Submit Content

Cowboy Cafe: Three Decades of Arlington’s Dive Bar

(Updated at 6:35 p.m.) When Cowboy Cafe’s beloved regular Jerome Williams passed away earlier this year, he didn’t have any immediate family to mourn him — but he had his friends at “the Cowboy,” and the bar’s memorial service was packed out the door.

“Working at the Cowboy, the customers aren’t just customers,” said current general manager Amanda Wellborn. “They’re family, and I mean it. I’ve never experienced anything else like it.”

There aren’t many dive bars left in Arlington — Cowboy Cafe (4792 Lee Highway) and the Forest Inn in Westover are two notable exceptions. As time goes on there’s concern for what’s left: Cowboy Cafe, for instance, once made a Preservation Arlington “endangered places” list.

But the current owners are confident it’s not going anywhere, and actively want its customers to call it a dive. (Nearby, the shuttered greasy spoon Linda’s Cafe is still waiting to reopen as a new Bob and Edith’s Diner.)

“Yeah, we’ve made improvements, but we make an effort to not change a lot and keep it the way it is,” said owner Mike Barnes, who bought the place in 2011 with his brother James and two of their friends from Yorktown High School. They also own several Lost Dog Café franchises together.

Before the bar was founded, it was a smokey, old-school American restaurant called Clam House, built in 1948.

In 1991, Cowboy Cafe founder Charlie Campbell took over Clam House and transformed it into the rough-and-out, Southwestern biker bar. Mementos from the mid-90s still remain, such as a Native American statue and a wall lined with various license plates — plus the much-adored, half-priced burger specials.

Then in 2007, it was purchased by Zac and Matt Culbertson, who also work with the Lost Dog franchise.

“When I heard the Culbertsons were thinking about selling [in 2011], I immediately offered,” said Barnes.

Barnes and his team got right to work on giving the place some much needed TLC, including remodeling the “scary” bathroom, installing a 14-tap beer system, and promoting its family-friendly brunch.

But aside from those improvements, they’ve kept it largely the same — including keeping the mural on the back wall that depicts Campbell, the Culbertsons, and Williams, a testament to its rich history and the customers who’ve kept it going.

Regulars say it’s still the Cowboy Cafe they know and love, complete with quirks and a convivial sense of community.

“I love the nachos, the authenticity, the wait staff that gets to know you, and the fact that almost nothing inside has changed in 20 years,” said Jeremy Flantzer, a long-time Arlington resident and effusive Cowboy Cafe fan.

Like many others who frequent the restaurant, he has a particular Cowboy Cafe story that helps cement its local legend.

“I once saw someone eat The Barnyard” — a $15 burger consisting of two half-pound beef patties, barbeque pork, two slices of cheddar, a fried egg and bacon — “after a full order of wings,” he said, still in amazement.

“It’s my ‘Cheers’ bar,” said another longtime regular, who asked ARLnow not to include her name. “I’ve seen it all here — once a man came in without wearing pants. And it’s no secret that the parking is tight, everyone’s [had a fender-bender] at least once.”

But, she continued, when it happened to her, there was a note on the windshield and everything was taken care of.

“People who go to the Cowboy — they care — they know to leave a note,” she said. “Not quite sure if I could say that about everyone else in Arlington.”

Recent Stories

The Arlington Mill neighborhood was the scene of one of the more unusual crashes in recent memory yesterday afternoon. Just before 4 p.m. Sunday, police and firefighters were dispatched to…

An Atlanta suburb is known for its “miles of natural, wooded beauty” — and its 10,000 golf carts. At 26.04 square miles, Peachtree City is just a touch smaller than…

Morning Notes

Grumbles About Car Tax — “County Board members have been getting their share of comments, too. ‘We have definitely heard some concerns,’ County Board Chairman Katie Cristol acknowledged, as elected…

The week started as summer and is ending, unmistakably, as fall. On the plus side, we have a stretch of crisp, sunny days ahead, with the exception of some rain…

Now you can have fun with your family and friends when deciding where to eat!

Just hop aboard The Lunch Train and set the destination for: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or nightlife!

Features:
– No app necessary. Simply go to the website if you’d like!
– No account necessary
– Use your current location or a desired location
– Add restaurants you’re interested in, invite your friends, and play the game!

https://www.thelunchtrain.com/

Submit your own Community Post here.

Lyon Park & Ashton Heights’ biennial home & garden biennial tour is back. The tour will include contemporary custom homes, older historic bungalows as well as renovated properties. One of the stunning homes on the tour is pictured above.  In addition to beautiful & unique homes, the Villa & Vistas ’22 event will conclude with a festive reception at the Lyon Park Community Center at 414 N Fillmore Street, Arlington VA 22201. What could be better right?

All proceeds from this event will go to the Lyon Park Citizens Association (LPCA) towards our neighborhood jewel & hub, the Lyon Park Community Center (LPCC).

When: Sunday, October 2nd, Noon – 4 PM. 

Where: Meet to get your tickets and the tour map at the Lyon Park Community Center (414 N Fillmore Street) We will have a table with information outside.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Homebuying 101: Steps to Getting Pre-Approved

Are you ready to jump into homeownership or started considering it but don’t know where to start? Financial preparation is key when thinking about purchasing your first home and the first step to getting pre-approved. Join ACFCU for our Homebuying

Pink Carpet Event Charity Fashion Show

The Pink Carpet Event Charity Fashion Show will feature our fabulous breast cancer survivors slaying the runway! Designers from Baltimore and the Washington, DC Metropolitan area will bring exquisite fashion and glamour to this event. Professional male and female designs

×

Subscribe to our mailing list