(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.
(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.
(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) After being shuttered for more than two years, Stray Cat Bar & Grill in Westover has finally reopened.
The neighborhood staple at 5866 Washington Blvd started serving again last week for the first time since shutting down on March 15, 2020. That was the day after Arlington County declared a local emergency as Covid started to spread locally.
The reopening after 28 months comes with a name tweak, some interior renovations, and an updated menu.
“We wanted to bring the Cat back awhile ago, but the restaurant industry was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Austin Garcia, owner/operator of the restaurant, tells ARLnow. “So, when we did, we really wanted it to knock it out of the park.”
It seems like the right time to reopen as the community appears to be much more comfortable dining indoors, Garcia said.
The Stray Cat Cafe first opened in Westover in 2005 as a sibling restaurant of Lost Dog Cafe, which has Arlington locations on Columbia Pike and in Westover. While the menus of the two restaurants differ, both have the same mission of “helping homeless dogs and cats find forever homes.”
The restaurants support the locally-based non-profit Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation.
When Stray Cat heeded the county’s request to close down dining rooms in March 2020, Garcia said ownership never anticipated it would be more than two years before the restaurant reopened.
But a number of things didn’t work in their favor, including staffing shortages, not being well set up to do take-out and delivery, and the physical layout of the space.
“It’s a really narrow spot. Even when Virginia lifted some regulations to start to allow dine-in, bar seating still wasn’t allowed. Bar seating was, and still is, a big part of the Cat,” he says.
Ownership realized that to reopen, some renovations were in order. That meant knocking out the double-doored vestibule at the front of the restaurant to add more booths. Garcia says the construction has opened the space and has made it feel “much less crowded,” as well as providing space to eventually host live music
Ownership also made the decision to tweak the name and logo, switching from “The Stray Cat Cafe” to “Stray Cat Bar & Grill.”
This change is to better reflect the updated interior and menu, which will focus on “an elevated yet still casual dining experience” that will feature “gourmet comfort foods.” That includes quesadillas, nachos, salads, soups, and burgers.
Garcia says he heard from the community that many missed the Stray Cat’s burgers. So, they’ve decided to lean into that by “elevating that burger experience” along with giving the dishes “whimsical cat-themed names” like “Cat Scratch Fever” and “The Sphinx.” Also new at the restaurant are craft cocktails, something that Garcia says was missing in Westover.
What hasn’t changed at the Stray Cat, though, is the mission to help pets find homes.
“Our dedication to the animal rescue is still our, our top priority and part of who we are in this small family,” Garcia says.
This past weekend was essentially a soft opening to work out any kinks. All went well, Garcia reports. For the moment, Stray Cat is only open for dinner except on Saturdays (when open all day) and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The hope is to gradually extend hours.
After more than two years closed, Garcia says Stray Cat Bar & Grill is ready to serve the community.
“I’m ready to see us get busy again.”
(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.
A group of thieves went on an overnight crime spree this weekend, breaking into 14 cars and stealing another three, according to Arlington County police.
The crimes were first reported early Sunday morning and spanned at least three residential, North Arlington neighborhoods — Bellevue Forest, Donaldson Run and Westover — according to an ACPD crime report.
The thieves stole cash and personal items from cars and also drove off with three vehicles that had keys left inside. Two of the stolen cars were later found in D.C.
Police were not able to provide a description of any of the suspects.
More from ACPD:
GRAND LARCENY AUTO/LARCENY FROM AUTO (Series), 2022-05150056/05150063/05150066/05150070/005150071, 3000 block of N. Oakland Street/3000 block of N. Quincy Street/2900 block of N. Stafford Street/3700 block of 30th Road N./5700 block of 11th Street N. At approximately 4:45 a.m. on May 15, police were dispatched to the report of a vehicle tampering. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was inside his residence when he observed the unknown suspect enter into his unlocked vehicle in his driveway. The victim knocked on the window, during which the suspect entered into a nearby waiting vehicle and fled the scene. The investigation determined the suspect(s) entered into and rummaged through approximately 14 victim vehicles and stole personal items and an undisclosed amount of cash from several of the vehicles. Additionally, it was discovered three vehicles with keys inside were stolen from the 3000 block of N. Quincy Street, 2900 block of N. Stafford Street and the 3700 block of 30th Road N. During the course of the investigation, two of the stolen vehicles were recovered in Washington D.C. The remaining stolen vehicle is described as a red in color, 2019 Ford Edge bearing VA license plate UMT3257. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.
