by Eric Ginsburg

I don’t know what exactly we expected when we went to West End Opera House, but it certainly wasn’t this. I had been warned by a Winston-Salem native that despite the name, the venue is indeed a bar, and if you’re going in the front, you need to ring the doorbell to be buzzed in. Other than knowing it is occasionally overrun by a stampede of college students, that’s where my understanding ended.

I’m sure the five of us immediately looked out of place, if only because of the confused and slightly overwhelmed looks on our faces when we walked in.

The bar is an amalgam of culture clashes, somehow melding without friction. A Western bar with an assortment of Beatles posters and a British telephone booth. Country-raised locals playing free darts and pool on either side of smarmy Wake Forest kids at the bar. A dive with sports playing on several televisions, exceedingly comfortable chairs and kitschy yet classy décor like a waist-high zebra figure and animal hides on the walls.

It truly felt like stepping into a parallel universe.

After being buzzed into the dimly-lit bar covered in dark wood, patrons have to walk past a firing squad of people posted up at several dart boards, making the rear entrance off a hidden parking lot more appealing. In warmer weather, a narrow and spartan patio/hall by the back door might make an appealing chill spot, but with first-class people-watching and comfortable seating, the draw to stay inside is too strong.

Plus, the edge of the bar is padded, and there are little snack bowls out.

I still have no idea where West End Opera House gets its name, something I would’ve asked a bartender or regular if I wasn’t so distracted by the assortment of Americana surrounding us. It’s like Wyoming somehow wound up near RJ Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem’s West End.

The best daily special — $4 vodkas on Fridays — is only solid considering the day of the week, otherwise unremarkable on a list of deals. But with this perplexing yet fascinating ambiance and two tables for free pool, there’s no reason to complain.

Few venues anywhere in the Triad can claim this much character or unpretentious swagger. It was almost too much for us to process, our eyes wandering to various decorations and straying from conversations, and we ended up leaving after one round, walking up the block to the West End Mill Works.

But West End Opera House left an indelible mark on us, and I have a feeling we’ll be drawn back in before too long.

Visit West End Opera House at 853 Reynolda Road, W-S or call 336.721.0083.

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