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I like to start out fast so, in keeping with our monthly theme, here’s some immediate advice. If, like quite a few of your fellow Americans, you have dreams of opening your own cozy little bar/restaurant, don’t call it “Whitey’s.” It probably won’t wash as a name in 2020. But, fortunately for those of us who resided near Washington Boulevard in Arlington, VA, a generation or two ago, Whitey’s not only existed–like something out of an Edward Hopper painting–it thrived. Not that a degree of success went to anyone’s head who actually worked or hung out there.
No doubt many of you are thinking “That was a long time ago, and I don’t really want to hear about this place unless Whitey’s had a neon sign that said, ‘EAT.'” Here’s more advice: Not To Worry. I lived a long walk away but always marked my progress by how clearly I could see the sign. And, being the reasonably well run joint that Whitey’s was, that sign never said “E T”,” “ AT,” or “EA .”
Whitey’s existed for 50 years—a remarkable number in our own era of disposable enterprises. It passed away on March 25, 2003. Little is known about the eponymous owner, a biker named “Whitey,” but the consensus is that, under his stewardship, Whitey’s was a honky-tonk inhabited by “ruffians” straight out of central casting for “The Wild One.” At some point in the late ’50s, when the suburbs of Washington were still largely “countrified,” Whitey’s was sold to its last owner, and did well for a long time.
In many ways, Whitey’s was all about the decor, including:
- A prominent sign admonishing “Eat or Go to Your Room.”
- A deer head protruding from one side of a wall while the other end protruded from the other side.
- An area for darts dubbed “The Lincoln Room” by Secret Service staffers after President Clinton solicited contributions to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom.
Eventually, as happens, things began to change. The owner was booed when he took down a sailfish hanging over the bar. The menu “evolved,” but not to the exclusion of another piece of advice. What should I order? “Broasted chicken,” of course (see neon in left window, above). Perhaps this chicken concoction is popular elsewhere in the country, but I’ve only encountered it at Whitey’s. True to Whitey’s rather quirky nature, its sort-of-famous chicken was prepared in a device straight outta Beloit, WI, and manufactured by The Broaster Co. The cooker looks something like a top-loading washer and the culinary experience is similar to lightly fried chicken. It was good enough.
Now one might reasonably ask “Is this a story without a moral?” Mere random snippets of quasi-advice about a time when honky tonks really were dives, as opposed to ersatz places designed to be “dive bars?” Not so fast, because it turns out that Whitey’s was one of those proverbial canaries in the coal mine, and its demise presaged a turn in the area’s politics from red-ish to hard-core blue. Whitey’s was replaced by two adjoining restaurants owned by the same group, one described by the Washington Post as a “contemporary American bistro with an exceptional wine program,” while the other was “its casual gastropub counterpart. Introducing a fresh, textural palette.” In other words, not Whitey’s.
So, if you live in an area transitioning from red to blue and have your own “Whitey’s,” here’s a last piece of advice: Enjoy it while you can.Published in