Whoever wrote that Cheers song was a sociological genius: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” And it’s true. Sometimes you want to get out of the house and go to a place where you know you will be greeted warmly. But in the D.C.- area, with high-end prices and even higher-end attitudes from serving staff and bartenders, it’s not always easy to find.
That’s why we were struck when the first time we went to Dogwood Tavern in Falls Church, the bartender asked our names. Gave us his as he leaned over the long wooden bar to shake our hands. And then remembered our names for subsequent visits! One female bartender almost got me in trouble. I went in with my husband and she smiled genuinely at me and said, “We haven’t seen you in awhile.” My husband raised an eyebrow and wondered how often was I frequenting the local tavern without him.
Once a month for lunch! I’d order tea!
That’s the thing about Dogwood, aptly named a tavern with its brick walls, large fireplace and beautiful wood-beam ceiling. Regardless whether you’re there for a Saturday night free-for-all or a Tuesday salad and tea, they make you feel welcome. They make you feel at home.
“We live in the community; our customers are part of us,” said Paul Taylor, beverage director for Vintage Restaurant Group, which owns Dogwood Tavern in Falls Church, Rhodeside Grill in Clarendon and two other Arlington neighborhood bars. “We want to give good meals, good drinks and make people happy. That’s something we can really excel at where sometimes other people fail.”
I called Paul to ask him what his organization emphasized in making a great neighborhood bar. Getting to know their customers is one thing. So bartenders will always ask your name; go in, you can test it.
They also work hard to provide something that will appeal to all of their potential customers. Falls Church is a land of working singles, families and higher-end wage earners; Dogwood offers bands on the weekend and sports viewing on big screen TVs for the young, large and comfy indoor and outdoor dining spaces for families, and a great selection of craft beers, cocktails made with small batch ingredients, and interesting daily meal specials to appeal to those looking for a higher-end experience.
“We’ve definitely strived to create a place where we want to go eat and drink,” Paul said. “We love that our employees will stick around after a shift and have a beverage; they’ve worked really hard to create a welcoming environment so why not stick around to enjoy it. At the end of the day, the customers become family.”
For a long time, we were just once-every-two-to-three-weeks customers. But we were made to feel like family. We’re rabid University of Kansas basketball fans, and the bartenders would always chat us up about that season’s potential. We were even bigger fans of an appetizer called Potatoskinadilla (Potato. Skin. Adilla. All the deliciousness of a potato skin – the bacon, chives, sour cream, soft bits of potato – stuck in a cheesy quesadilla and grilled to a crisp char on the outside. Yum). We bemoaned its demise when they took it off the menu, but whenever it’s a special, the bartenders bring it to our attention.
With the opening of a rooftop outdoor bar this spring, we became once-a-week regulars, grabbing a drink on a happy hour Friday or a lazy Sunday afternoon. That’s when we got to know the bartenders: Rachel, Drew, Mike, Cassandra. If anything speaks to the embrace Dogwood provides, it’s the fact the many of these bartenders have been here since its opening in 2008. Restaurants have an incredibly high turnover rate of 62 percent, but Dogwood has created a place where both staff and customers want to stay.
"There are a lot of places around that you can go to for a meal or a drink," Paul said. "When there’s that many choices, you need to have a level of service that goes above and beyond. That’s sort of our mission."
Mission accomplished. Thanks for giving us a place where everyone knows our names.
132 West Broad St., Falls Church, VA 22046
In-Between Tip: On Monday, Sept. 8, Dogwood is inviting its customers to enjoy a whiskey event with Catoctin Creek Distillery, a Virginia whiskey-maker from Loudon County's Purcellville. Paul said he was particularly excited about the Peanut Old Fashioned they will have available. "What's more Virginia than Virginia peanuts and Virginia honey?"