The silver-etched window reads T.T. Reynolds." Inside the swinging door, Victorian arched lamps curve over small tables across from a bull-nose oak and mahogany bar. Young men and women discuss the weather, computer science, each other. A typical Georgetown evening one might say.
Except that Georgetown is 20 miles away over the Potomac. This saloon, reminiscent of the trendy downtown bar circuit, is in Fairfax City.
During the past year a "strip" of discos, restaurants and saloons have opened their doors to an increasing number of Northern Virginia residents who are tired, they say, of bucking the traffic, parking, distance and crime of Georgetown.
"Who needs it?" said Bill Holmes, a George Mason University student. "This gives you the kind of places Georgetown does, but it's a lot closer."
T.T. Reynolds, Picco's Passion, The Alibi, The Library and a soon to open Vietnamese restaurant share one block near the courthouse in Fairfax City.
Charlie's sits strategically across from the George Mason University campus in a new shopping mall at Chain Bridge and Braddock Roads. Bachelors H completes the assemblage along with its restaurant, The Manna, at the corner of Routes 236 and 29/211.
The "strip" is there, say several owners and managers, because the people are there - college students, suburbanites from the middle-class communities surrounding the area, professionals from the county office buildings, the hospital and the university.
"There are a lot of professional people here who've got money," said Charlie Mendenhall, part-owner of Charlie's, "and they want to spend it."
And it's there now because the liquor licensing laws in Virginia are becoming more lenient. It wasn't too many years ago that selling liquor by the drink was illegal. In 1974 the beer drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18. Every year, say the businessmen eager to invest in these enterprises, the laws get better.
"Now you can even walk around with a drink in your hand," said David Sionim, co-owner of T.T. Reynolds with Tim Todd Fenton. (The T.T. comes from Fenton, the Reynolds is Sionim's middle name.)
But these establishments, call them bars, call them saloons, call them restaurants or clubs, must still sell as much food as drink, at least 50-50 to be exact, and the food must be full dinners, no sandwiches included in the tally.
The law actually benefits the consumer. Each of the restaurants on the "strip" prides itself on good food. Charlie's has Maine lobsiter. T.T. Reynolds has filet migonnette, the Alibi has "excellent French" cuisine, and the pizza at Picco's is renowned.
Picco's Passion, the oldest restaurant of the group, is the most family-oriented spot on the strip. Recent renovations, some way to keep up with the new competition, and red-checkered table clothes and ceiling fans give the small place a comfortable look. The clientele is also casual - young families, older folks with teen-agers and couples of every age are frequently found lined up out front.
Lines are also prominent outside Bachelors II. But here, there are teenagers and young adults. "This place always has action," said a young man waiting patiently outside. A young blonde woman concurred, adding, "It's a good place to pick up guys."
It is comfortable atmosphere, the big round tables, the music and the lack of "a code of how to act," according to one visitor, that attracts scores of young people to Bachelors II every night. Opened in March, Bachelors II prides itself on its air-conditioned dance floor and its special brand of disco.
Sam Habibi, one of five Sterling Park-based owners, said the club offers something else - security to the parents of teen-agers who jam the place. "We get a lot of comments from the parents. 'Now I know where my kids are,' they tell me. Often, the parents are in the restaurant and the kids are in here.
"This area is closer to home than Georgetown; they don't worry as much," said Habibi.
Habibi's direct competition is another disco in Fairfax City called The Library. Brick wall fronts, ceiling of fans, plants and a decidedly nautical air make the place seem almost subterranean, a reading room in a South Sea island bar.
Open for two years, The Library has been most affected by the surge of new arrivals around the town. Mananger Tony Amelio said that business "slacked off for awhile.
"But," he added, "people are bar-hopping now. There is more traffic to spread around."
Habibi agrees. "If the line is too long here, they know they can go someplace else for awhile. If there are only one spot out here, they'd say 'forget it' and go to another area."
The owners and managers of these clubs and restaurants are eager to keep business pouring in. T.T. Reynolds, a hangout of sorts for county politicos, keeps Perrier water in stock for the county treasurer. Bachelors II owner Habibi said that most of his "kids," as he calls them, can't dance to disco music, which requires a stylized movement, so he tells his disc jockeys to mix up the music so everyone can dance "anyway they want."
And they are always there, greeting guests, many by name, shaking hands, checking on dinners and drink orders. Habibi said he spends 18 hours a day at his establishment. Mendenhall said that face-to-face management makes his place "more like a neighborhood bar. A guy will come in here in his jogging suit, have a beer, then jog home."
Patrons and customers alike agree that there is room for more. "There will always be room around here for a good place," said Mendenhall. And patrons seem pleased that the growth is close together. "You can go bar-hopping around here now and you don't even have to get in your car," said one patron of Picco's.
A long-time watcher of Fairfax City said he had mixed feelings about the developments. "I guess I won't mind as long as Wayne Feeds is still there."
But as Library manager Amelio said, "Fairfax is really a growing community. This isn't country anymore. You have to go 10 or 15 miles away for that."