Good Night to a Great Bar
Gone but not forgotten, Clarendon Grill was a place where life happened.
The job was intoxicating. Weekends were loud and crazy with a line around the block every night (there were VERY few bars in the neighborhood at the time). The Grill was hot and buzzing with the electricity of twentysomethings. The noise was at times deafening from the bands, and the whole scene was clouded in a haze of smoke. (Like, actual cigarette smoke. Different time.)
People laughed and cried, sang and danced, drank and got into fistfights. Something always broke, someone always quit and whatever could go wrong would go wrong. Every night was wild but different, and I had to try to figure out how to hold it together. I absolutely loved it.
That job made me realize something about myself: I need chaos and uncertainty to work at my best. It didn’t quite lay out a career path, but it helped push me toward one. A few of the contacts I made there continue to be some of the most important in my life. One of my dearest mentors, executive chef and partner Kevin Weeks, we lost in 2007. But others have stayed with me.
Like my wife.
Meredith and I grew up together in Arlington. We were apart for high school and college, but we both moved back to our hometown around the same time. Back then there was only one real spot for recent grads to come together. And I was working there.
So when there was a line — and there was always a line—I would get a call. I tried to play it cool as I let this beautiful woman slip in the back door and take my breath away.
Time went on and things worked out for us.
Meredith and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. We have a middle schooler and a mortgage, we go to bed early, and every morning we wake up to seemingly more gray hairs. We are at a different point in our lives now, but in many ways our story started at the corner of North Highland and 11th Streets.
It’s not the only story that started at the Grill, to be sure. That is what a great place can do. Webs of interactions spiral out and create connections and memories that exist far beyond the four walls—ones that can last far longer than the place itself.
The Clarendon Grill was that kind of place.
For all of this, I am grateful to restaurateur Pete Pflug for coming up with a crazy idea to build a construction-site-themed bar on that corner all those years ago.
Thanks, Pete — it was a great run.
Nick Freshman is a co-owner of Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon and founder of the restaurant venture-capital firm Mothersauce Partners. His latest venture is The Freshman, a forthcoming cocktail and coffee bar in Crystal City. He lives in Arlington Ridge with his wife and daughter and hasn’t been in a bar fight in years. This essay was first published on Medium.com.