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It's a Friday night at the Vienna Inn in Vienna, Va. The place is packed with customers — it's standing room only — but manager Katie Herron somehow pulls herself away from the bar just long enough to give a quick history lesson.
"Mike and Mollie Abraham opened the restaurant in 1960," says Herron. "It changed hands in May 2000, but the tradition stayed the same."
Just what is that tradition?
"The tradition is casual, laid-back," replies Herron. "It's all-inclusive. So you can be old, young, new to the area, lived here for 20 to 30 years and you're always welcome."
As for the building itself, she says, "It's wooden, it's small, it's compact. Not a lot has changed since 1960."
Like most folks in this bar and restaurant, which is known for its chilidogs, cheap beer, and long communal tables, Casey Samson is a regular. A real estate agent and local youth football coach, Samson's been visiting this beloved neighborhood tavern for 45 years. During that time, he's seen the place change significantly.
"It used to be back in the '60s and '70s that only the coaches and adults would come in," says Samson. "Kids weren't really allowed in here, because the coaches didn't want the kids to see them drinking. It was a beer bar, and it was a little rougher group."
But Samson says that began to change when Mike and Mollie's son Philip began working at the Inn in the 1970s. Philip Abraham introduced an expanded menu and created a family-friendly environment that still exists today under current owner Marty Volk.
"This is Vienna's clubhouse," he says emphatically. "It's a part of our identity. And now everybody comes."
And he means everybody. Tonight kids of all ages are running around the Vienna Inn, many still wearing their youth baseball uniforms.
Manager Katie Herron believes there is a surprising equilibrium to the whole thing.
"I think the parents can relax and the kids can be distracted for a while, at least for five or ten minutes," she says. I don't think that they have to tell their kids 'keep your napkin in your lap, keep your hands folded and please try and be quiet.' Kids can really participate in the restaurant and they really like to do that."
Patron Richard Peterson-Cremer describes the unique contribution kids have made to the Inn's aesthetic.
"The walls are covered in local teams' sports trophies from little league baseball to some bowling leagues and everything in between," says Peterson-Cremer. "There are also placemats that kids have drawn on, drawn various pictures about how much they love Vienna Inn. And those get posted weekly, or daily I guess, all over the place."
Other than that, the presence of kids doesn't seem to change much of anything. The room is still dimly lit, every table creaks and wobbles, and the Inn has an eclectic and boisterous crowd. This could be any dive bar in the country, except, says Casey Samson, for one key difference — you don't curse in the Vienna Inn even if you're Washington Redskins Hall of Fame running back John Riggins.
"John Riggins was here one night and [he] threw the f-bomb out and the whole place went quiet, because Mollie wouldn't put up with that," explains Samson. "So she came walking over and he turned into an 8-year-old kid. He had to stand up. He had to apologize to the crowd for cursing and she goes 'All right, you can stay.'"
Mind your manners and you can stay all night at Vienna's unofficial clubhouse.
[Music: "Young at Heart" by 101 Strings Orchestra from 101 Strings Plays Frank Sinatra]
Photos: The Vienna Inn