Nostalgia usually makes us remember things from the past as better than they were. Falls Church residents aren’t putting any extra gloss on their infatuation with Mark’s Pub, however, as the lowkey but lovable relic will be reborn under new ownership in early April.
Mark’s Pub was, well, always Mark’s Pub at the Idylwood Plaza. At least it was to its regulars, according to new owner Lisa Cedrone. But for a seven-year stretch it was owned and operated by Sharon Sachs, who acquired the bar from Mark’s Pub founder Ray Adame, and renamed it to Art’s Tavern after Sachs’ father, a war veteran.
Sachs’ iteration of the business never caught on with patrons during its run. Cedrone figured as much when, after working one shift alongside Sachs as a bartender, the Art’s Tavern owner propositioned Cedrone if she wanted to buy the bar.
“My kids had just gone off to college and I told myself I was gonna sell my house and maybe move to the beach,” Cedrone said both whimsically and sarcastically. “And then [Sachs’] offer comes along, so I bought a bar.”
With the help of investing partner Lod Granger and the blessing to take on the name of Mark’s Pub from Adame, Cedrone’s pet French bulldog Bentley and his “sexy leg” became the new face of Mark’s Pub while Cedrone herself assumed the role as maven of the sleepy dive bar.
Awakening the bar’s potential, however, is the mission for Cedrone entering her second year of operating the bar as it will officially be re-christened as Mark’s Pub on April 1.
A 35-year veteran of the food industry, Cedrone worked everywhere from Chili’s to the old Cowboy Cafe in Arlington and Orange Anchor along the Georgetown Waterfront in Washington, D.C.
She’s held jobs in all phases of the business as well, working as a bartender, in the kitchen and as a general manager. Cedrone was no stranger to running an establishment from top to bottom, and her experience has paid off with the business running well into the green.
Despite the financial health, Cedrone isn’t too satisfied with the pub just yet, mainly because she feels it has untapped potential when it comes to food service. The weakened brand really stuck out to her when she participated in the City of Falls Church’s Fall Festival in September — as Art’s Tavern — and got little attention from festival goers.
“When [Adame] was running Mark’s Pub, it was popular because he didn’t have to compete with Taco Bamba or Jason’s Deli nearby,” Cedrone said. “We have our regulars who we love, but regulars get old and don’t drink as much when they do. We do have a solid late-20’s crowd that comes by, but it’s not where I want it just yet.
That’s why part of the key strategy to improve Mark’s presence with locals is revamping the menu. Cedrone didn’t feel that Art’s Tavern’s food was made with, in her words, “a lot of love.” With the help of her husband, Mike Pallesen, and his smoker along with Cedrone’s own knack for cooking, the menu has taken on a new feel.
Smoked chicken noodle soup, homemade mac and cheese, smoked corn beef and dressings made in house are some of the early creations that are setting a new tone. Introducing brunch was another focal point for Cedrone, who gives customers the option to purchase $2 mimosas and Bloody Marys along with a variety of brunch entrees. One advantage of being a small business is its flexibility — for instance, Cedrone saw a good deal for ravioli at a recent trip to Restaurant Depot, and made that a weekly special for customers.
A new menu is accompanied by a more customer-friendly experience in Cedrone’s eyes. Karaoke has returned to high praise as has a golfing video game. During the Art’s Tavern days, the bartenders had sole control of the music; Cedrone is giving music options back to the patrons by installing a TouchTunes system at the end of the bar. There’s even the bar favorite drink order, a “Shot and a Shag,” which is a mug of Miller Lite with a shot of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels for just six bucks. These changes in operations all come with a more expansive kitchen, a repainted interior and new decor that displays some classic Americana as well as some favorite dogs, including, of course, French Bulldogs.
One thing that hasn’t changed yet is the signage. “Art’s Tavern” is still emblazoned over the buildings entrance. It’s made for some confusion, per Cedrone, but Fairfax County will be approving their new sign in a matter of days to allow for the transformation to finally be complete by early April. Cedrone notes how the Mark’s Pub vibes have already returned, with a Marshall High School teacher returning in excitement and becoming a lunch regular during the week.
Getting people to stay for the food after they come for the drinks while also navigating the “free” marketing space of social media are all challenges that Cedrone is attempting to overcome. But she’s relieved knowing that, even if the bar isn’t where she wants it to be at this moment, she’s leaving the door open for a better experience down the road.
“This is mine. I’m proud of it and I’m proud of what we’ve done and what we’re doing, not just financially but with the people who come in here,” Cedrone said. “Some places, people will leave and they’ll be unhappy about one thing or another. I don’t think anyone leaves here unhappy. We want everyone to leave and think they’ll come back.”
Mark’s Pub is located at 2190 Pimmit Dr., Falls Church