(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) The former Forest Inn space in Westover will be switching from Budweiser and burgers to margaritas and tacos.
The Forest Inn, one of Arlington’s last dive bars, closed in June after more than 40 years in business in the neighborhood. Its general manager told ARLnow that the landlord declined to renew the lease.
But the storefront at 5849 Washington Blvd will not be vacant for long.
Westover Taco, a new Mexican restaurant and bar, is planning to open next year in the relatively small restaurant space. It’s being helmed by Sarah White, a restaurant industry veteran who runs the Cowboy Cafe on Langston Blvd, which many lovingly consider a dive bar, as well as several local Lost Dog Cafe franchise locations.
We’re told White will co-own the business with five partners: Cowboy co-owners Jim Barnes, Mike Barnes, Mike Danner and Wes Clough, plus local serial entrepreneur Scott Parker.
(White was also a 2021 candidate for House of Delegates in Falls Church and part of Fairfax County.)
Parker tells ARLnow that the plan for the dog-leg-shaped, 1,000+ square foot space is to “blow out the ceilings and really open up the space and give it a brighter vibe.” That might include roll-up windows in the back of the space, which looks out on a parking lot, to provide an open-air setting during nice weather.
“It’s definitely going to be an entire flip of the space,” Parker said. “Everything will be brand new.”
The concept for Westover Taco is simple: margaritas and tacos. While it will no longer be a dive bar, Parker hopes to attract a mix of Westover residents and other locals while establishing a solid base of regular customers.
“Everyone is welcome,” he said.
Parker noted that many of the half-dozen partners grew up near the Westover area and, given the small size of the restaurant and the number of co-owners, this is more a labor of love than a money-making opportunity for those involved. It’s also something that the partners are looking at in the long term.
“Most of the restaurants there are pretty busy, and many of them have been there for decades. So it’s a it’s a really strong, loyal market,” he said. “When you put something good there, it should do really well. So I do expect us to build a solid regular [customer] base pretty quickly. And I think the locals will love what we do.”
The partners have not yet taken possession of the space, Parker said, but the hope is to start work soon and open at some point in mid-2023.
Parker, who recently returned from a trip to Mexico City, posted photos from inside the cleared-out Forest Inn via an Instagram story on Aug. 1, as noted by ARLnow at the time.
Parker counts the Cowboy Cafe and Lost Dog co-owners as long-time friends and said they’ve been looking to partner on something local for awhile.
“We just always wanted to do a project together,” he said. “This is certainly something that borders on a passion project of sorts. None of us is going to get rich or take over the world having all these partners in one small restaurant, so it’s more of something that we just want to work as a team to put something special in a neighborhood that we think is really cool.”
As for his other business ventures, the prolific Parker told ARLnow that boxing gym Bash and pet daycare and boarding business Playful Pack are both on track to start franchising nationally in the near future. High-end barbershop Bearded Goat — currently in Ballston and Shirlington — is also eyeing an expansion to other cities, but that may take longer to play out, he said.
Asked about his ability to open so many local businesses, Parker credited his business partners for helping to make them a success while he focuses on the long-term path to growth.
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