Numerous car-related crimes have been reported in Arlington over the past month, encompassing the thefts of or from about 30 vehicles, not including this latest spree. That’s in addition to another eight or more that have been broken into without a reported theft.
Both Virginia State Police and Arlington County police are planning coffee-centric community engagement events in the coming weeks.
This Saturday, April 16, state troopers will be at the Italian Store in Westover (5837 Washington Blvd) from 10 a.m. to noon, ready to engage with the public. VSP will also be recruiting at their “Coffee and Conversation with Virginia State Police” event, looking for new hires to join their ranks.
There is also a chance new state hires could be working more closely here in Arlington. In November, the County Board approved a mutual aid agreement that allows troopers to aid Arlington police in keeping the nightlife scene in Clarendon and Crystal City safe.
Stop by The Italian Store – Westover at 5837 Washington Blvd in #Arlington to share a cup of coffee & conversation w/#VSP Troopers! Find out more about the many sworn & civilian careers VSP has to offer.
For more info &/or to apply for trooper, click on https://t.co/Q8syF1w57p. pic.twitter.com/d8B0YQjNXt
— VA State Police (@VSPPIO) April 4, 2022
ACPD, meanwhile, is set to host the first “Coffee with a Cop” events of 2022 later this month.
“It’s an informal opportunity to ask questions, discuss public safety and get to know the officers and neighbors in your community,” police said.
The department has been hosting these coffee-centric engagement events since at least 2015.
ACPD also continues to struggle with staffing shortages, recently announcing that the department would cut back on some services while those reporting minor crimes well after the fact are increasingly directed to do so online rather than with an on-scene officer.
(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) Fire damaged a house in the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood, a few blocks from Westover Village.
The fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday, reportedly in an outdoor deck area next to the house, which sent a column of dark smoke into the sky. The fire then spread to the home and the attic.
A large fire department response blocked streets around the home, near the intersection of 18th Street N. and N. Lexington Street. It took nearly an hour to extinguish all of the flames and hot spots. Firefighters remained on scene several hours after the initial dispatch, documenting the scene and investigating the cause of the blaze.
No injuries were reported.
On Monday afternoon, the Arlington County Fire Department revealed that the blaze started after the smoldering contents of a metal fire pit were dumped near a wooden fence. The fire caused more than $300,000 in damage, ACFD said in a press release, below.
On April 2nd, at approximately 2:55 pm, units from the Arlington County Fire Department were dispatched to a reported outside fire impinging on a nearby single-family dwelling. Crews quickly arrived on the scene and found a well-advanced fire that had spread from outside, into the home. Firefighters were able to extinguish the bulk of the fire quickly and spent a significant portion of the incident opening up void spaces to check for any potential fire spread. There were no injuries reported to firefighters or civilians, and units cleared the scene that evening just before 7 pm.
The Arlington County Fire Prevention Office determined the cause of the fire to be improperly discarded fire debris from a metal fire pit placed near landscaping and a wooden fence. Initial damage estimates are more than $300,000. The Arlington County Fire Department and Fire Prevention Office would like to remind everyone that open flames or discarded fire debris should be kept at least 15 feet away from combustible material until fully cooled. For more information on grilling and open burning, please visit Grilling/Open Burning – Official Website of Arlington County Virginia Government (arlingtonva.us)
Video courtesy Stephanie Minkoff
Arlington Chorale is presenting “Through Troubled Times” this weekend, a performance that was originally slated for two years ago prior to Covid-related shutdowns.
On Saturday (March 19) at Westover Baptist Church, the 56-year-old local chorus group will be finally performing a show that was initially scheduled for March 14, 2020. The show was canceled two days before it was set to happen due to the increasing number of Covid cases in the county.
“These works are the last pieces we rehearsed together before everything shut down in 2020 — we had to cancel the concert two days before,” Arlington Chorale’s artistic director Ingrid Lestrud tells ARLnow. “I think we all have memories of rehearsing this music in pre-pandemic times before masks and social distancing.”
“Through Troubled Times” features “dark dramatic moments and soaring beautiful melodies,” according to a press release, and will be highlighted by a performance of a two-century-old work that holds a “message of finding hope in turbulent times strongly [that] resonates with audiences today.”
In addition, Arlington Public Schools student Ava Yi, 13, will conduct the chorus in a performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” She won a virtual auction last spring that helped raise money for the group.
“Our shared human experiences over the last two years during the pandemic certainly adds a new perspective to this repertoire,” Arlington Chorale board president and soprano Ellen Keating said in a statement.
