Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Demise of the Good Doctor...

..or Elegy for a Suburban Saloon.

Last night, five of us decided to host a redux of the old TNS (Tuesday Night Swill) ride to gather at Dr. Dremo's Taphouse in Arlington. We wanted to show our repects for this iconic and soon-to-be departed neighborhood pub—a victim of rampant (and too late?) housing market forces and xenophobic county officials—and also, proud sots that we are, to quaff some good ale.

(Okay, this wouldn't be a literary lamentation without a little sardonic editorializing and a bit of maudlin reminiscing before we move on to the tale. Hey, I have to space out the pix somehow, and the evening, while entertaining, wasn't all that unusual or action-packed. So just bear with me.)

In recent years, the former Bardo Rodeo (and, before that, Oldsmobile dealership) had fought a losing battle1 with the county and commercial developers to simply remain what it had always been: a dark, noisy, smokey refuge against the increasingly commonplace yuppie bars that now litter the boulevards passing through Court House and Clarendon like the scattered baubles of a broken charm-bracelet.

Hunkered down against the tightening stricture of towering office buildings and predatorial condominiums, Dremo's is a down-to-earth, well, dive, where you can find on tap an array of fine drafts as eclectic as the surrounding decorum rubbing elbows with such crass classics as PBR, Yuengling, and Rolling Rock.

It's also a place where a thumpin' juke box blissfully precludes the irritating cellphone conversations (can ya hear me now...yeah?...good—fuck you!) so prevalent at nearby establishments, where the odor of stale beer and nicotine is as enduring as the indecorous graffiti splashed across the walls, or the virulent tats covering employee and patron alike, where a grimey window just past the pool tables offers up an epiphanic view of the District's priapic pride and joy and other architectural goodies, where the Shenandoah Brewing Company showcases some odd (Chocolate Donut Stout) and not so odd (Dremo's James Brown Ale) offerings, where, outside, a wooden totemic golem clasping mug to mouth squats atop a keg to welcome bargoers with a prescient leer, where, every Tuesday night, almost without fail, you can stumble downstairs, beer in hand, to take in a bizarre classic chosen by the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, where, in summer months past, you could wander outside to the erstwhile mechanics bay to stand on dimunitive dunes of trucked-in sand at the patio bar, and where the staff let you park your bike inside with nary a question or questionable look. Gone, all of it, with no hope of reprieve, come 2 a.m on January 27th. Alas...

I biked from work in SW DC to Falls Church, Virginia, to meet up with Gary and Jason at 5:00. I got there a few minutes late owing to a headwind and a capricious decision to take to the streets over the W&OD Trail. The boys were already heading my way, and in seconds we were all rolling eastward along the trail at speed, just like in the good old days. The sun was drifting westerly as we crossed the invisible border from Falls Church into Arlington, picking our way between speeding cars along Route 29 as we did so.

After a few minor run-ins with rush-hour traffic—including one with a Metrobus whose indelicate lane-wavering bordered on the rapacious—we found ourselves pushing the bikes through the industrial doors of Dremo's to line them up against the wall on the left. I threw a lock on mine, mostly because I'd packed the damn thing (but also because you can never be too careful with high-end bike bling), and bundled Gary's up with it, just to make things difficult. On an otherwise empty bulletin board on the wall behind the bikes was a forlorn note declaring January 26th (for simplicity's sake) as the official D-Day.

We grabbed a table in the center of the oddly empty barroom and, after inquiring about the reputed tap presence of Bear Republic's rare heavy-hitter, Racer X (alas, 'twas only a cruel rumor), opted for a pitcher of Lagunitas IPA. It wasn't long before Butch rolled in, having just taken care of some domestic duties, and ordered up a pitcher of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Thus began the perennial discussion about the apparent fragility of this popular ale,2 a condition confirmed by the first sip. I stuck to the Lagunitas (spot on!) for the rest of the night, as did Gary, with only a brief dalliance with some Rogue Dead Guy Ale near the end. At some point, Zack joined us, rolling in late after overshooting the turn off Wilson to get to the place. He's a city boy and finds the suburbs a bit confusing. Understandable, since, by his own admission, he spends little time in them (also understandable).3

Beer and bullshit flowed. Four of us ordered burgers that were quite tasty, as were the seasoned fries accompanying them—the lone holdout, Gary, had a chicken quesadilla. In a place as dark and, uh, old-skool authentic as that of the good doctor, this grub was a nice, though not wholly unexpected, treat. The food at Dremo's is your standard pub fare, to be sure, but it's done right and it's satisfying and unpretentous (like the taphouse itself) and you know what you're getting.

