Walk into The Forest Inn in Westover on a Friday evening, and chances are you’ll hear southern rock emanating from the jukebox in the corner, two friendly bartenders chit-chatting with the patrons, and more than a dozen customers gabbing like old friends.
In fact, all of The Forest Inn customers are old friends. Asked how many people in the bar were there every week, Manager Ken Choudhary looked around and simply said, “everyone.”
The Forest Inn opened as The Black Forest Inn in the mid-1970s in what is now the Post Office building in Westover, and moved to its current location — sandwiched between Ayers Variety & Hardware and Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream — 31 years ago.
Since then, not much has changed. The food and drinks are as standard as pub food gets, few items on the menu are pricier than $10 and there is just one tap: Budweiser. There used to be a lot more bars like this in Arlington, but as urbanization and the explosive growth of young, affluent newcomers to the area has taken hold, The Forest Inn is one of the last vestiges of a bygone era: a true dive bar.
“There are very few places you can go by yourself and you don’t feel a little weird,” said Gary Harvey, an Arlington native — like many of his fellow regulars — who has been coming to The Forest Inn just about every Friday night for 12 years. “It’s a throwback to Arlington’s roots. There are really not many bars around here like this anymore.”
Even the customer base at The Forest Inn, while largely consistent, has changed over the years. Choudhary and his partners changed the restaurants hours from 7:00 a.m. to midnight to 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. a couple of years ago, which has brought in some of the younger crowd, many of whom stumble in after the Westover Beer Garden a few doors down closes.
The old crowd is also a fan of the change, and they’ve stayed just as loyal. Choudhary said the bar is like its own little neighborhood.
“They’ve come in here for so many years,” he said. “My whole clientele is people who do construction jobs, painters, landscapers, but we get engineers and lawyers, too. It’s a good mixture.”
Harvey said he’s had HVAC and landscaping work done on his house by friends he met at The Forest Inn. However, his favorite times at what he simply calls “The Forest” are chatting with his elders.
“There are some old-time, native Arlingtonians in their 70s who are here every week,”
he said. “To hear them tell stories about the area when they were growing up, it’s really special.”
Dave Batten is a chef at LA Bar & Grill on Columbia Pike, another of the dying breed of dive bar, but the Westover native still finds himself at The Forest Inn on Saturdays and Sundays, and “maybe a night or two during the week.” And he has plenty of stories.
“I was delivering papers in the 1970s when it was called The Black Forest Inn and owned by this German guy named Rolph,” he said. “He used to feed me breakfast in the morning and I would go out and buy groceries for the restaurant.”
Since Batten has grown up, he said he’s met two ex-girlfriends at his neighborhood bar. “I didn’t meet my current girlfriend there, that’s probably for the best.”
As the Nationals game gets underway, the chatter and music don’t die down even a little, but the patrons’ eyes drift upwards toward the screen, just as they would in the living room of any one of their homes. In fact,
“The regulars here are like family,” Batten said.