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Posted August 29, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Groovin' room: Winchester restaurant to stay open later, welcome bands

Cheryl Holt, who will run Continental Afterhours at the Continental Restaurant, in Winchester, stands in the outdoor seating area recently, where summer karaoke has taken place each Thursday evening. Dennis Grundman/Daily

The stage next to the seating area will offer a place for bands to play at Continental Afterhours. Dennis Grundman/Daily

The dining area at the Continental will host the afterhours events at the restaurant every Friday and Saturday night. Dennis Grundman/Daily

The bar area at the Continental. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The Continental Restaurant, for decades a fixture of quiet, fine dining on North Frederick Pike, is about to loosen its tie.

Since 1986, patrons have enjoyed the custom cuisine of owner and chef Bob Hassinger. Weekdays at dinnertime, that won't change.

But starting today, on Friday and Saturday nights, the dining room will trade its tablecloths and folded napkins for live music -- specifically, home-grown rock and roll.

They're calling it "Continental Afterhours."

The restaurant already knows when to relax. For a while now, regulars have been coming in on Thursdays for summer karaoke on the patio. In the winter, everybody croons inside.

But those involved in the new venture hope it will be both a boon for the restaurant in a down economy and a place for local bands to find a home. Many acts already are taking note.

"It's kind of merging the two lives," said Cheryl Holt, Hassinger's daughter and a self-described jack-of-all-trades at the restaurant. "Word got out, and it looks like we're booked solid through May."

Holt's husband, Brian, is the link. He's using his connections as drummer for local band 8 Lives Spent to spread the word. Once he convinced Hassinger that music might pay, Continental Afterhours began to take shape.

"I've been married to the restaurant for eight years," he said, "and they were looking for something different. I finally got the green light, and it really took off."

The inaugural act, local favorites The Rumblers, is scheduled to take the stage tonight for a grand opening bash at 9:30 p.m. The new venue takes a break for Labor Day, but returns with Relapse, Quick Change and Burning Mercury scheduled for Saturdays in September. For now, Friday nights are blocked off for blues acts, with the first show scheduled for Sept. 25.

Holt admits these bands can book other venues. But what he hopes will set Afterhours apart, he said, is the family treatment.

In the '80's, "you would book a club, and they would feed you, give you drinks and you got paid," he said. "It's not like that anymore. ... We want to cater to the local music scene."

Bands will receive 100 percent of the cover charge at the door, most likely $5 per person, he said. Afterhours plans on advertising its weekend gigs on www.continentalafterhours.com, on social-networking sites and on old-fashioned fliers.

"It's our role to make an event successful," he said. "Some of the bands that we've booked in there have a real fanbase."

At first, bands will be playing inside in a converted space in the dining room. Stage lights and a drummer's riser have been installed. The restaurant's old front bar, which currently is not in use, eventually will be removed along with a portion of a wall to widen the view.

The restaurant still will keep its smoking and non-smoking areas, meaning patrons in the main room with the band won't be able to light up. The back bar area, where karaoke currently is held, will be cigarette-friendly. A closed-circuit camera will feed live video from the stage to a TV there so no one misses out. The bar has liquor and beer.

The outdoor patio still will be open. Plans are to open up an office building there into a kind of pavilion to enlarge the patio. Acts will play there in the future.

Cooks will be in the kitchen, but with a different menu planned for the after-hours crowd. Holt's son, Joshua, 24, is moving back home from San Francisco to run the show at night. A chef who trained under Hassinger, he's planning standard bar fare incorporated with traditional Continental dishes.

For Hassinger and the Continental family, tacking on "Afterhours" to the name represents another chapter in the restaurant's storied history.

After 20 years in business, Hassinger leased the restaurant to a new operator in January 2006, but the family took over again a year later. The Continental reopened on Jan. 15, 2007, 21 years to the day of its grand opening.

"I had 10 months retirement," Hassinger said with a grin. "I wasn't for it at first, but times have changed."

The Continental is open Tuesdays through Saturdays for dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. at 1361 N. Frederick Pike. Continental Afterhours is open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. until close. For more information, call 667-9797 or visit www.continentalrestaurant.net. A concert calendar for Continental Afterhours is online at www..continental afterhours.com.

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