by Naari Honor

One of the most memorable bars I ever encountered was in Orlando, Fla., buried deep in the backwoods across a set of abandoned railroad tracks, with no name and a rickety floor. The bartender handed me a roll of toilet paper before pointing me in the direction of the bathroom.

Despite the conditions, I find myself missing that place on occasion. What can I say, Danny-boy made a perfectly blended rum and coke, and the jukebox had me with “Work Me, Lord” by Janis Joplin.

I’ve lived in Greensboro for more than five years now, and while I’ve enjoyed my share of bars here, I hadn’t quite found that place that gave me that same juke-joint vibe I felt nearly a decade ago in that little shack of a place until my friend and I wandered into Bender’s Tavern.

While you don’t have to drive “over the river and through the wood” to get to Bender’s, the bar rests in the sweet spot of the forgotten stretch of West Market Street. During the day you may notice storage facilities, independent restaurants and a mom-and-pop store or two. But at night it’s a ghost town and if you drive too fast you could miss the burgundy-colored, ’70s-inspired sign that’s taller than the building itself.

My time indulging in hole-in-the-wall dives has taught me one very important lesson; It’s not what a bar has that makes it the go-to spot, but rather the people who frequent the place that make it worth revisiting.

In this particular case Mike, the bartender, made Bender’s my new juke house.

Yes, Bender’s has a plethora of televisions that would make any sports bar jealous; I counted at least 13 flat screens. There’s cornhole in the parking lot, arcade games, a ginormous Jenga set, and a few touch-screen bar games we have all wasted our quarters on at some point.

Bender’s Tavern has 18 beers on tap, a generous wine selection, and a large back bar that any liquor owner would fawn over. And even though the mozzarella sticks and fried pickles were amazeballs and the jukebox had the whole bar singing in unison at random moments throughout the night, it is Mike the bartender who made my visit the first of many more to come.

How did he do that, you ask? Very simple.

He asked my companion Rhonda how much ice she wanted in her double Knob Creek on the rocks.

I Know, I know. He didn’t solve world hunger. However, he made me smile by caring enough to not ruin a good bourbon. That, along with asking which type of Knob Creek she wanted, since Bender’s carried four different types, instead of assuming. It made all the difference in the world.

If Mike took time to ask how much ice Rhonda wanted as to not ruin her drink, then he is going to take his time to ensure that my time at his establishment is a pleasant one. And that is exactly what Mike did.

There’s no need to dress to the nines when visiting Bender’s. Just as there is no need to wonder if you will be accepted within its walls. We fit in perfectly well with the merry band of patrons that had gathered before us.

I can almost guarantee that you won’t leave the bar without making at least one friend. We acquired enough to start our own team for the infamous trivia night held every Tuesday at 10 p.m.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be the overly inked loc-haired girl drinking a Maker’s and coke with light ice.

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