MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll end today's show by raising a glass to the local bar scene with our series, "D.C. Dives."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
What is a dive bar?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
The glorious dump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2
It's gotta have an interesting staff and an interesting crowd.
It's gotta be dark, it's gotta be old. Typically, it's gotta be cheap.
This time around, Jerad Walker takes us to a dive tucked away in a strip mall in the heart of Arlington's Westover neighborhood.
MR. JERAD WALKER
It's early on a Friday night, and I'm at The Forest Inn. There's a small but lively crowd watching the Nationals game on a television in one corner of the room. So I squeeze into a wooden seat at the end of the bar and join them. There I meet Dave Batten, a regular who's been frequenting this dive for more than 10 years. Dave explains why the room feels crowded, even when it's not.
MR. DAVID BATTEN
It's like about a 20 seat bar with, like, six booths that are up against the wall. It's a pretty small place, L shaped. It doesn't hold a lot of people. 50, 60 people, something like that at the most.
The bar, which has three decades of history in the neighborhood, has been in its current location since the mid nineties. And for years, until Virginia's smoking ban was enacted in 2009, was a pretty shabby place.
If you were in here for a few hours and then you went home, you basically had to stand in front of the washing machine and take your clothes off, because they would reek of nicotine.
These days, though, The Forest Inn is smoke free and has a relatively new coat of paint. But, it hasn't lost its quirkiness. As I'm chatting with Dave, I notice something fascinating about the room, the kind of idiosyncrasy that makes a dive a dive. What's on the top row of the liquor cabinet in the back?
On the very top row, they have elephants, and the elephants are sacred to the owners. The owners are Hindu, from India. And so, they collect elephants, especially elephants with the trunks turned upright, because that is a symbol of luck.
Do people donate elephants to the collection?
Yeah, they do. People have brought elephants in for I don't even know how many years. Probably, at least 20 years. Some of them are ceramic, some are glass, some are plastic, you know, there's just all sorts of elephants all, you know -- no matter where you look, there's a bunch of elephants up there.
Bar manager Ken Choudhary says this endearing and surprising cross cultural exchange started in a purely organic fashion.
MR. KEN CHOUDHARY
It was started with the one, two, only three elephants, and then other people, whenever they were going to the vacation, stuff like that, and everyone started bringing a little bit gift for, you know, their favorite bar. And, I mean, look at that now, you know? How did we end up with all that big collection over there, and people just still keep on bringing...
Most of the folks who brought these offerings to the bar are regulars, a varied bunch, spanning several generations.
It's just been here for so many years that you have people coming here of all ages from, you know, retirees in their 60's, 70's, and maybe even 80's up to restaurant workers that are younger that are discovering the place now.
One such worker is 26 year old David Calhoun, who grew up in the area and works at a beer garden just down the street.
How is this place different than newer places that have popped up in the last few years?
MR. DAVID CALHOUN
You've got a lot of people that grew up in Arlington. It's fantastic. You know, a lot of the places in Clarendon, you know, courthouse area. People move in here and they're like, oh, we're not gonna have any time dealing with the locals, let's go here. But this is more of a community type base, so, I mean, my grandfather knew his grandfather, my grandfather knew this guy, you know? It kinda cool.
The only beer on tap at The Forest Inn is Budweiser, and Linda Theodore, who's tended bar at The Inn for nine years, says this kind of simplicity is what endears the place to people.
MS. LINDA THEODORE
It's not formal. We don't have tablecloths. We're just a basic, you have your basic menu, your basic drinks, nothing fancy. You don't have to dress up.
But it's more than that.
It's home. I know everybody. It's just home.
Denise Loeber, a transplanted New Yorker who lives in Westover and frequents the bar regularly, echoes that sentiment.
MS. DENISE LOEBER
They treat me like family. They treat me like they've known me forever. They don't treat me like I've only been here 13 years. And they don't treat people that have only been here a year like they're new people. It's a family atmosphere in a really dysfunctional way, but it's a family atmosphere.
I'm Jerad Walker.
Do you have a favorite local dive bar you'd like to suggest for our series? If so, we'd love to hear from you. You can reach us at email@example.com or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Jonathan Wilson, and Jerad Walker, along with reporter Lauren Ober. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. Metro Connection's managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our brand new intern is Steven Yenzer. Welcome aboard, Steven.
Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website. Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" is from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings record company. You can find all the music we use each week on our website, MetroConnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.
And if you missed part of the show, you can stream the whole thing on our website, by clicking the "This Week On Metro Connection" link. You can also subscribe to our podcast there or find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and the NPR news app. We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you a show we're calling "Latino D.C." We'll look at the role Latinos are playing in Virginia's gubernatorial race. We'll learn why many immigrants in our region are falling victim to notario fraud. We'll head to Columbia Heights to visit the Gala Hispanic Theater, and we'll dig into Mexican cuisine as part of our "Eating In the Embassy" series. Plus, we'll ask the question, if Washington's Latino community is growing, why aren't we seeing more Latinos in city politics?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2
The Latinos are still with the mindset of we gotta survive, you know? We just gotta work and work and work and work and education is like second thing for us.
I'm Rebecca Sheir, and thanks for listening to Metro Connection, a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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