The gas pumps sat ready, shiny and chromed, as rain misted over them, but those that gathered at Campus Gas last Saturday hadn’t come to fill up their tanks. Instead, they came to fill pint glasses and stomachs at the grand opening of the new Campus Gas taproom.
The iconic building marked by a red batwing canopy sits off Polo Road next to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and recently celebrated its transformation from a ’60s service station to a mid-century modern barroom.
The venture is headed by three Wake Forest University alumni who saw the building as an opportunity to fill a need in the area. Ben Ingold and his partners, John Clowney and Will Volker, met at Wake Forest in the early 2000s during their undergraduate years. Ingold remembers how there wasn’t anything like the taproom around campus when they attended the school.
“I don’t think it existed,” Ingold said. “That’s the primary reason why we did it. There wasn’t anything like this around. It’s an underserved area.”
Now, the transformed business features 20 rotating taps with local beers, including four house taps from Asheboro-based Four Saints Brewing. It also serves Bull City Ciderworks — which Ingold and Clowney helped found in 2015 — and a small food menu. Ingold says Campus Gas serves those in the area and is close enough for students and faculty to walk from campus.
Maddie Barbee and Larry Brett, who are both seniors at Wake Forest and live on campus, sat at the end of the bar during the grand opening, sipping on ciders. They were both excited to have a place to hang out within walking distance from school.
“It’s really great that they decided to do something with the space,” Barbee said.
“It’s a good place for college kids,” continued Brett. “Most locations like this are downtown. I like the environment and the vibe.”
And that’s on purpose. As for the look and design of the business, Ingold said that taking over the historic building was a conscious and thought-out decision.
“We wanted to keep everything about it on the outside,” Ingold said. “We wanted to keep the building substantially the same way. It was really important for us to do that and for the community as well.”
The building, which is part of the Oak Crest Historic District in the city, is on the National Register of Historic Places and formerly served as a country store before it became a Phillips 66 gas station, then a service station before it became Campus Gas.
“The outside remains the same, but we remodeled the inside,” Ingold said. “We’re bringing the history back to life. I can’t imagine it without those things.”
Comparing old photographs to its current edition, the striking structure retains most of its original form. The long, triangular, overhanging roof still marks the building while the vibrant red paint maintains its retro-cool vibe. Two recently restored gas pumps, no longer operable, also help to preserve the building’s history.
Debbie Price, who lived in Winston-Salem for decades, said she remembers visiting the service station in the ’70s as a teenager.
“I remember one time I was on a date and a rock hit the truck and made a dent,” Price recalled. “We went there to get it fixed before his parents found out.”
Years later Price said she continued to take her car to there whenever it needed fixing.
“I took my car there for at least 20 years; even my mother-in-law used them,” Price said. “They were very community oriented, so I was sad when they retired. They were a good neighborhood resource for all of us that lived there.”
While she no longer lives in the area, Price said she’s optimistic about the new business.
“I thought they did a nice job of preserving the original building,” she said.
Inside, long live-edge wooden tables and metal chairs seat a couple dozen patrons comfortably as they sip on their beers and milkshakes. The whole place has a rustic Jetsons feel with its floor-to-ceiling garage door windows and Edison bulbs. It’s clean and modern but comfortable and classic. Even the menu has nods to old-school comforts like BLTs and pimiento cheese sandwiches as well as a few hot dogs.
Ingold says the idea is to maintain a neighborhood feel by offering great food and beer.
“This is something new for the neighborhood and Wake Forest,” Ingold said. “It’s a community gathering place.”