When the city government, the big office-space developers, and the Washington Post envisioned a “revitalized,” upscaled downtown, they intended to remove everything except for the department stores and a few historic landmarks. A rare exception was made for Whitlow’s, a homey, hardly upscale bar and restaurant at 11th and E Streets NW. When Oliver T. Carr announced plans for a massive office complex dubbed Lincoln Square—plans that were trumpeted on the Post‘s front page—Whitlow’s was part of the deal. The Oliver T. Carr Co. promised to include the restaurant in the project, even commiting to rebuilding its distinctive art deco facade as part of the larger structure.
Six-and-a-half years after Whitlow’s—and all the other formerly bustling businesses along the affected blocks of 11th, E, and F Streets—were evicted, the facade is still there. The Carr Co. is long gone from the site, having taken the project into bankruptcy. The empty properties—scarred by abandonment and arson—were sold to the Lawrence Ruben Co., a New York development company that has yet to announce when it will proceed with the partially redesigned development.
Whitlow’s, however, is done waiting. Like so many of the other small businesses that were run out of downtown, the restaurant has found a new home in the suburbs. The business will be reborn next month, owner Greg Cahill says, in a ’50s-vintage former furniture store on Arlington’s Wilson Boulevard, one block east of the Clarendon Metro station. To distinguish it from its predecessor, the place will be called Whitlow’s on Wilson.
Cahill, who operated a carryout at 476 K St. NW for a time after Whitlow’s closed, says he looked for another location in the old neighborhood, but couldn’t find one. Instead, the suburban Whitlow’s will be a shrine to Washington’s displaced downtown.
“We’re trying to recreate a lot of the same atmosphere,” he says. The restaurant will feature memorabilia from Whitlow’s and other vanished downtown businesses, as well as a mural of the old facade. “An interior wall here is going to look like the exterior wall on E Street,” he explains.
“I ran the place for almost 20 years,” Cahill notes, and he hopes to attract some of the old customers to the Arlington location. The diner- style food will be the same, and some of the familiar staff will be rehired. But the new, larger Whitlow’s is also designed to appeal to a new, younger crowd. Cahill plans live music five nights a week, and will stay open late.
“My intent was only to be out of 11th and E for about two years,” remembers Cahill, but he says he’s not bitter about what happened. Whitlow’s never had any binding deal with the developer, he notes, but “the Carr Company was pretty decent with me.”
Still, Cahill doesn’t much credit the developer’s real-estate savvy. “They put everybody out without having any plan to start building the building,” he says. “That’s the only thing I think was a shame. If we had just another six months, they probably would have seen that the [new] building wasn’t going to be built anytime soon.” And Whitlow’s would still be serving turkey dinners—and paying rent and taxes—at 11th and E.