The Clarendon Ballroom is coming back.
The well-known Wilson Blvd nightlife spot is once again opening its doors, perhaps as early as this weekend, with a renovated interior, a new rooftop deck, and a state-of-the-art audio/visual set-up, owner Michael Darby tells ARLnow.
Darby is just waiting on the liquor license. The hope is that it comes in within the next few days, the local developer, reality star, and former owner of Oz restaurant in Clarendon says.
The space will also have a slightly modified moniker. It will be branded as “CB” with “The Ball Room” as a secondary name.
“Clarendon has really come of age. You’ve got all the great restaurants and bars,” Darby says. “And now with what we are doing with the Ballroom, that tops it off.”
It was more than two years ago when Clarendon Ballroom first closed its doors. A year after shuttering, in December 2020, Darby’s company Monument Realty purchased the building at 3185 Wilson Blvd for $6.7 million. The company then leased out the space for close to two years to the owners of nearby outdoor beer garden The Lot, who operated a series of themed pop-up bars there.
But back in March, as ARLnow reported, county records showed that Darby had applied for a building permit to start construction. The lease with those running the pop-up bars was then terminated a few weeks ago so that Monument Realty could take over the space themselves to finish off the renovations.
The initial plan, though, was different. Darby says he originally wanted another tenant, one that was “national” and “bigger, more financially secure” but that never came to pass.
“We didn’t really get the right responses and tenants that we would be happy with long term, especially with such a phenomenal location and such a great building,” Darby says. “So, what we decided to do was to take it over ourselves as an owner/operator and move forward in that manner.”
A laundry list of improvements has been made to the space since. There are all new wood floors, new paint, an “overhaul” of the upstairs, new carpet, a redone roof deck, a replaced roof, updated furniture, better countertops, and new VIP cabana areas.
The bathrooms are also completely redone downstairs.
“If you ever went down there, you probably didn’t want to spend much time there. Now, the [bathrooms] are clean and bright,” Darby says.
What has him most excited, though, is the new audio/visual set-up saying there’s “probably nothing like it in the area.” The state-of-the-art system will connect the music to video screens, he says, with house and guest DJs spinning the whole night.
Darby declined to say exactly how much money he’s invested into the Ballroom’s renovations so far, only that the dollars were “significant” and that this is a “long-term situation.”
This isn’t the nightlife venue’s final form, either. There’s a plan to put a speakeasy-themed bar with a separate entrance on the bottom floor. It could require a password or discovering a hidden panel to get into.
“It’ll be a low ceiling area with luxurious couches and seats. There will be a light show that’ll be attached to the ceiling,” Darby says. “It’ll be very dramatic.”
The plan is to open that portion of the nightlife venue next spring.
Locals may know Darby as the co-owner of the since-shuttered Australian restaurant Oz, which is turning into a Wagamama and is located only a few blocks from the Ballroom in Clarendon.
Reality show watchers may know him from his appearances on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Potomac” alongside then-wife Ashley Darby. The trials and tribulations of Oz, which opened in 2015 and was co-owned by the couple, became a recurring storyline in the show. The restaurant closed in 2019.
The couple announced their divorce earlier this year. Ashley Darby is returning to the show for the new season and has said that those in the D.C. area may “see some cameras around the summer.”
It’s unclear whether Michael Darby or the Ballroom will make an appearance on the show in the upcoming season.
(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.
The Clarendon Pop-Up Bar‘s rooftop has reopened, as uncertainty remains about what’s coming next.
The bar with themes that change seasonally, located inside of the former Clarendon Ballroom at 3185 Wilson Blvd, has opened its rooftop for the warm weather months. The biggest changes from last year are a new schedule, with happy hour starting at 5 p.m., and a “fully replaced new wooden deck,” a spokesperson tells ARLnow.
The bar’s rooftop is “one of Clarendon’s largest outdoor spaces,” according to the website. It is open Wednesday through Saturday.
Clarendon Pop-Up Bar is run by the owners of the nearby beer garden The Lot, located just a three minute walk way. While the pop-up bar is noted for themes like a winter wonderland or 1980s Miami, there’s no theme this time around.
There will, however, be lawn games like corn hole, ring toss, and Jenga as well as a rotating schedule of DJs. This weekend launches the bar’s “spring fling” concert series, with Philadelphia-based band Steal the Sky performing on Saturday night.
The future of Clarendon Pop-Up Bar on Wilson Blvd after this rooftop season remains unclear.
In December 2020 — a year after the original Ballroom closed — Monument Realty purchased the building for $6.7 million. The real estate development company is principally owned by Michael Darby, the (now soon-to-be-former) husband of local reality star Ashley. The couple owned the Australian restaurant Oz in Clarendon together, which was a key storyline in a season of the reality show “Real Housewives of Potomac,” before the restaurant closed in 2019.
