Atmosphere: Friendly, cheerful, with hearty sandwiches and greetings.
Price range: 50-90 cents for all sandwiches except a submarine at $1.10; homemade soups and chili 55-60 cents.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays.
Special facilities: Parking spaces are catch-as-catch-can on waterfront streets and parking lots. Wheelchair occupants are given preferential seating beside the pot-bellied stove.
Reservations: First come, first served.
Credit cards: Cash only.
A tossed salad at Alexandria's tiny waterfront Snack Bar, at least a chicken, tuna, ham or egg salad, is something that hurtles through the air from the counter to the cash register and is deftly caught by Tony Gee.
The sandwiches, as well as the homemade soups and chili, which aren't tossed, and the friendly chatter that accompany them almost nonstop from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., are what makes this 25-year-old hole-in-the-wall beside the Torpedo Factory one of Alexandria's most popular daytime eateries.
Upto 800 people a day pass through the Snack Bar - a difficult logistical feat since it is only about 20 feet wide and 40 feet long - including the mayor and city council members, laborers and carpenters, judges and lawyers, shop owners and sales clerks and a few shoppers and passers-by just following the crowd.
It has perhaps the area's lowest prices for thick, freshly-made sandwiches, from 50 to 90 cents, although Gee says prices soon may go up 10 cents. It is always freshly painted, scrupulously scrubbed and the decor as tasteful as the sandwiches Fresh or dried flowers or both adorn those places large enough to hold a vase.
But the cheerful atmosphere that makes breakfast or lunch there so pleasant is due mostly to the boundless energy and good humor of Tony Gee, who began working as a porter at the Snack Bar in 1960, when he was 19 and a high-school drop-out, and now is part owner and full-time manager (full-time beginning daily at 5 a.m. when he starts making the day's soups).
While the Snack Bar is closed on Sundays, it is not a day of rest for Gee. With the help of the Snack Bar's original owners, Salvadore and Ruth Galardi, he completed high school, college and recently Bible college and is now an ordained Baptist minister with a church of his own in Madison, Va., near Culpepper. Galardi died several years ago and Ruth Galardi is part owner with Gee.
Gee apparently remembers what it was like to be a teen-ager growing up in Alexandria, because neighborhood children are always made to feel welcome at the Snack Bar and invariably greeted with a friendly "How you doing, little brother?"
We went for lunch before noon, which is flood tide at the Snack Bar door, had delicious homemade bean soup and chili and assorted sandwiches, Cokes and coffee and easily found an empty booth near the potbellied stove to eat them. Until a few years ago the stove was the restaurant's sole source of heat. "It cost $27 for coal to heat this place for the whole winter . . . and maybe we'll start doing it again," said Gee.
'The salad sandwiches are the best . . . chicken, egg and tuna," confided our 14-year-old son, who occasionally skateboards down for a mid-day snack on Saturdays and during vacation.
"The pie is good but I don't like the crust. It's not homemade," our 11-year-old said. Which is true, said Gee, a whiz in the kitchen, making 25 kinds of sandwiches and five or six different soups a day. He confesses, however, that he has to import his pies from a Maryland bakery.
The service at the snack bar is almost instantaneous - even noonday lines move quickly - and Tony Gee adds the bill as nimbly as he picks up the names of almost all his 400 to 500 regular customers. But there's not much to add since few restaurants, fast-food or slow, will let four hungry people escape for only $6.87, as our family did. And the only tip customers give, is to tell their friends.