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Beer drinkers say goodbye to Natty Greene’s Raleigh bar and restaurant

Beer columnist Will Doran says goodbye to Natty Greene’s Brewhouse, which is closing its Raleigh location Aug. 1.
Beer columnist Will Doran says goodbye to Natty Greene’s Brewhouse, which is closing its Raleigh location Aug. 1. Courtesy of Natty Greene’s

Natty Greene’s Brewhouse was the first bar I ever went to in Raleigh.

So it was personal when I got word last week that it will close Aug. 1.

Sometime in 2013, I was living in Sanford when my then-girlfriend Nathalie invited me to trivia at Natty Greene’s that Tuesday with friends of hers.

Tuesdays aren’t exactly rocking in Lee County. So I drove 45 minutes up U.S. 1, eager to show off my assortment of random knowledge to a cute girl.

It was fun, and I won a free beer. That drive quickly became a weekly tradition.

The girl I was dating back then is now my fiance. Going forward we’ll have a lot of good memories from Natty Greene’s, even if our trivia team never actually won.

We’re not the only ones. Last Thursday night, about 24 hours after the news broke, it seemed like everyone in Raleigh but the fire marshal was there.

A little before 8 p.m. there was an hour-plus wait for a table. The main bar was three-people deep, and an impassable mob surrounded the back bar.

Natty Greene’s is often crowded. But I’ve never seen it like that. And I don’t think all those people were there for the NBA draft, eager to see the drama when the Hornets picked Frank “Charlotte is boring” Kaminsky.

The outpouring of support for Natty’s is understandable. It’s a popular restaurant and a popular bar. So when the Greensboro-based owners announced they couldn’t afford the rent a new landlord asked for, the reactions were quick and widespread.

“I feel for those who are actual employees, not just me who’s only there once a week,” trivia host Alex Hofford said.

But it’s personal for him, too. A 2009 N.C. State grad, he made it his go-to bar in college, and it’s still where he watches sports on the weekends.

“It’s sort of one of those last bastions of a pub,” Hofford said.

But the world keeps turning. Bars close and others open.

Often the bars whose demises are most lamented are dive bars. Their lack of charm is, paradoxically, quite charming.

When Raleigh’s Bernard Street Tavern closed in 2005, for example, another News & Observer writer reflected longingly for its grungy, smoky, sticky dinginess. A different writer mourned in 2013, yearning for Pantana Bob’s to be able to deliver just one more hangover.

Natty Greene’s is far from a dive, but it’s also not some fancy, experimental-cocktail-serving place. Yeah, you can order salmon or a salad with sunflower seeds. But you can also get chicken wings and shoot pool.

I mention the food because that’s a large part of what set Natty Greene’s apart from other bar/restaurant establishments in the area. It was good, and the menu had the kind of creativity lacking in most bar food.

I’m not going to compare it Cheers because that’s lame, and besides, everyone didn’t know your name. It was a buzzing place and that would’ve been impossible. But it attracted a friendly, outgoing crowd and was a great place to meet new people or catch up with old acquaintances, even accidentally like I did not once but twice.

The atmosphere, the food, the beer – the Jones Street bar is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m sure that will continue, if not grow even greater, until it closes for good.

And to the company’s immense credit, the final day of business in Raleigh, on Aug. 1, will be a fundraiser for all the soon-to-be-unemployed employees.

That’s a classy way to go out. If I were a betting man, I’d wager it’ll feature one of the more emotional singalongs to “Closing Time.”

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran

Upcoming beer events

July 11: Beericana tickets go on sale. The September beer festival in Holly Springs combines craft brews with roots music, and it was a hit last year. Tickets range from $15 to $75 and can be bought at beericana.com.

July 19: ChickenWireNC, a “culinary hijinks” collaboration of local chefs and brewers, will be 3-6 p.m. at a secret locale in Pittsboro. A dozen breweries, wineries and other drink-makers will participate, plus many local chefs and farmers. Tickets for unlimited food and drink samples range from $25 to $100, and children, age 9 and younger get in free. Learn more and buy tickets at chickenwirenc.com.

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