After hanging out at Chevy Chase Inn — or diminutively, CCI — I question the inevitable comparison with the show Cheers because Hollywood rarely captures the unpretentiousness, the spontaneous irony, the unscripted wit, the long history, the warm oddity and utter curiousness of Lexington's beloved, and surprisingly undiscovered, 75-year-old watering hole.
Some people call it a ”dive,“ but I am not sure I agree with that either. While this is indeed the space that interior designers forgot, it is not really disreputable. A genuine cross-section of Lexington is represented; some regulars play cribbage, and others bring in their dinners to have with their Bud at the bar. Most of all, though, CCI lacks the sadly public desperation often found in ”dives“ where voyeurs sometimes go to view what the end of the line looks like.
On the contrary.
Management is kind, whether it's by keeping Band-Aids and aspirin on hand by the cash register (OK, I laughed too, but let's be honest — we've all been there), cracking a joke (”If you're going to call that 900 number, be sure to put it on speaker phone“) or by the reassuring bumper sticker on the wall, reminding you that ”Nobody is ugly after 2 a.m.“ That's good news!
There is no anonymity or gawking, but rather decades of friendships and stories. Get-well wishes are always sent to ailing regulars. It seems no one down on his luck here goes without some version of mutual aid.
Guitarist Roger Bondurant has had a relationship with CCI spanning more than two decades. Even the tree on stage has been there forever, changing its identity to suit the holiday or season: ornaments at Christmas, eggs at Easter, and something or other for the PGA.
Behind the bar hangs a photo of the man and his horse who came in together every Fourth of July. Also famous (or infamous) was the burglar who, after a local heist, waited for a cab in the bar. It seems a normal thief would have run, but after a couple of visits to CCI, I get his point of view.
I am sure manager and bartender extraordinaire Russell Salyer thought I was nuts when I asked whether there is a signature drink (something this monthly column tries to provide). There isn't, but what the drinks lack in originality they make up for in value and strength: $4 for a gin and (a splash of) tonic.
Perhaps generosity is the signature, and maybe the ”mix“ is the spirit of the Algonquin Round Table, stirred up with Lexington's rendition of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and shaken with the test of time.
Chevy Chase Inn will now be required visiting for all my out-of-town friends who want to get a real taste of Lexington, and also for me on those all-too-frequent nights when I just want to get over myself.