by Eric Ginsburg
A shroud of mystery surrounds the Black Lodge, and that’s exactly the way they want it.
At first several people asked me not to write about it, including a former bartender there. It’s the sort of place where you really need to know someone, I was told, the closest thing the area has to a speakeasy.
There is no sign outside of the Black Lodge unless the sandwich board advertising specials is out, save for five vertically aligned letters marking the door: AAOBL.
There is lore to the Ancient Accepted Order of the Black Lodge, one that involves questionable legality and a blurry line between myth and reality.
I planned not to write about the Black Lodge, but that changed when the man who might as well be the bar manager extended an invitation.
Jerry Cooper, a jack-of-all-trades most often identified as a photographer, bartender and skateboarder, quipped that even if public attention brought rowdy or unwelcome jerks to the small barroom, he would just toss them out.
A week later, on a Wednesday when Cooper said he’d be working, I approached the closed door to the Black Lodge. Thick black curtains obscured the large front windows, reminding me of a Nirvana-themed bar my sister and I slipped into on a Barcelona backstreet, where we pushed through heavy curtains used for soundproofing in order to enter the punk haven.
Opening the door to the Black Lodge felt almost like pulling myself over the top of a chain-link fence marked “No trespassing.” The mystery and secrecy of the Ancient Accepted Order of the Black Lodge had built up in my head, culminating in that flick of the wrist.
Dressed in all black, owner Marty Rogers sternly glanced up, a row of upside down stools on the bar in front of him. Before I could turn on my heels, Cooper stepped out from behind the stools, smiling quickly.
I was in.
The insecurity wasn’t entirely my own doing — several people had spoken in somewhat hushed tones about the bar, as if it were intended to be a best-kept secret. Phuzz Phest helped put the Black Lodge on the map this year, quite literally by adding it to locations marked out on a handout for attendees. But the buzz is quiet enough that when a band playing the festival remarked to my friend Jackie, a Winston-Salem native, that they planned to end the night at AAOBL, she told them no such place existed. If it did, she told the out-of-towners, she’d know about it.
It was just after 5 p.m. when I walked in last week, and Cooper swore it wasn’t too early to grab a drink as he began pulling down barstools. My friend Shaheen and I took a seat at a front table, intending to gossip but finding ourselves repeatedly drawn in by the décor of the place.
Exposed lightbulbs hang inside metal stars over the bar; a skateboard with the word “s***” spraypainted on it rests near a stack of Narragansett shandys and Dos Equis; Photoshopped portraits of Cooper, Rogers and friends as generals and gentry adorn the front of the bar; Luchador masks decorate a glass cabinet; a ceiling-high, three-dimensional white obelisk stands at the back, partially obscured by red curtains; a prayer candle with a plant growing out of it, is emblazoned with the reaper. We kept noticing other details in the small barroom, and that was before Shaheen discovered the graffiti-coated bathroom.
When Shaheen asked Cooper how long the lodge had been open, there next to a tattoo shop on the corner of Fourth Street, he coolly replied: “Nobody knows.”
The space actually used to be Centennial Trading Company, before the denim dealers moved to a bigger location, Cooper later offered, but his initial response is in line with much of what is whispered about the Black Lodge.
It’s not that this is an unwelcoming space — the clientele is actually pretty diverse, he said, and Rogers just started cooking food to share for free on Sundays. There’s even a few benches out front, making a pop-up patio akin to the one at Reanimator around the corner.
Had we showed up later in the evening, we would’ve seen the bring-your-own-vinyl night in full swing, but the quietude of the bar in the early afternoon made for a peaceful first experience. Better yet, Rogers had just written up the day’s specials, all three for $5, including the “Eddie Hazel,” a rum drink with mango and pineapple juice balanced out with a splash of grenadine. With juice rather than a syrup or concentrate, it held a summery allure without being too sweet or syrupy like most pineapple drinks often are.
I texted my girlfriend after we left.
“The bar I went to with Shaheen was awesome and kind of crazy, and I want to go back with you,” I wrote.
And I mean it. Maybe I’ll see you there. But if you’re going to be a dick, don’t tell Cooper or Rogers I sent you.
Find the Black Lodge on Facebook under “Lodge Winston.”