Young people, in their natural habitat: clutching a trio of Miller Lites in one hand, and a trio of shots in the other, congregating below the tiki mask to take kissy-face selfies, absolutely packing the dance floor at the first notes of J Balvin’s “Mi Gente.” Crushing cans of mango White Claw, squeezing past each other on the packed roof deck, exhaling little clouds of vape that float over the hopeful heads of potential hookups, before dissipating like a wish.
“Hey Jessicaaaaaa!” screeched a girl who was maybe a Hannah or an Emily, in a sea of Jacobs and Tylers and Matts.
It’s the final few nights for Whitlow’s on Wilson, the venerable Clarendon bar where, for 26 years, 20-somethings have come to drink cheap beer and try to get lucky.
This is concentrated Clarendon. Pure, unadulterated, un-adult Clarendon, a teeming room of recent grads absolutely wilding out after a year of epidemiological confinement. The bar is closing for good, just as everyone is emerging once again. It’s a landlord dispute that co-owner Jon Williams can’t get into, other than to say that he wished it didn’t have to end this way.
But if it has to come to an end, this is an apt way to go: a week of parties — would-be superspreaders, if not for Arlington’s 60 percent adult vaccination rate — with lines around the block every day to get up to the rooftop for one final Mai Tai in a plastic Captain Morgan-branded bucket.
“It’s college all over again,” Williams says. “The roof was full 15 minutes after we opened.” It’s Thursday and he’s standing in front of the stairs, in front of a mural of people lounging by the beach, each figure modeled after a different member of the family-run bar, which he co-owns with his stepfather, Greg Cahill. (“That one is me,” he says, pointing to an image of a guy on a lounge chair, and then to a female figure: “I think that’s my wife. No, that’s my wife.”) On Friday night, Williams had to leave the bar to obtain more vodka, having sold an entire night’s supply in the first two hours after opening.
“Nothing can replace Whitlow’s,” says Rizky Hidayat, 28. “We’re Clarendon natives. It’s not the same without Whitlow’s on Thursdays,” which is “mug night,” a promotion where patrons who bring their own mugs get discounted beer.
Phil O’Doherty, 25, says he’s been coming to Whitlow’s his whole life — for Father’s Day brunches during the day when he was little, and then considerably wilder nights since his college years. He had a simple assessment of the scene, the vibes: “It’s a lot of bros.”
Clarendon‘s nightlife scene did not start out as a repository for Joshes and Chads. In its burgeoning days, it was quirky and counterculture: a place for weird bars like Galaxy Hut, Bardo and Iota, some of which hosted alternative bands on local record labels, instead of the cover bands that pack crowds into its stretch of bars now.
“It was funky and it was cool and a little grungy,” Williams says. But eventually, “Clarendon turned into Bro Town,” he says. “It happened organically. It just grew into a big party spot.”
In 2015, Thrillist named Clarendon the 10th bro-iest neighborhood in America — a place where dudes can “rock your Vineyard Vines, drink craft beer, and live with your college lacrosse teammate.” (First place went to New York’s Murray Hill, natch.)
Okay, but what makes someone a bro? “You know it when you see it,” says O’Doherty, sagely. “You can look around, you see lots of golf polos. I think that’s a good indicator.”
The bros are arriving. Nearly a dozen members of a kickball league — one of whom was limping — got in line with their matching powder-blue shirts. There are fist bumps, and anchor-print shorts, and an entire contingent from the consulting firm Accenture.
“Dude, two vodka Red Bull,” says a bro at the bar. “Hold on — ask if they do buckets of vodka Red Bull.”
“If you hear the price is going to go up, lock [it] in,” said another drinker, pontificating on cryptocurrency to a tableful of peers.
“This is a guy who knows finance,” said one of his friends.
Colin Cannon — “like the one that goes boooom,” he says, helpfully — is perhaps an elder bro at 29. He has been a regular for 10 years — you do the math. One of his most memorable moments at Whitlow’s is when his inebriated friend decided to barrel-roll down the long flight of stairs from the roof deck, and had to be carried out. He’s here on the final night with his brother — “My name’s Cory Cannon and I like to partayyy,” says Cory Cannon— and his friend James Pascoe, who says that, at Whitlow’s, the good old days are every day.
