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Belly Up: Bill Arthur of Galaxy Hut

Belly Up brings you interviews with some of our favorite bartenders in the area. This week, we grill Bill Arthur of funky Arlington bar the Galaxy Hut.

Walking through Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood past Pottery Barn, Whole Foods, and Harry’s Tap Room, you wouldn’t expect to find a place as funky and original as Galaxy Hut (2711 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-8646). This tiny space is one of the area’s smallest live-music venues and plays host to local and traveling indie rock bands on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. The purple walls with quirky artwork and the candlelit tables alongside Mrs. Pacman and Galaga/Space Invaders arcade tables mark this bar and restaurant as the most eccentric on the block by far.

Bartender and Arlington resident Bill Arthur is behind the bar Tuesdays and Fridays, chatting with friends and regulars—usually one and the same—and playing rock music from his computer. He can also fill you in on any of the bar’s rotating selection of beers on tap, from Ace Pear Cider to Lucifer to Bitburger Pilsner.

Bill Arthur of Galaxy Hut in Arlington.

This is a pretty unique bar. Can you tell me a little about it?

It’s one of the most oddball spots in the area. It’s been around for about 17 to 18 years. We have great bands that come play—and these are bands that I’ve idolized. It’s an intimate place to see them—sometimes too intimate, actually, when it gets really crowded. It’s mostly indie-rock bands. On Monday nights, we’re trying to have an acoustic night, something a little more relaxed. Thursday nights are karaoke nights—there’s usually a core clientele for karaoke. Wednesday is Hump Nite, when people can bring in their own music to play DJ.

What’s the clientèle like?

It’s mostly people in their mid-twenties—hipsters, indie-rock fans. Actually, the kind of people who come in here has changed over the past few years because of how much this area has grown. We get all sorts of people. Business has picked up a lot because we get a lot of the people walking on the streets and going to all the others bars that are here now.

This is the kind of place that relies mostly on word of mouth. Lary Hoffman, the owner, used to run a little ad, but I think he doesn’t do that anymore. It’s funny, people will come in from Austin or other places and tell us that someone they knew said to come by. That happens all the time.

How did you end up here?

I’ve worked here for six years, and before that I was a regular for about four or five. I’m from Leesburg. I’ve been coming here since I graduated from high school, to see shows and hang out. I was always asking if they needed any help, if they had a job opening. One day I asked Lary if they had someone to replace a bartender who had moved away, and he said, “Actually, no. Want a job?”

What do you like about bartending?

I’m a social person. I like talking to people. I kind of make this into my living room—like I’m a host of a party. This place has always felt like home to me anyway. Bartending is the first job I’ve had where I’ve actually enjoyed what I do. I still have rough nights, but it’s worth it.

Even when it’s really packed?

Well, Lary and I are the same in that we’re both hyperactive and like to do all the work ourselves. But it got a little intense. I started asking for some help—like I kept asking for a door guy to check IDs. Now I’m spoiled. I have a barback to help me out and check IDs when it gets busy.

The bar has a pretty eclectic selection of beers.

We’re constantly changing the beers. It’s almost on a weekly basis that they switch in new beers, but we always have 15 on tap. It’s important to Lary. He checks around to see what other bars are serving. He’s always trying to avoid having the standard choices that everyone else has.

Do you have a particularly fond memory from your time here?

Actually, there’s a good story involving this guy [he motions to a man who has just walked in and taken a seat at the bar; I later learn he’s Cliff Brown]. We were celebrating his birthday in 2001. There were only about 15 of us here, because it was a Sunday or Monday night. The band that played was really cool, so the bartender who was working got their CD and starting playing it nonstop after that.

Cliff: The band sang the Beatles song “Birthday.” There were some cute girls with us, and they kept asking them to play it, so they did.

Bill: A year later, they played a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club. It turns out they were the Strokes.