I thought I had adequately prepared myself for the West Market Street Yacht Club.
I knew, for instance, that there would be a boat parked outside, beached in front of the house-like building, and that this would be where the similarities to a real yacht club could end. College had prepared me well for this; the geek squad, some of whom lived in “Pirate House” which had an S&M dungeon in the basement, formed an official student group called the Yachting Club, though it wouldn’t surprise me if none of these “indoor kids” had been on a stately sea vessel.
I knew, too, that the West Market Street Yacht Club wasn’t actually on the Greensboro thoroughfare that shared its name — I found out later the bar moved back off the street where it began years ago. And I figured that I’d look wildly out of place, rightly assuming everyone else would probably be a regular and a few decades my senior.
But despite steeling myself for what the yacht club might be like, I never could’ve guessed what the next two hours would hold.
And worse yet, I had invited a friend to join me.
The West Market Street Yacht Club is invisible unless you know where to look, past Southern Firearms and American Flag Storage on a side street out past Super G Mart. But if you drive back far enough, the white boat pointed at the street is impossible to miss. When I pulled into the parking lot at 5 p.m. on a recent Friday, cars and trucks filled half of the gravel side lot.
As soon as I walked into the Good Ship, I realized most of the people around me could probably remember when Shirley Temple first sang the classic lollipop song. By the time my friend Bekah walked in a couple minutes later, everyone in the place had sized me up and the only two women in the bar seemed to have vanished.
“There were two women over there a minute ago,” I said to Bekah almost immediately, already feeling self conscious about the environment I’d invited her into without checking it out myself first.
When people say “the Good Ol’ Boy Club,” I don’t think they realize it’s an actual place. Adorned in NASCAR memorabilia, a Marines flag, televisions playing golf and football and posters of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, the yacht club is the sort of place you can overhear conversations about women serving in combat roles, the bartender’s grandma and duck hunting. I heard all three.
Want to try a drink you haven’t had before? Well, there’s ChocoVine chocolate wine. Actually, just go somewhere else.
I felt more uncomfortable than I’d expected, and I could only imagine what Bekah might’ve be thinking, so I suggested we check out the back patio I’d seen when pulling up. Through a small but open rear room in the bar, we opened a door to a porch with what I later compared to a back-room Mafia table, and the only two men sitting there stopped their conversation until we passed through to a picnic table out back.
As the sun dipped behind the tree line, cold set in, and we made our way back to the end of the bar. And then, partially thanks to the two Coronas in me, I started looking at the West Market Street Yacht Club differently.
Bekah, who like me is in her twenties, pointed out that this is exactly the sort of place she would want to drink if it were populated with regulars and friends who more closely aligned with our demographic. Just as we were discussing the beauty of a community hangout like this where everyone seemed to know each other and get along, the inevitable happened.
It didn’t surprise me that a white-haired gent named Jeff walked over to us and asked what the deal was; I’m just surprised it didn’t happen as soon as I walked in the door.
Jeff is one of the bar’s unofficial ambassadors, a good-natured guy who lives nearby but works in Winston-Salem. The more we chatted, the more we realized that although we were outsiders, we weren’t unwelcome. I still felt like I’d pulled over to a hole-in-the-wall on a road trip through Arkansas rather than a bar in the city I’ve made my home for almost a decade. But that’s Greensboro for you — just when you think you’ve seen it all…
Eventually Jeff politely excused himself to go talk to a friend about hunting, and I decided I had seen it all. By then I knew that the yacht club began about 20 years ago, and the clientele generally looks like this, though at that point the male/female ratio was closer to equilibrium. I’d learned that Jeff likes dining at Salvinos on Battleground, and that a portion of the bar’s former patrons now drank around the corner at some place called the Sawmill.
The yacht club had won us over, but the most unusual part of our night hadn’t occurred yet, something that added to our overall sense of disbelief and wonderment.
As our bartender — who seemed to know Jeff and everyone else like family — closed out our tabs, she handed each of us a poker chip. In the center, under a picture of a sailing yacht, it said: “YACHT CLUB Good for 1 Beer.”
Come back and use this next time, she said, and as we said goodbye in the parking lot, Bekah and I promised each other we would.
Visit the West Market Street Yacht Club at 290 Edwardia Drive (GSO) and say hi to Jeff for me.
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