Rachel Nania, wtop.com
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Most J.R.R. Tolkien fans know Bilbo Baggins as the main character in "The Hobbit," but to many Northern Virginia residents, the name brings to mind a hobbit-themed, family owned restaurant in Old Town Alexandria.
Mike and Linda Armellino established Bilbo Baggins at 208 Queen St. 32 years ago.
"When Mike first found the location he felt like it was a place where hobbits would be comfortable to eat, drink and be merry," says Linda Armellino, when explaining how the establishment, nestled on a quiet residential block, received its name.
"We're off the beaten path a little bit."
The restaurant, which serves dishes like Frodo's French Toast, Gandalf's Pie and Green Dragon Pizza, exudes a quiet, fantasy-like ambiance with low ceilings, dark lighting, a cozy fireplace and hand-painted hobbit murals.
And while Bilbo Baggins may appear off the beaten path, the Armellinos expect a big crowd to pack the space this weekend for the premiere of Peter Jackson's film "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Linda says the restaurant attracted large crowds for the three premieres of the "Lord of the Rings" movies. However, this year, the Armellinos are stepping up the celebration.
"We really kicked it into gear this year," Linda says. "We're making (the premiere weekend) a little more special than in years past."
That's because "The Hobbit" is all about the character Bilbo Baggins.
To do the character - and the restaurant - justice, the Armellinos will feature hobbit-inspired drink specials and will pass out house-made, gluten-free goodies for a weekend-long celebration.
Linda explains the special drinks - such as Ent-draught cooler, Miruvor Martini and Orc Vitality Shot - are "drinks that hobbits would have consumed on their quest."
"Hobbit" fans looking to take the big screen celebrations a bit further are encouraged to dress up for the party, as some diehard customers have done in the past, Linda says.
"It's not quite the ‘Star Wars' level, but we do get some of that," says Linda.
About three years ago, the Armellinos had an unexpected customer dine at Bilbo Baggins for lunch: Sean Astin, who plays Samwise Gamgee in "The Lord of the Rings."
"It's nice to say one of the characters came in," says Allie Armellino, daughter of Mike and Linda, who at first thought Astin was just a celebrity look-alike.
Other customers and fans notice the name of the restaurant on pamphlets around town or at the Alexandra Visitors Center and come in to see what Bilbo Baggins has to offer.
"If they're 'Hobbit' fans or 'Lord of the Rings' fans they'll come in just to see everything," says Garrett Barfield, an employee at the restaurant and Allie Armellino's fiancé.
While the free house-made goodies (small boxes of "hobbit mix") will only be passed around this weekend, the Armellinos plan to have the "Hobbit" drink specials run for a while.
Allie says Bilbo Baggins will keep the drink specials and rotate them with other themed cocktails through the duration of the three "Hobbit" films.
The Armellinos are also thinking about how they will celebrate the next two parts of the "Hobbit" series.
"We're fortunate enough to have two more years of this coming up," Linda says. "We'll have to put our thinking caps on and try to outdo ourselves."
Bilbo Baggins is open Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sundays 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Watch the trailer of "The Hobbit":
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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