This time of year, the Angus Barn becomes the Biltmore of Raleigh.
Owner Van Eure, has made decorating for the Christmas holidays such an event at the longtime Raleigh steakhouse that she and the staff cannot take down all the trees, wreaths or garlands until almost Valentine’s Day.
“People make reservations a year ahead of time,” Eure said. “They come every year. It’s part of their holiday tradition.”
It was a family visit to the Biltmore, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room mansion and estate near Asheville that inspired Eure to expand on her parents’ holiday decorating at the restaurant. The Biltmore is known for its two-month-long holiday celebration with more than 70 Christmas trees and themed rooms that attracts about 300,000 visitors.
The Angus Barn, which was opened in 1960 by Thad Eure Jr. and Charles Winston, has become a destination in the Southeast – known for its impressive wine list, homespun decor and gracious hospitality. In 1978, Winston ended up selling his stake to Thad Eure Jr., whose daughter Van continues to run the restaurant.
Thad and Alice Eure had always decorated the Angus Barn for the holidays. A 16-foot tree stood in the lobby decorated with fake apples, gingerbread men, candy canes and strands of popcorn. Children could each pick a candy cane and a gingerbread cookie off the tree to take home.
After Thad Eure died in 1988, his wife started another family tradition: a trip to some place sunny and warm right after Christmas. When Alice Eure died in 1997, Van and her sister, Shelley Belk, knew they wanted to take a trip together and decided to drive to Asheville.
Naturally, they visited the Biltmore House while there. As the sisters admired the pretty Christmas decorations, Eure recalled her sister saying: “If the Biltmore can do this, the Angus Barn needs to do it.”
The next month, the two sisters and Jill Highsmith, the Angus Barn’s event planner, traveled to a Christmas trade show in Atlanta. The women went on a shopping spree. “We got so excited with what we were doing that we went overboard,” said Eure, who still doesn’t want to admit exactly how much money was spent.
But Eure did say she tried to hide the total amount from the restaurant’s finance department by spacing out the delivery of the decorations and the bills every couple months. Her sister added: “We had to soften the blow.”
What was once one tree in the lobby has expanded to a yearly theme, decorations and trees in each of the restaurant’s more than half dozen dining rooms, restaurant employees’ children dressed as elves and the entire outside of the building outlined in lights (the latter is a new addition this year.)
Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, Van can often be found overseeing the decorating or up on a ladder trimming the restaurant’s showstopping 20-foot-tree, which alone has 30,000 lights.
“I’m so proud of her,” said Belk, a former interior designer who now runs the family’s nonprofit, Foundation of Hope, which raises money for mental illness research and treatment. “We both inherited this gene from our mother – this interior design gene.”
(Alice Eure won awards for the restaurant’s decor.)
“Van has taken it to a whole new level. It’s tasteful, not tacky – or at least we think it is,” added Belk with a hearty laugh.
And what would their parents think? Eure said, “I know it would have made them so happy to see the joy that it brings to the customers.”
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▪ The decorating starts Nov. 1 and continues until Thanksgiving. Between 15 and 20 employees work until about 4 p.m. each weekday putting up the decorations.
▪ There are 30,000 lights on the main 20-foot-tree in the Angus Barn’s gun room, which takes its name from the antique gun collection on display in the room.
▪ Each year has a theme. This year’s theme is trains, and a toy train and tracks have been installed in the gun room and run around the tree.
▪ Each night, between two and four children – offspring of Angus Barn employees – dress up as elves and have their photos taken with the children enjoying dinner. One year, the children had a perch nestled in the 20-foot Christmas tree. This year, two of the children will be dressed as train conductors.
▪ All the trees used to be fresh and sprayed with a fire retardant, but the restaurant’s fireplaces were drying the trees out too quickly. It got so bad one year that they had to replace the large tree in the lobby by mid-December because the needles were falling off. Now they only use artificial trees.
▪ There’s a children’s corner under the stairs leading to the Wild Turkey lounge. It has a toy chest filled with toys, and each child can take home one toy.
▪ There’s even a small tree in the kitchen, decorated pink and named after the late Betty Shugart, the Angus Barn kitchen manager who worked there for more than 50 years.
▪ In the off season, the decorations take up a third of a 6,000-square-foot storage area.