My dad died on Election Day. The perfect opening to the best tragicomic you’ll ever read, especially for a nightlife writer who’s always erred on the side of the glass being half empty and who’s drank every last drop of that latter half to drown feelings knowing that doing so would only cause them to come bubbling up.
(And a writer who ironically has spent the last few months looking at the buildings left behind in the wake of COVID-19 holding only distant memories of drunken shenanigans past.)
The year 2020 has indeed taken a toll on my family over the past couple of months, and during challenging times such as these, there is little more on my agenda than locating a watering hole to drown my sorrows. But as we all know, right now, our options are limited, adding to the gloomy reality of grief.
After hearing the news that another coveted local hangout, Elizabeth Billiards, would be closing up shop after 24 years, I thought it was only fitting to share my solo toast to my father with good ol’ EBs.
As I rounded the familiar corner behind CVS with my eyes set on the front entrance to Elizabeth Billiards, I recognized how different it looked during the day. It already felt like the small, brick building with no frills had bid us adieu. There was no warmth coming from inside, just a single sign indicating “Patio Entry Only” alerted me that this venture wasn’t useless.
I turned the corner to the back patio, which was empty except for two lone friends sitting in a corner at a picnic table chatting excitedly with one another. As I entered, I was welcomed by the familiar scent of what I equate to an old attic, the smell of alcohol barely there. The lighting was dim. The walls almost empty except for a sign that read “Not responsible for lost or stolen articles” beneath a coat rack that held one single jacket.
The dartboards has been removed, leaving behind only the outline of aged wood where they used to hang. I looked past the bar expecting to see a few people ever-so-focused on playing pool only to find what felt like a graveyard of pool tables and what I call “shoe-shining” chairs. Of course, it makes complete sense given COVID-19 that patrons wouldn’t be playing these sorts of bar games, but it was still so odd when you’ve grown accompanied to a particular aesthetic at a spot like this.
As I approached the bar, I turned and my eyes caught a wide grin from a patron who turned away from watching The Devil All the Time on Netflix to acknowledge my presence. I couldn’t tell if his smile meant “awkward seeing you here” or if he was quietly anticipating my order as I glanced at shelves that seemed more barren than I remember.
On the bar, a few bottles were on display, and I discerned these were probably my only options. Nervously, I asked the bartender for a Bud Light, a “sweet shot,” and water if it wasn’t too much trouble. Silently judging, I’m sure he quickly suggested cherry vodka or botanicals, to which I responded, “Cherry vodka and a splash of Red Bull, please.” As he turned his back, he said, “So a Cherry Bomb?”
I laughed to myself, remembering my dad telling me it cost nothing to treat everyone kind even when they may not be as interested in returning the favor. Just like he probably didn’t expect much more from me than a “girly” order, I didn’t expect anything more than a no-frills, minimal excitement customer service experience. In fact, I relished in it.
Elizabeth Billiards has been and always will be one of those spots in Charlotte where you love to go because even if you’re not a “regular,” it still has a “homey” appeal to it. It’s like going to my dad’s mother’s house when I was younger. I wasn’t allowed to rummage through “her” kitchen, and her stern demeanor may not have felt welcoming, but she still wanted me to come to visit her.
I guzzled the warm Cherry Bomb and handed the bartender my card. “Aw man, when’s the last day?” I asked. He responded, “This time next week.” His curt response led me to believe that inquiring about the new possible location would fall on deaf ears as he returned to the remote to pause the movie before he and the two patrons sitting at the bar exited the door.
I smiled warmly as they left, looking around at virtually just old bones that remained, remembered the many nights I’d visited over the years, and thought about my dad. The memories of each fading as I stepped onto the back patio one last time. As I sat there forcing down each gulp of Bud Light (sans the requested water), I thought about Chris Brown’s “Say Goodbye.” And while farewells are often bittersweet, there’s really never a right time to say goodbye. Cheers to you, dad, and cheers to Elizabeth Billiards. I’ll be seeing you again.
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