“What’s great about here is you can be 21, like just got your ID, or you can be 40 and coming here for 20 years, and it feels the same,” says Pascoe, 32. “I still feel like I’m in my 20s.”
Whitlow’s is a “JMU reunion every night,” says Marvin Bogyah, 27, a graduate of James Madison University, who sees business school classmates here all the time. He had consumed three tequila shots, two cranberry vodkas and was trying to coax a reporter to enjoy one dance with him, to Lil Jon’s “Get Low.”
“My body count increased by 10 because of Whitlow’s,” says Edan Cohen, 25, referring to the number of women he’s, uh, made the acquaintance of here. Nearby, a bro in a white tank top and checkered Vans shoes turns to his companion, a woman in an orange tube top, and licks the side of her face.
By midnight on Thursday, the floors are sticky, and every tall table is covered in crumpled-up cans of White Claw and plastic cups, and Jen is, unfortunately, lying on the sidewalk.
“Jen,” says her friend. “What is your address? Can you sit on your bottom?” Her cheek — her face cheek, that is — is on the curb.
“Put your feet right here. Give me your hands,” says her friend.
Jen has to throw up.
“Well, throw up on the sidewalk,” says her friend.
The bouncers here are legends, especially TK. His name is Timothy King. He has worked here for 22 years. He has a megawatt smile and megahuge biceps.
“I’ve seen a lot of crazy things,” says TK, who was assigned the honor of calling the last-ever last call, at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday. Earlier in the week, Williams says, a crew of bros showed up in homemade “I got bounced by TK” shirts.
Everyone’s seen crazy things. “I’ve had people climbing the walls to get onto the rooftop,” co-owner Williams says. Not long ago someone “ran and jumped off the roof, because they were getting kicked out.” He’s caught people in the bathrooms doing things he declines to describe, and has found all manner of perplexing objects tossed into a giant canoe that hung over one of the bars, including many sets of car keys.
The bar, originally in downtown D.C., opened in this location in 1995, and the outfits have come full circle: all the Jessicas and Olivias are in ’90s-style wide-legged jeans and bandeaus, hundreds of Hot Girl Summers converging in one sweaty nexus. Crop tops, tank tops, halter tops. A glittery “Finally 21” sash, a sparkly cowboy hat. Expensive sandals on sticky floors. A Jell-O shot stashed in one girl’s cleavage.
“You’re really pretty,” says a girl by the bar, an anonymous angel in a purple tie-dye crop top, to a reporter. No one is more supportive, more uplifting, than girls in bars. “Hang on a second,” she says, and bends down with a napkin. “I got tequila on my foot.”
Over by the pool table, Mallory Walsh is celebrating her 23rd birthday. She knew she wanted to be here, the same place she turned 21: Weeks ago, when her friends learned the bar was closing, “everyone was like, we’ll be there the 26th,” she says, drinking a vodka soda. “I was like, perfect timing.”
Saturday’s final cover band, KleptoRadio, brought the house down with some classic ’90s: Ginuwine’s “Pony,” a song older than most of the people dancing to it. A few feet away, near one of the pool tables, a drunk girl sat in a chair and wept. It was only 11 p.m.
The make-outs started 45 minutes later, on the roof deck.
“We met like an hour ago,” says Claire Goldhush, 21. “He’s in love with me.”
“I’m in love with her,” says Connor Baron, 26, who, after tolerating a brief interview, goes back to sucking Claire’s face.
People are starting to lose their credit cards. One man seems to have lost his shirt. The bar is about to close, it’s the time when no one has anything to lose.
Williams and Cahill have pledged to reopen Whitlow’s in another location, perhaps in Arlington — its third move since its original location in downtown D.C., at 11th and E streets NW. An auction of some of the items they wouldn’t be able to fit in storage concluded on Thursday, with the beloved parrot sign commanding more than $4,000.
But before the last last call, Cahill and Williams hop onstage with the band to offer a toast.
“I will never forget the times that we had here, and I will treasure them,” says Williams, who thanked the staff before issuing a charge to the crowd: “Party like there’s no tomorrow.”
Cahill, in his 70s, surveyed the room. “I don’t recognize a lot of the faces here now,” he says. “But I’m pretty sure I cut most of your parents off.”
Fritz Hahn contributed to this report.