The new barman at Hoots gave me the once-over and the up-and-down.
It was that point of caesura in the barroom on a Friday afternoon, after the happy-hour folks had drained their last pints but before the early-evening drinkers came in to claim their stools. For a moment there it was just him and me.
Middle-aged, afternoon soda drinkers like me are a huge red flag for any bartender. Usually we want something: to make a sale or dig for information or contract some black-market business. I was here to do none of these things, though, and eventually he decided I was okay.
It was his first day at Hoots, but he told me he’d been working the Winston-Salem bar circuit for a decade, pre-dating craft cocktails and indigenous beer. I told him about my gig as a nightlife columnist for Triad Style back then, what I used to look like, how I used to act. The words triggered a recognition.
“I remember you,” he said. “You were here before.”
Before the Innovation Quarter and Restaurant Row, before the Hanesbrands Theatre and the art park and even the Arts District, before RiverRun and the Winston-Salem Open, before many of the things that define this city today had even been conceived and, incidentally, before City Manager Allen Joines became Mayor Joines.
My nightlife beat ran through Burke Street back then, Rubber Soul and the Black Bear and a couple other spots so popular that a pizza joint popped up to service them. Ziggy’s was like a hobo camp near the Joel. Downtown, it was easier to find a parking space than a drink after midnight.
Most of the people who lived downtown did so on its streets and alleys near the turn of the century, but there were some interesting things going on near Third Street by the tracks and an entrepreneur named Richard Emmett took a chance on a repurposed auto shop by turning it into a rock room called the Garage.
There in the stark light of the reclaimed West End Mill Works now beginning to come alive again following its afternoon nap, it was difficult to remember before.
The barman and I shared a moment of wistful silence then and there, but even through that gauzy lens of nostalgia the past did not seem nearly so auspicious as the future in Winston-Salem.
He slapped the bartop and moved to the register to ready for the next shift, early-evening regulars already trickling through the door. I finished my drink and made for the exit. I had half an hour before my next meeting downtown, and I’d have to allow extra time for parking.