by Nicole Crews
Mother: So what did you do last night?
Me: I went to punk-rock karaoke at College Hill.
Mother: Didn’t you hang out there when you were in your twenties?
Me: That’s what I love about College Hill, mom. I get older, College Hill boys stay the same age.
It’s 10 p.m. on Saturday night and I’ve just had a civilized glass of malbec and a round of lofty conversation at a fine-dining establishment in Greensboro. I’m just unzipping the boots when Felix, my feline-like friend of 26, whose demeanor leans more to the white-telephone movies of the 1930s and ’40s than the iPhone generation texts me.
Felix: What are you doing? Eddie Money is rattling my windows and downtown sounds like it’s been overrun by soccer hooligans.
Me: I just got in and I’m mildly considering bed. I’m exhausted from insomnia.
Felix: You just moved back and have barely been out. You should mildly consider being my partner in crime tonight and going to College Hill. I’ll send a cab over.
Me: I am dressed like a motorcycle-jacketed cheerleader for the Fighting Irish….
Felix: And I look like Steve McQueen before the coffee enemas. We’ll fit right in. See you in 15.
Eleven p.m. and we’ve triangulated our downtown existence thanks to a cabbie named, I believe, Boutros Boutros-Ghali (it’s been a tough decade for Egyptian politics), and wound up at Greensboro’s most venerable dive since it opened in 1982, College Hill Sundries.
It is, indeed, punk-rock karaoke night and the bar is so packed it’s morphed into a multi-cellular organism.
At the mic is a full-sleeved guy with a fauxhawk singing a Journey song that he probably only knows because of “The Sopranos” swan-song episode. The Over-the-Hillers are here, marking their territory with subtle swings of thinning ponytails and passive prison cafeteria stances. Idle ingénues with pixie haircuts and coronas of bangs wearing military jackets float past like drunken Ophelias. On the men, ironic haircuts, glasses and vivisecting jeans are as abundant as the Newcastles and fireballs on special.
Felix (texting me from across the bar): Nicole, your phone is ringing off the hook. What’s going on there?
Me: I know it’s shocking, but guys over 35 actually use their phones to call girls from time to time.
Felix: I thought you said your vagina was No Country for Old Men?
Midnight in the garden of beer and foosball and the young barrister brigade is mixing with the MFA crowd from neighboring UNCG. The dreadlocked DJs are leaning in tight with postmodern preppies and newbies from neighboring college housing — the Province-als — are stuck to the bar like stalactites. Pretty girls croon in Karaoke Corner and in the handful of booths that line the shotgun bar, phones are down and conversation is garrulous.
Felix: What’s your best College Hill story, Nicole?
Me: That’s a tough one. I think maybe the time I was coming from Charlotte to a fancy party at Greensboro Country Club and needed a place to change into my cocktail dress….
Felix: And you chose College Hill?! I haven’t been in the ladies’ room, but if the men’s is any indication….
Me: It was an odd hour and convenient! Anyway, I was running late and while I was changing I noticed that the ceiling tile above me was askew so I took a broom handle to fix it and, BOOM, it broke in half and about a half a pickup truck load of some of the most terrifying porn I’ve ever seen fell down on me — along with crumbling ceiling tile.
Felix: OMG, what did you do?
Me: What could I do? I cleaned myself up and strolled out in my heels and dress and told [then owner Jim “Angel” King], “That’s the dirtiest bathroom I’ve ever seen. Someone needs to clean it up.”
It’s approaching last call and Felix and I put the word out to the United Nations of late-night transport and take a last look around the joint. It’s come a long way from its heyday inception to its skunky beer-cooler past when it earned the moniker “Down Hill” due to former owner neglect. Yet College Hill has maintained its street cred throughout it all and remains one of the most popular bars in the Triad. Jason Paul, who started tending bar here about 15 years ago and bought in when things began to sour between King and the landlord, says, “I think what sets us apart is that we are genuinely friendly, anti-gimmick and pretty authentic and that’s become something of value in a sterile world.”
I’ll say, and the next time my bathroom is filthy, I’m going to describe it as “pretty authentic.” Thanks Jason!