Shortly after purchasing 3185 Wilson Blvd, Monument Realty signed a nearly two-year-long lease with the owners of The Lot to operate a pop-up entertainment venue in the 18,000-square-foot Clarendon building. That lease expires later this year.
As ARLnow reported last month, county records now show a building permit in Darby’s name for the construction of a restaurant at 3185 Wilson Blvd. There’s also a pending Virginia ABC application for the space, under the name “The Ball Room,” associated with an LLC that appears to be affiliated with Monument Realty.
A PR rep for Clarendon Pop-Up Bar tells ARLnow that “there are no updates at the moment” in regards to the lease or what’s coming next for the space. Last month, a Monument Realty spokesperson told ARLnow that they “will be in touch when we have additional information to share.”
Brass Rabbit Public House in Clarendon is now open, filling the space once occupied by the Bracket Room.
Back in July 2021, ARLnow reported that a new bar and restaurant was moving into 1210 N. Garfield Street and, a few months later, that ownership was aiming for a mid-February opening. That goal wasn’t quite met, but after a bit of a delay Brass Rabbit finally opened its doors last week on Tuesday, March 22.
The pub comes from local restaurateur Reese Gardner, who owns a number of other Arlington eateries and watering holes, including Copperwood Tavern and Dudley’s Sport and Ale in Shirlington, Quinn’s on Corner in Rosslyn, and Clarendon’s The Pinemoor, just a couple of blocks from Brass Rabbit.
Photos show that rabbit-themed decor and bunny puns dot the interior. The menu also aims to be fit for a rabbit, described as “elevated pub fare with a healthy twist.”
The all-day menu includes lettuce wraps, carrot fries, a number of different salads, soups, sandwiches, wings, and burgers. The brunch menu is similar, plus the addition of carrot cake french toast. To drink and “keep the place hoppin’,” there are more than a dozen beers on tap, hand-crafted cocktails (like the “Rabbit-Hole Fashioned”), and a hefty wine list.
Brass Rabbit replaces the Bracket Room, which closed about a year ago. That restaurant and bar opened nine years ago and was co-owned by Chris Bukowski, who is probably best known for his ‘Bachelorette’ appearances — and who is not the only reality TV personality to own an Arlington restaurant.
The Bracket Room was known as a place to watch sports, the Bachelor, and for garnering noise complaints from neighbors.
The two nightlife venues replacing Whitlow’s on Wilson are gearing up to open over the next few months.
Taking over the long-time local watering hole, which closed in June after more than 25 years in Clarendon, are B Live and Coco B’s.
The two concepts, both to be located at at 2854 Wilson Blvd, are the latest ventures from Michael Bramson, who’s behind The Lot beer garden and the Clarendon Pop-Up Bar.
“We are thrilled to open B Live early spring, and Coco B’s late summer,” Bramson tells ARLnow. “We do not have anticipated opening dates yet, but construction and design are well underway for both concepts.”
Additional details will come soon, he said.
Building permits indicate B Live will occupy the first floor and possibly the basement of the space and Coco B’s will be the name of the old rooftop tiki bar at Whitlow’s. (The name Coco B’s could be a nod to the tiki bar theme, or to the noted local TikTok personality whose spats with two Arlington bars attracted considerable attention last summer.)
Bramson’s updates come after last Tuesday’s County Board approval of use permits for live entertainment and dancing at the two spots, as well as for a 48-seat outdoor café at B Live. The approvals came despite opposition from some neighbors over noise concerns.
The County Board approved the following operating hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Sundays, which a county report says are similar to those of neighboring bars.
The Lyon Village Civic Association proposed earlier cut-off times of 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, the report said.
Board members instead approved a recommendation from county staff to review these permits this November and evaluate how successful the bars are at mitigating sounds.
Bramson says the spots will have sound panels and dampening curtains and speakers will be strategically placed to lessen noise levels.
“We are a neighborhood spot and want the community to be comfortable whether they are within the spaces or living nearby,” he said. “We hope our proactive response and action have served to allay any residential apprehension and show that we are taking their concerns very seriously.”
Noise from Whitlow’s was a source of consternation for neighbors that resulted in operating hours being curtailed from 2 a.m. to midnight, plus a requirement to install sound dampening panels and curtains, county planner Cedric Southerland told the County Board last Tuesday.
“That came after years and years trying to work with them to remedy their sound impacts on the neighborhood,” Southerland said. “Additionally, that issue is what preceded the formation of the Clarendon Live Entertainment Group (CLEG), along with other bars and restaurants coming online at that time.”
Established in 2002, the CLEG brings together county staff, restaurant owners and neighbors to address concerns and coordinate code enforcement. Southerland says recently, the CLEG has been meeting fewer times per year, which he takes to be a sign that the group is addressing the concerns that led to its creation two decades ago.
