by Eric Ginsburg
Every dive bar has its tells. The lack of a drink list or menu is a good indicator, and if Sharknado 3 is playing on an overhead television, there’s little room for doubt. If two guys saunter in from the deck and order two shots of house whiskey — in this case, Jim Beam — around 5:30 p.m., on top of every other sign, it isn’t even worth debating what sort of venue is involved.
But the Tap at West End isn’t a stereotypical dive bar. It may not exude quite as much character as the West End Opera House or Hoots Roller Bar in the same Winston-Salem neighborhood, but the corner bar is just as popular.
Few dives provide personalized glassware for their drinks, but everyone relaxing on the deck one recent afternoon held a glass with the bar’s logo emblazoned on the side. And it’s rare to find a hole in the wall that bothers to set up potted plants, let alone planters affixed to either side of the door leading to and from the deck.
But with 10 people lounging outside and half as many dogs, including one that was so over-excited by its new companions that it peed a little, the Tap is definitely a dive. Especially given that the little pisser — who also licked a few other dogs on the mouth and has just one ear sticking up at times — is named “Fleek,” though the early twentysomething white owner didn’t bother to explain to the other drinkers that the word is made up but is in vogue with Top 40 rap artists.
By 6 p.m. almost every seat at the bar was taken, as men lined the countertop and switched several TVs over to the Jamaica vs. US men’s soccer match. A young bartender, probably in her twenties and wearing a sundress, was alone behind the bar, visible Sailor Jerry-esque birds tattoos on her collarbones.
Before the seemingly unexpected rush began, she appeared to know most people by name, including a mustachioed man who earnestly used the term “powder room.” Another man, at the opposite end of the bar and who looked like he was trying out for the role of a Miami grandfather, sipped on a martini. It was his first time trying Sutler’s Spirit gin, one of four available here but the only one that’s made around the corner, and he gave it an approving nod.
The most interesting of the seven beers on draft also originates at the nearby West End Mill Works; the other draft selections such as Yuengling and Leinenkugel’s summer shandy generally appeal to a different crowd than the Hoots Extra. But a dive bar, including this one with a deck overlooking the Reynolds High School practice fields, takes all comers.
So it went that recent weekday afternoon, with couples, lone wolves and a few groups of friends commingling by three standing fans inside and under lush tree branches on the raised deck. Natural light poured in from a line of windows, assisted by strings of bright blue lights hanging from the ceiling inside the place that looks like it could be a former diner.
And everyone, especially the dogs, seemed right at home.
Visit the Tap at West End, aka the West End Tap Room, at 473 West End Boulevard (W-S).