Something didn’t feel right, as we socialized and sampled the menu at LaRue, relaxing on the patio on a recent weekend night. But the problem had nothing to do with the French restaurant, which thanks to its late-night menu is really more of a culinary fusion spot anyway. I blame the surroundings.
Let’s back up for a second. One of Greensboro’s most prevailing problems is the sprawling design of the city, where commercial areas almost exclusively exist in shopping centers and strip malls, often along major thoroughfares. There are a few exceptions, of course, most notably Lindley Park and increasingly so in downtown. It’s a plague not unique to the Gate City, but more pronounced here than most other places I’ve visited. The car is king, destroying walkability in places like the emerging Midtown district and hogging up some of the best real estate for parking in downtown.
One of the major appeals of cities like Durham is better overall city planning, where pockets of neighborhood commercial activity create a more cohesive feel instead of energy ricocheting off soulless car culture.
Outdoor dining on sidewalks and patios is one major tool for combating this development trend — think about the role that Natty Greene’s patio plays in making downtown feel alive, or how much more energy exists on Winton-Salem’s Fourth Street thanks to sidewalk dining.
In several senses, LaRue is an example of the antidote to Greensboro’s man-spreading — urban infill, a patio, and it’s across the street from the Carolina Theatre, echoing the venue’s energy and making the block of Greene Street feel more unified and inviting.
But the Carolina Theatre, which has overcome considerable odds to hold down the area in spite of closed storefronts across the street, is now in a position to catapult a deeper and more thriving rebirth on this downtown street.
The massive surface parking lot immediately north of the theater at Washington Street now seems like poor use of the space — selling it to make room for a building with a Greene Street storefront, or at worst a parking deck, are just two ideas. But there’s an easier way, that may be more profitable long-term, that the theater could contribute to the neighborhood, building on its foundation that drew in LaRue in the first place.
Open the Crown, the upstairs, part-time, cool-as-hell venue, as a full-time bar.
I have trouble imagining that the costs of scaling up the bar, staffing and movable seating wouldn’t be easily outpaced by beer (and possibly liquor) sales. In my dreams, there’s a rooftop component as well.
Lounging on LaRue’s patio that night, my friends and I tossed the idea around, convinced that it’s a stroke of brilliance. But the idea for more spaces that are consistently open to the public, facing each other across a walkable street, isn’t a luxury concept that Greensboro can choose whether or not to entertain (and the same goes for “dieting” Main Street in High Point); it’s essential for a viable future.
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There are more than just a few reasons that this idea would not work in our building. I’m sure that a staff member would be glad to explain if you requested a meeting to discuss some of your ideas. Currently, The Crown is a multi-functional event space for live theatre, local and national live music, private rentals such as wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners, birthday parties, and occasionally film. The bar area remains flexible to suit the needs of any type of event that comes our way. Some nights its merely a concessions bar like in the main lobby of our building, but other nights its about catering to a drinking crowd. More than half of the usage of The Crown are from clients renting the space and more often than not the bar area has to all but disappear when in private use. For the better part of every week downtown’s nightlife is just too dead and you’re likely to see more homeless faces as of late than bar hoppers on a week day night. Personally, I don’t know if downtown needs more bars than it already has. Beer culture is a good thing for Greensboro, but right now it needs a lot more than alcoholism to reclaim the shape of a city built on the arts that is once started out as, but that is another story….