This will be only the group’s second concert back in front of a live audience since pausing performances two years ago.
The 60-member local, nonprofit chorus was first established in 1966. It’s a mixed-voice group, meaning both women and men sing together. Over the years, it has performed at a number of significant regional events including the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2018 at Nationals Park.
Lestrud says the last two years have made rehearsing and keeping members difficult, but this year’s auditions renewed her optimism.
“I was blown away by all the audition requests I received! Most of our new members are in their 20s, and our singers range in age from 19-84,” she says. “It’s truly an intergenerational group that values inclusivity and diversity.”
With almost half of the 60-member group new and shows upcoming in May and June, Lestrud is confident the chorus’s future is bright.
“Most of the singers sang in choirs throughout high school and college, and they’re looking for a group where they can sing high quality choral music and be challenged to create something beautiful together,” she says. “Many of our members have recently moved to the area, and they joined the Arlington Chorale in order to meet people and become a part of our community.”
An Arlington man is facing numerous charges after an alleged abduction and shot fired along Columbia Pike.
The incident happened Tuesday night near the western end of the Pike in Arlington.
“At approximately 9:56 p.m. on January 11, police were dispatched to the report of a dispute,” said today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined that the known suspect and female victim became involved in a verbal dispute. During the incident, the suspect allegedly brandished a firearm, threatened the victim, attempted to force her into a vehicle before discharging a round into the air and fleeing the scene.”
A suspect was later arrested.
“Officers identified the suspect, obtained warrants and subsequently located him and took him into custody without incident,” ACPD said. The 27-year-old man is facing an array of charges including “Abduction, Brandishing a Firearm, Assault & Battery, Reckless Handling of a Firearm, and Discharging a Firearm in a Public Place.”
Separately, a 33-year-old Arlington man is facing charges after an incident Wednesday night in the Westover area, on the 1100 block of N. Kenilworth Street.
“At approximately 10:36 p.m. on January 12, police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun. Upon arrival, officers determined the suspect’s location inside an apartment, announced themselves as law enforcement and gave him commands to exit,” said the crime report. “The suspect exited the residence with a firearm in his hands, complied with officers commands to drop the weapon and was subsequently taken into custody without incident.”
“The investigation determined that the witness was inside her residence when she heard a loud noise coming from across the hallway and observed the suspect allegedly banging on an apartment door, making threatening statements and armed with a firearm,” the crime report continued.
A suspect was arrested and is facing charges of Reckless Handling of a Firearm and Disorderly Conduct, according to ACPD.
For the second time in three days, a food delivery driver was robbed last week by a knife-wielding man in Westover. This time, however, an arrest was made.
The first incident, as previously reported, happened last Tuesday around noon, on the 5800 block of Washington Blvd in Westover.
“The victim was delivering food items to the suspect’s residence when the suspect opened the door and allegedly produced a knife and demanded that the victim leave the items,” an Arlington County Police Department crime report said. “The victim placed the items on the ground and left the scene before contacting dispatch. Warrants were obtained for the suspect. The investigation is ongoing.”
The second incident happened Thursday around dinner time, in much the same manner. From ACPD:
ROBBERY, 2021-12300151, 5800 block of Washington Boulevard. At approximately 6:40 p.m. on December 30, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was delivering food items to the suspect’s residence when the suspect opened the door and allegedly produced a box cutter and demanded that the victim leave the items. The victim placed the items down, exited the building and contacted police. Officers obtained warrants for Robbery and Defrauding a Restaurant for [The suspect], 36, of Arlington, VA.
It was not until Sunday, however, that officers went to arrest the man. A barricade situation and attempt to flee from police ensued.
“When officers attempted to serve the warrants at the suspect’s residence on January 2, he barricaded himself inside the apartment before attempting to flee out of a second story window,” said the crime report. “He was taken into custody and transported to an area hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.”
Arlington police have not had much of a holiday break.
The first happened near Crystal City on Monday night, when police say a drunk man with a knife injured two people.
