Featured photo: I’m the proud new owner-operator of Silver Moon Saloon but don’t let the smile fool you, I’m absolutely petrified. (photo by Jerry Cooper)
Long time, no see! I know it’s been awhile since we last spoke. I didn’t expect to be away so long and let me just tell you right now; it wasn’t you. You didn’t drive me away. This year has been a whirlwind of events that frankly, made me question my place in the universe. Okay, just a particular street but, in the course of my life, it’s been a pretty important one. I’ve decided to stay for a bit, kick my feet up and see where this goes because, friends and neighbors, I’ve done the one thing that most accountants tell you not to do: I purchased my job. I literally bought my job from my former employers so that we wouldn’t lose ours. And now, Silver Moon Saloon, this dirty little beloved bar that has served cheap beer and heavy shots for the past 20 years is now under new ownership, which is me. And I’m absolutely petrified.
I did have help. Despite the shiny bald head, I’m not some rich, orphanage-bulldozing Daddy Warbucks (I honestly don’t know shit about Annie, but I assume that’s the plot.) I am lucky enough to have found passive investors who care for the uniqueness of the bar, the forward direction of the Arts District, the value of preserving small business ownership and who trusted me enough to not screw them in the long run. To you lovely few people, I say, “Thanks.” It couldn’t have been done without them, because I could never come close to the scratch required on my own.
Word of advice here: when starting a new venture, you had best trust those you borrow money from. I was lucky enough to learn by example, but there are a myriad of friendly faces who are happy to give you a personal loan. Plenty of people came out of the woodwork to offer support, once word got out. Some wanted to be partners. Some wanted just to be able to say they were partners without the work involved. Others, well, they wanted enough leverage to put a lien on your house after the high-interest loan they so graciously offered goes bust.
These people are called loansharks; avoid them like the plague. They are well-known, popular community members, and don’t come across as predatory. They might not break your knee caps, but they will sue you quicker than you can make the deposit. In a place where, for all intents and purposes, properties are literally being collected by a series of rent-hiking, concept-stealing Daniel Plainview-like speculators hunched over a map of downtown Winston-Salem asking realtors “This… why don’t I own THIS?,” a small dive bar doesn’t seem like much. But there’s a principle, an ethos, that’s wrapped up in preserving it all.
I arrived on Trade Street in 2008 after years in the service industry, in one form or another. I had started as a dishwasher at Noble’s Grille when I was 16, and had worked since then as a bartender, a line cook, a server, the whole gamut. I stopped into Finnigan’s Wake after being given an ultimatum by a mediocre management company suck-up at a sub-par chain called “Tripps” to pay for a dine-and-dasher that ran out on a $50 tab. I politely declined. Finnigan’s owner, Opie, was an old friend from the Noble’s days and he had just fired multiple people. I was hired that day as a server. And I saw something that had eluded me for so long at the other, impersonal places. Community. Characters. Small-Business Ownership.
This was a place where there was a camaraderie between neighbors. Much like a neighbor coming by to borrow a cup of sugar, we traded in citrus and soda syrups. We’d eat and drink at our neighbors’ places when not working at our own. We made solid money, and that brings me to The Customer. No longer would we have an endless parade of scowls on unfamiliar faces who treated servers like the help. We had repeat customers, some daily, who you’d enjoy sharing a drink with after work. There were community events, music, shows and plays all within walking distance. This was Trade Street, and I wanted to be a part of it.
15 years later, I’m next door to where I started. I worked as a bartender when Finnigan’s was Ground Zero for Wake Forest students who held up a constant threat of calling “my faatheeerrr” when kicked out for the fourth time. I worked fine dining and caterings on the side, I was the GM of the Crab Shack on 4th, where I learned about long hours on salary and absentee ownership. I opened a late-night hot dog stand after that and once again was haunted by drunk college students who treated everyone like their caddy.
I was hired at the Silver Moon Saloon and Hoots Brewery in 2015.
I’d still see the same faces from my first days on Trade Street and met so many more. It felt right. No food meant less pushy customers, and only alcohol meant you could say “No” to the ones who did wander in from time to time. As the years progressed, I always offered to my employers at Moon to keep me in mind if they ever wanted to get out of the business. And so, two years after the pandemic destroyed so many lives and livelihoods, we were still standing. But the bosses had had enough. So I made a proposal (a couple actually.) And they took it.
There is freedom in the messy chaos that we deal with daily, and not everyone is suited for it. A dive bar is even more loose when it comes to service. Cheap drinks, not a lot of variety, not very imaginative when it comes to cocktail making. But you can turn and burn like no one else on a busy night.
There’s no juke so the customer can’t ruin nights by playing Phish.
Honesty plays a huge part in being a bartender and telling a customer that they’ve had enough for the night, or shouldn’t be creepy with strangers is met with minimal pushback. We’re the ones your therapists confess to.
The faces, by and large, are familiar ones, so you get to know and care for your regulars like family as the days pass. You gain friends, and you lose them to petty arguments, drugs or death. You see their kids grow and eventually become customers themselves. You go to cookouts, weddings and funerals. You help someone move a couch. You find love.
The main reason, though, is that frankly… I don’t want to start over. No more looking the other way for low pay, no benefits, no more flat-out uncertainty. When you own a place, it’s not just you. Multiple people rely on those jobs and your livelihood isn’t the only one that matters. I’m still terrified by a plethora of “what-ifs.” The uncertainty of doing something you love combined with the opportunity to make it yours is one of those rare gifts few are afforded.
But I’m not an owner, I’m a custodian. Wish us luck.
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