Pitcher begat pitcher, and the place filled up with loyal patrons come to pay last respects to the dying, along with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. Just before 10:00, we called for the tab, settled up, then saddled up. Outside in the crisp air, it was good to see the railing loaded with bikes, including a few fixies. Butch and Zack took off heading east, to Alexandria and DC, respectively. Gary, Jason, and I set out the wrong way up Clarendon Boulevard (the usual route) before cutting over to Wilson after passing the Taco Bell (another victim, though much less pitiable, of the impending retail and residential search and destroy, an establishment whose glass doors I once, on a past TNS ride, had the Dutch courage to urinate on in an admittedly puerile attempt to extend a metaphor).

The ride back was largely uneventful, Jason and I leaving Gary behind several times at intersections before we all regrouped at the Custis Trail spur near Fairfax Drive. From there, I again took the lead, laying down a good pace and seeing Jason's headlight dwindle away to nothing behind me once we hit the W&OD junction. I was running on alcohol, and it felt good to throw it down in the coolness of the night. At the top of a hill near the Falls Church border, I stopped to dig out the camera and take some final pix as the boys approached. The results were less than stellar (no surprise there), though one or two turned out well enough. I bid the boys farewell, and took off back into Arlington, leaving them to trundle along on their own to their cars a couple miles away in Falls Church.

It was another good night spent in good company, the drunken bantering having somehow displaced the gloomy awareness that very soon one of the last real bars in the suburbia surrounding DC will close its doors forever, as Arlington cannibalizes its past to feed a questionable future.

Go show the good doctor some love one last time and say goodbye in proper fashion.

1. In an all too common anti-fairytale ending, the landlord went for the bucks. It was never Dremo's fight to begin with, as I understand it.

2. Seems any time I order a DFH 60 Minute IPA anywhere lately, the stuff tastes skunky. Don't know where the problem lies, but since it's pretty consistent from pub to pub--including the DFH franchises--I'm looking at DFH and an underperforming quality control department. It's getting to the point where I won't even bother ordering it anymore.

3. For me, the fascination of the city—where even the scattered pockets of silence that form around the ceaseless grind and groan of unstaunched streams of traffic are gravid with anticipation and possibility—lies in its powerful and wholly obligatory social component. To live in the city is to be a social animal; this civil mandate is not a function of demographic concentrations or class; it thrives simultaneously among and between all realms, and is the offspring of necessity.

Photo credit for last pic above: Jason Stoner. More pix can be found here.


DT said...

Damn, looks like I missed another good TNS ride. I'm going to miss Dremos something fierce. Too bad I don't think I'll be making it back down before the closing. Anybody going to the auction and trying to pick up some brewing equipment or the totem pole, ha?

gwadzilla said...

the order has been placed!

Icon O. Classt said...

G, sweet, lemme know when and where to meet and I'll settle up.

fatbob29r said...

Oh man.... freaking yuppies couldn't leave well enough alone. One of my chums live in the rathole appartments x from the Rodeo back in the day. Used to park free at his place and walk over there. Last visit was to the Bardo Farm in Amissville before he split to AU. Oh well, the world needs another Banana Republic & Starbucks right?

Walker said...

I'm swarmed with the onset of the years as I remember Tyson's Corner with trees, Falls Church as suburbia, sleeping in the street of Vienna after riding the ride at the "fair"...
I will have to read this again, several times.
Anyone want to crash overnight in Dun Loring Park?

Walker said...

Oh yeah, Rogue Dead Guy is the shit.

fatbob29r said...

Yup, I remember when there were still working farms in Fairfax, and when Burke was too far out to commute to DC, now I have friends from Winchester who commute to DC daily.

Man, I miss that place!