(Updated at 2:00 p.m.) The Forest Inn in Westover, one of Arlington’s last dive bars, is closing next week, general manager Ken Choudhary confirms to ARLnow.
The long-time Westover bar and grill on Washington Blvd first opened in 1981, and initially named The Black Forest Inn, where the post office used to be. In 1994, it moved a few blocks to its current location at 5849 Washington Blvd. Now, though, the Forest Inn is closing because its landlord — Van Metre Commercial — is declining to renew their lease, Choudhary says.
“It’s not a lack of funds or anything money-wise. Everything was right on the table [from us],” he tells ARLnow sitting in a booth on a recent night with a few regulars laughing in the background. “I just think they want something new over here. Something that’s not a bar.”
They initially were told that the Forest Inn had until at least the end of July, but ownership was told late last week that they needed to be out by the end of this month because a new tenant needed time for construction.
The Forest Inn is hosting a going-away party on Sunday, June 26 with the last day of operations currently set for Wednesday, June 29, Choudhary says.
While sad and disappointing, it’s not necessarily a surprise to ownership. The bar attempted to negotiate a new lease two years ago, but Choudhary said, but the landlord decided to put them on a month-to-month lease. To Choudhary, this was a clear sign that they were looking for a new tenant.
Owner Nick Sharma — Choudhary’s cousin — told ARLnow that both the 2019 flood in Westover and the pandemic-related shut down about eight months later hit the bar hard.
For one, records were lost in the flood, including several relating to the lease. What’s more, Sharma says that Van Metre made a deal with Forest Inn that they could pay $500 in rent for the several months they were shut down in 2020 as long as they promised to pay back rent as business normalized.
It’s only been the last few months when business has gradually returned to what it was pre-pandemic and, Sharma says, they are nearly done paying off the back rent.
“I feel like they stabbed us in the back,” he said.
Choudhary also says that Van Metre has accused the bar of attracting a “rough crowd,” which he says is an unfair characterization.
“To me, our customers are real people. [The landlords] need to come in here and start a conversation with them,” Choudhary says. “[Our regulars] are all very friendly. And if you don’t introduce yourself, they’ll introduce themselves to you.”
Both the owner and general manager says the regulars are taking the news pretty hard.
Van Metre declined to specifically comment on the lease negotiations to ARLnow.
“The details about the Forest Inn’s tenancy at Westover Shopping Center are confidential business matters and consequently we can’t comment on those details,” a company representative said. “Thank you for your consideration in this regard.”
The Forest Inn has earned a reputation as one of Arlington’s last dive bars, a badge that ownership, employees, and a number of regulars wear with distinction.
“This place is real and authentic,” says Audrey, a regular who’s been coming here for more than a decade. “Everyone in the neighborhood comes here.”
Plus, it has the best burger in town, she says.
“It’s close, has Budweiser, and a jukebox,” John says, laughing. He says he remembers when The Forest Inn had green carpet, a cigarette machine, and was full of tobacco smoke.
This a place where everyone knows each other, good conversation rules the day, and isn’t politically correct, said one regular who’s been coming to the Forest Inn for three decades. But Arlington no longer values those things, another man said.
“They don’t want dive bars,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “They want everything to be bougie and foo foo.”
Henry, another regular, says he’s been coming here ever since he turned 21, about six years ago. While he attended Washington-Liberty High School, this was the bar that all the students looked forward to going to when they turned of drinking age.
“It’s really sad that this part of Arlington history is closing,” he said.
This is a place where one might have spotted local officials, judges, congressmen, cops, politicians, and teachers — many from the surrounding neighborhoods — sitting around and having a beer together. It’s a place with a decidedly blue collar feel, belied at times when you discover, for instance, that the scruffy-looking guy next to you actually works in finance.
Even a notorious figure in American history used to enjoy cold ones at The Forest Inn.
Choudhary says that Oliver North, famed for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, used to live down the street and would come in often. The FBI once performed a sting operation on North here as well, he claims.
“The feds, they put bugs [under the table] and told us it was a private meeting and there was security outside,” he says. “They told us to make sure not a lot of people come in.”
ARLnow has not been able to independently confirm this story.
Over the years, The Forest Inn has changed. There’s now karaoke every Friday night which has brought a whole new crowd, there’s no more smoking indoors, and it no longer opens at 7 a.m. like it once did.
But what hasn’t changed is that this is a place for talking to neighbors, drinking a Budweiser, and enjoying the company of regular people. At one point, a guy in a fedora perks up and yells he’s going to the next bar.
“Wait,” the fedora-clad man said, pausing. “There’s no next bar.”
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