From an ACPD crime report:
MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 2021-12270168, 2900 block of S. Eads Street. At approximately 9:45 p.m. on December 27, police were dispatched to multiple reports of an individual armed with a knife attempting to enter a vehicle. Upon arrival, officers located the suspect and detained him without incident. The investigation determined that the victim observed the male suspect in the parking lot of a business with a knife in his hand. The victim entered his vehicle and was approached by the suspect, who allegedly struck the rear window with the knife. The suspect began to yell at the victim, then shattered two of the vehicle’s windows. The victim then exited his vehicle to find safety inside a nearby business, when the suspect approached and struck him in the face. The victim sustained minor injuries and later declined the treatment of medics. The suspect then approached another business in the 2800 block of S. Eads and attempted to gain entry. When he was refused entry by an employee, the suspect allegedly threatened him with the knife and continued to yell and act disorderly. While attempting to restrain the suspect with the help of an additional witness, the employee sustained minor lacerations that did not require the treatment of medics. [The suspect], 41, of Oxon Hill, Md., was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding (x2), Attempted Malicious Wounding, Destruction of Property, Attempted Carjacking, and Drunk in Public. He was held on no bond.
Then, just before noon on Tuesday, a person with a knife allegedly threatened a food delivery driver in Westover.
ROBBERY, 2021-12280065, 5800 block of Washington Boulevard. At approximately 11:56 a.m. on December 28, police were dispatched to the report of an assault just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was delivering food items to the suspect’s residence when the suspect opened the door and allegedly produced a knife and demanded that the victim leave the items. The victim placed the items on the ground and left the scene before contacting dispatch. Warrants were obtained for the suspect. The investigation is ongoing.
A motive for the first two incidents was not immediately clear.
Finally, last night an 18-year-old suspect was arrested after a fight that led police to surround a home in the Virginia Square area. Police say the suspect injured two officers while being taken into custody.
ASSAULT ON LAW ENFORCEMENT, 2021-12280160, 1400 block of N. Lincoln Street. At approximately 8:47 p.m. on December 28, police were dispatched to the report of an assault with a knife in progress. Upon arrival, officers heard noise consistent with an active fight occurring inside the residence, established a perimeter and gave commands for the occupants to exit. A short time later, the victim exited the home, followed by the suspect. Officers gave the suspect lawful commands and attempted to take him into custody, however, he began to act disorderly and fight officers, striking two officers multiple times. A brief struggle ensued, and the suspect was subsequently taken into custody without further incident. The two officers sustained minor injuries and did not require the treatment of medics. [The suspect], 18, of Fredericksburg, Va., was arrested and charged with Assault & Battery on Police (x2) and Obstruction of Justice. He was held without bond.
(Updated 5:30 p.m.) The child who was struck by a driver a few weeks ago while riding his scooter in Westover has returned home, police say.
A Cadillac sedan struck the child in the afternoon on Nov. 17 as the driver exited a county-owned alley onto N. Longfellow Street. The boy was reportedly pulled from under the vehicle and was conscious when medics arrived to rush him to a local hospital.
“The toddler has been released from the hospital and is reportedly doing well,” said Ashley Savage, a spokeswoman for Arlington County Police Department, told ARLnow yesterday afternoon.
No additional details about the nature of the toddler’s injuries were provided, although initial reports indicated he had suffered a serious head injury.
The driver stayed on scene while police began their investigation, which Savage said Tuesday “remains an active and ongoing critical crash investigation.”
Following the crash the look of the alley has changed, as some thick hedges — one of a number of safety concerns neighbors articulated about the alley — have come down. Workers could be seen trimming back the hedges last Thursday.
Reached by phone Tuesday, a family member of the homeowner declined to comment about the hedges.
On the day of the crash, Arlington County’s code enforcement division received a complaint about the house with the hedges, spokeswoman Erika Moore told ARLnow Wednesday afternoon.
“Code enforcement cited the property owner under Chapter 10 of the County Code and sent a notice as required,” she said.
Chapter 10 covers trash, recycling and care of premises, and says the following: “It shall be the joint and several duty of each owner or occupant of property to cut back or remove trees or parts thereof, hedges, shrubs, vines and other vegetation which encroaches upon any sidewalk, alley, roadway, street or highway and which impairs or obstructs any pedestrian or vehicular traffic.”
Other safety threats in the area, according to residents, include drivers traveling at a high rate of speed on N. Longfellow Street and on the alley, which connects N. Longfellow Street and the cul-de-sac at 15th Road N. Additionally, streetlights on the alley were dim or out, making it hard to see after nightfall, though the crash occurred during daylight hours.
The crash led the Westover Civic Association to ask on Nextdoor for reports of similar accidents or incidents in the area, which the civic group intends to present to the Arlington County Board.
“Our team is evaluating the crash locations in detail now and will conduct a holistic assessment on alleys from now into the spring,” Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien told ARLnow on Tuesday.
In the other crash, a man who was reportedly speeding down an alley on his motorcycle collided with a school bus carrying children.