating from the World War II boom and now a center of Arlington's growing Hispanic population.

To the south, and all around, are small apartments and modest homes -- "modest" these days meaning that most could be had for under $100,000 -- in which live the middle-class families and young couples who make up the bulk of Whitey's customers. Co-owner Steve Seville calls them "our old regulars and our new regulars."

The old regulars remember five years back to the days before Seville, his brother Calvin and Calvin's wife Linda bought the place from Alex ("Whitey") Joy. Real old regulars recall when it was the Nebraskan and we all liked Ike, and one or two may have hoisted a few in Tommy's in the '40s. For the suburbs, that's real seniority.

As a pub, Whitey's is quite satisfactory: good cold beer by the bottle, glass or pitcher, a 134-item menu meant to please everyone from babies to babushkas, two juke boxes, quality dart boards, friendly service, creative (and generally successful) bartenders.

What raises it to the level of a sort-of nightclub is the entertainment that issues up to five nights a week (Tuesday through Saturday) from the tiny stage in the front corner of the front room. The acts generally commence around 9:30 and, there being no cover or minimum, neither are there any promises that the music will be memorable.

So it was a pleasant surprise indeed to catch "Pokeweed" last Friday night. Brothers John and Jim Pfeiffer are original and inventive as well as talented and trained, with an endless repertoire of tunes and songs dating from the Civil War through the civil rights movement to this week's Top 40. Their interpretations are fresh and thoughtful and they accompany themselves, as often as not, on electric guitar and French horn. It works. They'll be back this Friday and next Friday.

Artists are booked rather casually and generally range from not-very-well-known to unheard-of. You have to start somewhere, and Whitey's is a pretty tough test: The folks gather to greet as well as drink and eat, and singer Jan Anderson's soft voice and laid-back delivery were often lost in the general hubbub one night this week.

The menu ranges from fine French fries at 70 cents to a $9.25 T-bone steak, described as "strictly for the hearty eater," which can be taken two ways. Whitey's does a nice job with batter-dipped shrimp ($7.75); ask for some Jezebel sauce as well as the outstanding cocktail sauce and dip the shrimp in one and then the other for a strange and wonderful effect.

Jezebel sauce is a house specialty, a sweet-and-pungent concoction of honey, pineapple preserve and hot peppers; while it appears nowhere on the menu, it always comes with the "broasted" chicken fingers, also unlisted and another favorite of our group. What Whitey's calls broasted chicken isn't what they used to serve in Rosslyn when it was inhabitable, but everybody at our table liked it. Another treat is broasted potato wedges with the skin on.

Reservations are not accepted, and a couple or a single may expect to be asked to share a table on weekend nights. That's not necessarily a drawback, especially if you'd like to meet a clean-cut and lonely young trooper. WHITEY'S -- 2761 North Washington Boulevard, Arlington. 522-9825. This Friday: Pokeweed; Saturday, Pete Pappageage, who operates on the borderline between blues and jazz. February 11, Pokeweed; 12, Wayne Durgin (country and western).