Alternative rock music played amid the many conversations that fluttered the pub. Laughter filled the bar from corner to corner as food and beer filled the many stomachs. Old Town Draught House was busy as the bar sat customers from end to end, ready to celebrate its annual launch party.
Old Town Draught House stands firm off Spring Garden between the MHRA Building and Yum Yum’s. It is a centerpiece for nightlife on UNCG campus and in the city of Greensboro. Upon its inception in 1996, the bar brought many years of tradition and social life to UNCG and Greensboro. The Old Town Brown Ale became its signature drink and “the only filtered brown brewed in North Carolina,” according to Craft Beers. The main event on Jan. 18 was a launch party that is held every year to commemorate Old Town’s existence and their classic Brown-ale.
Most people there that night were there for the former rather than the latter, but that night seemed to be especially busy. There was something different about this bar, so I asked around to get a better sense of what made this place special in the eyes of the customers and ultimately, UNCG itself.
“I feel like this place is a lot cleaner and classier,” Collin, a 21-year-old sociology major at UNCG, told me as we sat at the bar. “If I want to have a high-class time without high-class money, then it works out,” he said as he took another sip of his beer. To his right, 21-year-old Jenna, a senior media studies major at UNCG, leaned across a little as I moved the recorder to her. This was her first time here, but even she already developed an opinion similar to Collin’s. “Yeah, I agree. I go to College Hill, and it’s pretty grimy and here…it’s actually really nice here.” She said, laughing a little bit.
Collin had been here several times before, but this view of classiness and friendliness was not an isolated perspective. Twenty-one-year-old Brianna Bricker, a sophomore at UNCG, was locked in conversation with her friend when I approached her. It was her first time here, and her opinion seemed foundational and solid already. “It’s really fun, and it’s really casual. I think it’s cool,” she said with a smile.
I sat around for a bit when the clock struck 6 p.m. as it was the time scheduled for the beginning of the launch party. Thinking someone was going to bring out party hats or make an announcement, I took out my phone, ready to shoot pictures, but nothing happened.
In fact, there was no indicator that any event was taking place. Only in retrospect did it occur to me that that is the only way it should be. For years now, this place has sat, straight and unwavering, without many flashing lights or fancy décor and that is something that for 54-year-old Steve Strelli, is nice. “I’ve been coming here for 25 years,” he said, looking at his son, 18-year-old David Strelli, before putting a fry in his mouth. “The name has changed, the food is still good…I like it, I grew up here, and it’s nice to come back.” Strelli looked past me, observing the inner skin of the bar with a reminiscent look in his eyes.
Forty-eight-year-old Kayne Fisher, the owner of Natty Greene’s Brewing Company, the father of Old Town Draught House, sat with me off to the side away from his friends. “In 1996, we opened this place,” he said. “We wanted to get into the micro-beer industry, and we were working for a local wholesaler and saw this wave coming with these micro-beers.” He and his business partner’s dream was solidified when they were able to establish Old Town Draught House. Ten years later, they were able to package their Brown-ale that won the Silver Medal in the Great American Beer Festival in 2005.
“We named it [the beer] after where it all started…so what we do every year is we do a release party, here and only here,” he said, emphasizing ‘only here’ with his hands and a nod of his head. “for Old Town Brown.” For Fisher, it’s more than just a beer. It’s sentimental, it’s personal, a “proving ground” for all the critics that told him and his business partner that their intentions of wanting people to try “micro-beers/craft beers” were going nowhere, he said.
We all have stress in our lives, but it felt as that was left at the door when one walked into Old Town Draught House. From first timers who had never been to a pub before, to one man who had been coming for 25 years, Old Town welcomed all and turned away none.