But not all neighbors say mechanisms like the CLEG actually help residents enjoy their homes. Julissa Marenco told the County Board on Tuesday that staff are not sufficiently enforcing noise violations and these organizations do not actually go to bat for neighbors.
“We are all in support of music, we are all in support of living in an urban dwelling, we understand the considerations that come with living in these neighborhoods,” she said. “But it’s now at a point on Wilson Blvd, in Clarendon, that it’s having a tremendous impact on individuals.”
Bar Ivy in Clarendon May Open in Spring — “Clarendon is a long way from California, but the neighborhood may feel a little closer to the West Coast with the opening of Bar Ivy this spring… The breezy coastal-style restaurant and bar will have a lush 125-seat patio for sipping local coffee drinks in the morning and sampling wines alongside seafood towers in the evening.” [Washingtonian]
Miyares is ‘New Sheriff in Town’ — “Virginia’s new Attorney General Jason S. Miyares has already launched a probe of a state parole board he feels failed crime victims, fired several employees, including in a unit that investigates wrongful convictions, and blasted liberal prosecutors who seek lighter sentences.” [Washington Post]
Yorktown Girls Basketball Now 8-3 — Visiting Yorktown won 61-37 Washington-Liberty Generals in the Liberty District clash between Arlington rivals. Yorktown defeated the Wakefield Warriors, 56-30, in its next game against another Arlington and district rival. [Sun Gazette]
Forecasters Discuss Snowfall Bust — “After our forecast of a coating to two inches of snow in the region, most places saw no accumulation Thursday morning. Some spots didn’t even see a flake, only raindrops… How did forecasts end up being so wrong? The flawed predictions can be traced to computer model errors and the inability of human forecasters to adequately account for them.” [Washington Post]
It’s Friday — Today will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 26. Sunrise at 7:22 a.m. and sunset at 5:17 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 31. [Weather.gov]
A new wine shop and bar is opening on the ground floor of J Sol apartments in Ballston.
Not much is known about what is coming and when besides what’s noted in the permit application, which was just submitted last week.
What we do know is that it’s not associated with Screwtop Wine Bar, another wine-bar-slash-shop nearby, on N. Fillmore Drive in Clarendon. Also, it’s not opening in the immediate future, according to J Sol staff that ARLnow spoke to.
ARLnow has also reached out to retail leasing agents for the building, but has yet to hear back as of publication.
The 326-unit high-rise, luxurious apartment building at 4000 Fairfax Drive opened in August 2020. It replaced the popular local bar CarPool, which has since reopened a half mile walk away on N. Glebe Road.
Hat tip to Chris Slatt
The former Whitlow’s space will apparently three separate identities when it reopens under new ownership.
In December we reported that Michael Bramson, who’s behind The Lot beer garden and the Clarendon Pop-Up Bar, was opening something new called B Live in the long-time local watering hole’s former Clarendon home. Before that, we also reported that locally-founded burger chain Five Guys was planning to take part of the space, perhaps as soon as this summer.
Whitlow’s closed in June after more than 25 years at 2854 Wilson Blvd.
But B Live and Five Guys aren’t the only things planning to open there. A new permit application has been filed for “Coco B’s,” another forthcoming Bramson concept.
While B Live will occupy the first floor and possibly the basement of the space, according to building permit applications, it appears that Coco B’s will be the name of what used to be Whitlow’s rooftop tiki bar.
A stop by the space today revealed the Coco B’s application posted on the street-level entrance to the stairs that lead to the tiki bar, while B Live permits were near the main entrance to the indoor space. Most of the windows were papered over, but a gap in the covering revealed an interior that had mostly been cleared of its former accoutrements — as well as two people working inside.
Bramson and his PR rep both declined to reveal any information about the new concepts last week.
“At the moment there actually isn’t anything to share about B Live or Coco B’s,” wrote Vicki Holcomb, the PR rep.
“I don’t have any info to share at the moment,” Bramson himself told ARLnow.
The name Coco B’s seems to have been chosen because Bramson is retaining the tiki bar theme. It’s sure to raise some eyebrows, however, given its similarity to the name of a noted local TikTok personality whose arrest and subsequent exoneration — amid allegations against two Arlington bars — attracted considerable attention last summer.
It looks like the former Whitlow’s space in Clarendon will not be vacant for much longer.
The long-time local watering hole at 2854 Wilson Blvd closed in June. In July, we reported that the locally-founded burger chain Five Guys was planning to take part of the space. Now, it appears that another venue is also in the works.
A restaurant called “B Live” has applied for permits at the space, according to public records. It will serve beer, wine and cocktails and seat more than 150, according to permit applications. A building permit, applied for in November, calls for interior renovations to the basement and first floor of the space.
