With the approach of spring, there were signs of new life last week, of rebirth: pine paneling was stripped from walls, beer taps were fastened down and a stuffed reindeer and stuffed fish came down from their age-old perches.
In the long-time home of Whitey’s, there were signs of a new restaurant. It’s a look forward, not a look back, said Peter Pflug, co-owner of the Clarendon Grill and the Clarendon Ballroom. “We wanted to make it look significantly different from Whitey’s. Even if we wanted to do Whitey’s II, it would be camping on someone else’s material,” he said.
Working with three partners, Pflug is replacing an old Arlington bar and grill with New American cuisine in a restaurant and lounge. They hope to open by mid-June.
Neighbors are greeting news of the project with mixed emotions. “There’s probably hope that something cool and neighborhood-friendly goes in there,” said Erik Gutshall, president of the Lyon Park Civic Association representing the homes around Whitey’s.
In the last years of Whitey’s, neighbors worried about noise from live music, and occasional parking shortages that led diners to neighborhood streets. To some degree, those concerns remain, Gutshall said. “I’m not sure I can adequately characterize everyone’s thoughts. But I would like to believe most people are happy something’s coming.”
The group also has the blessings of Calvin Seville, the former owner of Whitey’s. “I hope he’s a smashing success,” said Seville.
<b>THE NEW RESTAURANT</b> doesn’t yet have a name, but there is a lot of experience going into the process of naming it, renovating it and planning a menu, said Pflug.
His partners in the project are Michael and Stephanie Babin and Christi Hart, owners of the Evening Star Café in Alexandria. David Pressley, a veteran of Clarendon Grill and Olives in downtown D.C., will be the new restaurant’s general manager.
“One of the things I’ve been telling folks is that, staying within a locally owned restaurant, we’ll be bringing in a little more downtown style,” said Pflug. That will mean a seasonally changing menu mixing Asian and Italian influences with traditional fare, made from regionally grown produce and meats.
It will also shift Whitey’s from a bar and grill to a restaurant and lounge. In the front room of the restaurant — the oldest portion of Whitey’s — Pflug and his partners plan on making the lounge a bar area that will also offer dinner seating. “We plan on having a bunch of lounge dining,” said Pflug. “We’re leaving the bar as-is.”
The back room, the site of Whitey’s stage, will be the main dining room, with a wine store in its front room. All told, the new restaurant will seat between 180 and 200 people.
Wine will be a special focus for the restaurant, Pflug wrote in the Lyon Park newsletter last month, with 30-40 wines available by the glass, and several hundred available by the bottle.
<b>WHAT IT WILL</b> look like is a little less certain, said Pflug. “We’re still getting shaken out with decor.” The plan is to use all natural materials, wood and stone.
Initial discussions had focused on a new interior, maybe with “a wink to the old Whitey’s,” he said. But in the end, most of the old grill’s signature looks have gone: “We ended up taking the knotty pine down, and Rudolph, and the blue marlins,” said Pflug. “The stuff that made it such a neat, old-fashioned joint.”
Losing the knotty pine will mark the end of the Whitey’s era, said Seville. “If they ripped that out, that truly takes away the character of Whitey’s.”
That may be cause for mourning among neighbors. “There was a lot of sentimental value” to Whitey’s, said Gutshall. “There’s mixed emotions. But most have accepted that Whitey’s is gone, and we look forward to what’s new, and what’s next.”
A complete change might be a good business decision, Seville said. “When I started there, I was the only game in town, then Clarendon grew more and more.”
<b>WITH MORE BARS</b> and clubs in the Clarendon area, he said, a restaurant with a more urban style might do better business. “The clientele has been changing for years, and they have different tastes. There are enough places that have entertainment.”
For their part, neighbors might have preferred something even further from Whitey’s. “Ideally, we would rather see a bakery there,” said Gutshall. “This could be an asset to our neighborhood, but it’s not our ideal situation.”
There is curiosity in the neighborhood about what the new restaurant will look like, a curiosity that Seville shares, to a certain degree. “I probably will go” when the new restaurant opens, he said. “There’s a curiosity to see what type of menu is going in, what type of place it’s going to be.”
But he won’t go to mourn Whitey’s, he said. “It belongs to somebody else. Those people can do with it what they want.”