As the days dwindled to hours before the closure of Whitlow’s on Wilson, some of those who had been patrons and boosters of the iconic Clarendon restaurant and watering hole gathered June 25 for one last hurrah.
Among them was Liza Hodskins, who with her husband was on hand when the establishment first opened its doors in November 1995. She recalled “a delicious salmon dinner” that set the tone for many nights to come.
“It’s been such the heart of Clarendon,” Hodskins said at the send-off, which happened ahead of the restaurant’s very last Friday-night dinner rush.
Having failed to come to terms with its landlord, the owners decided to close down – although they have dangled the possibility of a reopening, elsewhere, sometime in the future.
“We’ll make it happen,” said Greg Cahill, who with his wife Susie opened the Arlington restaurant in 1995, six years after the original Whitlow’s (at 11th and E Streets, N.W., in the District of Columbia) closed its doors due to redevelopment. The Cahills had operated that venue – opened in 1946 by David Whitlow – since 1971.
“All this outpouring of support, it knocks your socks off,” Cahill said at the sendoff, which because of the likelihood of a future resurrection didn’t quite have the feel of a wake as much as a going-away party for a good friend leaving town for a while.
In its first weeks of operation those 26 years back, Whitlow’s had failed to gain much traction. But then, Mother Nature dropped a surprise – one of those whopper weather systems that can take the region’s forecasters and residents by surprise.
“A terrible snowstorm was raging,” remembered Michael Foster, a local architect whose firm is located nearby.
The restaurant stayed open to serve the community, and bonds were cemented.
Once in the door that snowy night, Foster was hooked by the funky ambiance and warm welcome. “I’ve come here ever since,” Foster said.
Turning to Greg Cahill, he noted, “Many restaurants have come and went [in the area] and nobody missed them. You, my friend, will be missed.”
Eric Dobson was serving as executive director of the Clarendon Alliance, an economic-development organization, when the Cahills decided to rent space and take up residence in a neighborhood that looked a little less highfallutin’ than it does today.
“You guys are one of my great success stories,” said Dobson, who like then-Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette helped the restaurant navigate the Arlington government’s sometimes Byzantine (and often unforgiving) list of rules and regulations imposed on new businesses.
Fisette, who served 20 years on the County Board before retiring in 2017, was one of the early boosters of Whitlow’s.
The restaurant “is pretty magical – an incredibly cool space that is rustic and welcoming,” he said, with “Greg setting the tone – an all-around good guy.”
“We all have our Whitlow’s stories,” said Fisette, who lives in nearby Ashton Heights. “I think of jambalaya, half-price burgers, a great beer selection, real turkey.”
Susan Anderson, who worked at Whitlow’s from 1995-2005 and helped organize the event, remarked on “so many fantastic experiences.”
“All these amazing memories – this is what family is,” she said.
Jon Williams, the manager at Whitlow’s, has worked there his entire adult life. “It’s pretty amazing to soak in; the outpouring of support and love is truly astounding,” he said of the final countdown to closure.
Like the Cahills, Williams predicted Whitlow’s would be back – maybe not on Wilson, but somewhere.
“We’ve got to do something else,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”
Susie Cahill said the send-off event was a wonderful opportunity to “see all these faces from way back when.”
“The last couple of weeks have been overwhelming,” she said.
As for Clarendon? “I love this place,” she said.
The feeling is reciprocated. Hodskins remarked that she didn’t care where the new restaurant was located, just as long as it could be found within biking distance of her home, as the Wilson Boulevard one was.