The applications suggest that the business is associated with local nightlife entrepreneur Michael Bramson, who’s behind The Lot beer garden and the Clarendon Pop-Up Bar — a temporary venue with rotating themes in the former Clarendon Ballroom space — nearby, among other local bars and restaurants. So far, Bramson has not responded to a request for comment.
Little is known about B Live except for the name, which suggests that there might be a live entertainment component. That could fill a void created by the closure of Clarendon concert venue Iota Club in 2017, though that void has been at least partially filled by The Renegade, which opened a few blocks away in late 2019.
Ballston is about to get a 6,300-square-foot taqueria and “margarita garden.”
U Street NW taco spot El Rey is branching out from D.C. and opening on the ground floor of the Ballston Exchange building at 4201 Wilson Blvd. After nearly two-and-a-half years of anticipation, following pandemic-related delays, the eatery is finally set to open its doors.
The official opening date is Monday, Dec. 20, the group behind El Rey announced Monday evening — though restaurants often have unofficial “soft openings” in the days prior, to try to work out some service kinks.
“On December 20th, D.C.’s favorite taqueria and margarita garden will bring its signature margaritas, savory tacos, and joyous fiesta vibes to the heart of Arlington,” said a press release. “Alongside the crowd favorite margaritas and tacos, El Rey Ballston will feature some exclusive menu items like mouthwatering tortas, savory overstuffed burritos, and papas birria nachos 0- think Mexican cheese fries with all the extras.”
“The 6,290-square-foot taqueria also boasts a 50-foot-bar that extends along the entire main dining area with multiple margarita stations and 12 taps featuring both import and local beers from our craft brewery friends right here in the area,” the press release continued. “A separate takeout area, dubbed ‘Lucha Libre’ is available for guests in a hurry to order ‘grab-and-go’ items on the fly.”
El Rey will be open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-midnight, plus Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Brothers Ian and Eric Hilton are behind El Rey, along with Cafe Colline along Langston Blvd; D.C. spots American Ice Company, Chez Billy Sud, The Brixton, The Brighton, and Players Club; Parc de Ville in the Mosaic District; Solace Outpost in Falls Church; and delivery-only burger purveyor Gee Burger.
Ian Hilton, a resident of Arlington’s Donaldson Run neighborhood, previously told ARLnow that he was looking forward to opening restaurants closer to home. El Rey nearly closed in D.C. last year, due to pandemic challenges, but was kept open by popular demand.
At long last the large Capitol City Brewing Co. space in Shirlington, vacant since March 2018, is getting a new tenant.
Astro Beer Hall, a two-level bar and coffee shop from the owners of Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, will be opening in the space at 4001 Campbell Avenue next summer, according to a press release. In addition to 14,000 square feet of indoor space, the new beer hall will have a 80-seat outdoor patio.
Gone is Capitol City’s brewing equipment. In are pool tables, pinball and classic arcade games, along with garage doors that will open for “an indoor-outdoor feel when the weather is nice.”
Those behind the beer hall include a pair of local bar scene veterans, Geoff Dawson and Peter Bayne, whose past and present ventures include CarPool, Buffalo Billiards, Iron Horse Taproom, Penn Social and Highline RxR.
This will be the second Astro Beer Hall location. The first opened at 1306 G Street NW earlier this fall.
More from the press release:
The owners of Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Elliot Spaisman and Jeff Halpern, together with Tin Shop – a creative bar and restaurant development group founded by Geoff Dawson and Peter Bayne – announce the expansion of Astro Beer Hall to Shirlington. The new Northern Virginia location is due to open in the Village at Shirlington in late summer 2022. The two-level beer hall and full-service coffee shop will operate all day with doughnuts and coffee in the morning, transitioning throughout the day to lunch and dinner fare with beer offerings. Located at 4001 Campbell Avenue, Astro Beer Hall Shirlington will also feature an expansive 80-seat patio facing the corner of South Quincy Street and Campbell Avenue.
Astro Beer Hall Shirlington will offer many of the features that have made the original location popular, including an all-day, full-service coffee program using La Colombe beans alongside Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken’s signature doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches. The kitchen will also offer lunch, happy hour and dinner with an expanded menu of Astro’s beloved fried chicken, sandwiches, salads, made-to-order cake doughnuts, bar snacks and more. A weekend brunch menu will also be available and the bar, which boasts 20 tap lines, will serve a variety of local draft beers, cocktails and frozen drinks.
The 14,000 square foot space will feature three roll-up garage doors along the patio side of the beer hall, allowing for an integrated indoor-outdoor feel when the weather is nice. Astro Beer Hall Shirlington will also be host to two game rooms with pool tables, and arcade games including Asteroids, Ms. Pacman, pinball and more. Guests will be able to watch sports and special events on large screen televisions throughout the space.