Despite a name that elicits mental images of a makeshift man-cave cobbled together with maybe grandma’s old, lime-green and stained couch, a beat-up coffee table and a cooler full of Bud Light, Vintage Sofa Bar is a decidedly classy venue with a carefully sculpted image.
The clientele leans towards the Gen X side of the spectrum — the age where you might expect a group of guys to gravitate towards a remodeled garage as a getaway for sports and Doritos — but there’s nothing particularly masculine or casual about the new Burke Street bar in Winston-Salem. Instead, patrons exude money, as if they’d spent their Saturday golfing but had time to come home and freshen up with a shower and then a martini before sinking into one of the bar’s welcoming sofas.
The place feels almost like an after-hours Pier 1, a friend observed, as we maneuvered a menu under a lamp’s light in order to read it in the dimly lit seating area. The presence of an adjacent store that sells light fixtures and a wealthy-mother-of-three vibe from some women reclining nearby abetted his observation.
But Vintage Sofa Bar is more than its stone-worked walls and somewhat moody art that give it the feel of a castle basement. There’s shuffleboard, and solid $5 Old Fashioned cocktails on Fridays, and a growing cohort of twenty- and thirtysomethings as evenings progress.
Two young guns — almost certainly fresh-minted graduate students at Wake Forest — flirted in an almost exaggerated fashion, him standing while she perched on a barstool, tossing back her long hair and stirring her drink, as they animatedly discussed their workout regimens. As I stood behind them waiting for a drink, I half expected her to ask him to flex his biceps so she could test his brawny glory, but I escaped back to my friends holding court in a corner before she got the chance.
The venue filled around 11, though most seats at the bar and out on the fenced-in patio in front had been locked down for a while. That evening, Vintage Sofa Bar seemed to have primarily attracted groups of friends rather than pairs or even double dates, giving the bar a more vibrant and upbeat vibe rather than a coolly romantic or delicately refined mood.
That’s a good thing. The tony nature of Vintage Sofa Bar threw me off at first, but I realized that’s in part because it doesn’t fall neatly into typical bar categories. It isn’t a raucous or divey joint, and it isn’t a hushed bougie spot where people pretend to be important or debonair. T-shirts and suits would equally be out of place. It’s an appropriate choice for celebrating a friend’s birthday (my reason for arriving); go up the street if you’re looking for karaoke or a college crowd, and head elsewhere if you want to stare deeply into your lover’s eyes.
The sofa bar breaks the mold in a more obvious way, though — instead of running a kitchen, it operates a nameless food truck outside. But customers still order inside at the bar and food is brought directly to them, eliminating toe-tapping waits on the sidewalk or lines. (Despite not giving our names or being given numbers, servers somehow still found us to deliver our food orders.)
Smaller items dominate the offerings, and of the several I tried, the trio of beef empanadas proved to be the most memorable. A meat & cheese board is an obvious choice, and more in line with the place’s overall tone.
The stonework, décor and low light almost scream wine cellar, making a red a particularly fitting choice. Don’t overlook the cocktail menu though, or the rotating selection that recently included a gorgeous pinkish-orange Peach Julep with bourbon, Barolo Chinato, Demerara, lemon, peach bitters and a peach wedge and sprig of tiny lilac-colored flowers.
It’s a far cry from the venue that used to inhabit this space — Club Snap. Friends with me at Vintage explained how they used to enter the dark gay club from a more discrete back entrance, adding that while it had been a favorite for good dancing and impressive drag shows, they preferred what the new tenants had done with the place.
Though I never made it before the switch, the changes are obvious from the exterior, with a suburban kind of patio that looks inviting day or night, the kind of place that could be the backdrop for a catalog photo shoot rather than the kind of spot that appeared purposefully plain to outsiders.
With the demise of Snap on Burke Street and Q Lounge in neighboring Greensboro, it seems that local queer-centric venues are on the decline. But Vintage didn’t push Snap out, instead taking over an otherwise empty storefront at one of the city’s drinking hubs. Based on the turnout and thanks to its rather unique offerings, it’s clearly been well received.
Visit Vintage Sofa Bar at 1001 Burke St. (W-S) or find it on Facebook.