For 67 years, JV’s Restaurant has been taking up residence in a strip mall on Route 50 just west of Seven Corners. And for all that time, it has been one of the area’s best — and tiniest — hole-in-the-wall honky-tonks. Country and classic rock bands are staples there, along with cold beer and to-die-for chili mac and meatloaf.
But until recently, JV’s single barroom was a tight fit. If you showed up late on a weekend, the obstacle course from the front door to the bar could include navigating through the band and the couples jitterbugging on the makeshift dance floor.
It was part of JV’s charm, but also a bit of a curse.
Last year, though, the owners of the shopping center approached JV’s owner, Lorraine Campbell, about taking over the adjacent empty storefront. She eagerly accepted.
“My father, back in the ’60s, tried to take over that storefront and expand JV’s,” says Campbell, the bar’s second-generation owner. “But back then, the shopping center wouldn’t let you combine [two storefronts]. I felt as though it fulfilled one of my father’s dreams.”
Months of work included knocking down the walls separating JV’s and the former pharmacy; turning the original bar into a larger, horseshoe-shaped counter; expanding the stage; and laying down a hardwood dance floor that can accommodate many couples at the same time. The capacity jumped from 50 to 120.
Permitting and zoning applications took longer than expected, but the new bandstand and dance floor made their debut in mid-January. Campbell took the opportunity to give JV’s a makeover, too, with a new coat of paint and refurbished booths.
The vibe, however, remains the same. Bartenders are welcoming and Campbell is a common and chatty presence on both sides of the bar. The walls are covered with pictures of the Beatles and Elvis, autographed photos of musicians who have played there and framed posters from memorable shows. The “smoking room” is about as big as a phone booth. Among the decorations: red, white and blue Christmas lights; multiple American flags, including one made of beer caps; a POW/MIA flag, and Rolling Thunder memorabilia. JV’s has always had a patriotic atmosphere: Campbell’s father, George Dodd, was a Greek resistance fighter during World War II, and the bar counts many veterans among its regulars.
It was the most loyal customers who were the most resistant to change, Campbell says, referencing the bar’s longtime slogan: “Ageless Charm Without Yuppie Bastardization.”
“We have some guys who come in every day and have been coming in since the ’50s,” she says. “They knew my dad, and they knew me when I was a little girl.
“People were leery about how [expanding] would change the atmosphere, or what they call the ‘ageless charm.’ But when they walked in, they said it felt like it had always been there. They said they thought my parents would be really proud of me.”
Those old-timers are the ones you’re likely to see chatting with the bartenders or leaping up to swing-dance. My friends and I, all 30-somethings, felt like some of the freshest faces in the bar.
As for the music: Although the stage is bigger now, the musical acts are pretty much the same, including Monday night’s blues jam session with bassist Wolf Crescenze and bluegrass the first Tuesday of the month.
“We’re keeping all of the musicians who’ve been loyal to JV’s over the years,” Campbell says.
Other bands coming up: Grateful Dead tribute act the Black Muddy River Band; rockabilly singer Kiti Gartner and the Deceits; and the Michael Allman Band, fronted by the son of the legendary Gregg Allman, a bluesy band that Campbell says couldn’t have played at the old JV’s because it was too small.
JV’s kitchen may be the only part of the place that hasn’t changed. The menu, with its grilled cheese and soup of the day, killer burger and tater tots, still feels like that of a short-order diner instead of the “restaurant” that the place’s name suggests. The fridges behind the bar are filled with bottles of domestic beers ($4 to $4.50 for a Yuengling or Miller Lite) and some craft brews, and the draft system should return soon.
One thing that probably won’t change anytime soon? JV’s has never sold hard liquor, and although she’d consider pouring it in the future, Campbell says that for now, she’s not inclined to do so. “People change with liquor,” she says simply.
It’s not often that a 67-year-old restaurant and bar can double in size without sacrificing some of its charms. Then again, JV’s has always had character in spades.
6666 Arlington Blvd.,
Falls Church. 703-241-9504. www.jvsrestaurant.com.