The Last Night at Sir Edmond Halley's - a Eulogy
Sir Edmond Halley's, a classic neighborhood pub that was hard to find but worth the trouble, unexpectedly closed this week. We were there until the beer ran out
Sir Edmond Halley’s lived a good life. It passed away Wednesday night, surrounded by family and friends.
Its loved ones drank it into the great beyond in an alcoholic maelstrom. Normal bar rules did not apply. First the beer ran out. Then the liquor started to wane. The crowd only got bigger. People didn’t request a specific drink. Rather, they sheepishly asked the bartender what they were ALLOWED to order. What’ll ya have? Gimme a beer. Or whatever you’ve got. Near the end, a guy in an orange Hawaiian shirt was too specific. “I’d like a tequila, with salt and lime juice,” he asked. “We don’t have salt. We don’t have lime juice,” the bartender said. “But we do have...” she took a hard glance at the near-empty shelf. “Well, we have tequila.” She pulled out a plastic shot glass, pounded it on the bar and poured.
This was the same bartender who, four hours earlier, stood up against the wall in the entryway, by herself but within earshot. Her face showed her strain. “I do NOT want to work tonight,” she moaned, just loudly enough for someone to hear. A waitress took her by the hand, said something only she could hear, and led her back inside.
After that, people started trickling in. Starting Tuesday night, word had spread that Sir Ed’s had only one day left. It would only be open Wednesday until the drinks ran out. Phones started buzzing. A lot of people hustled in, straight from their jobs. Some wore button-down shirts. Some wore their corporate polos. Some wore hipster t-shirts and beards. Some brought in their children. Maybe this is where mommy and daddy met.
People said what people say when something familiar is going away. Oh, that’s sad. That’s too bad. What a shame. A woman in the back stood on a chair and read a handwritten goodbye note to a captivated crowd. “I’m going to miss this place,” she concluded to applause. People felt the urge to talk to strangers. A bar on borrowed time is the ultimate conversation starter.
After a little introspection, people went back to talking about what they talk about when they go to bars. Gossip. Work. Women. Men. Sir Edmond Halley’s was a place where you could have a big sweaty pint of Old Speckled Hen with your ostrich meatloaf. It was dimly lit and, until this year, smoky. The drop ceiling was stained. The walls were glazed over with black and white paint. Nothing inside looked TOO expensive. Sir Ed’s was a good place to show your date how genuine you were. It was a spot you could depend on for a beer and a potato cake after work. It was as unassuming as it was charming. It was nestled deep in an alley, behind a bend in the back of Park Road Shopping Center. You could be thirty yards away from it and not even realize it was there. You felt like a real Charlottean for knowing where it was.
And it was running out of time. The food ran out Tuesday night. So did the Jagermeister. On Wednesday evening, one by one, bartenders started unscrewing the decorative knobs from the beer taps. The Highland Gaelic Ale was one of the first to go. Then the Fat Tire went. The guy on my right got the last bottle of Coors Light. By 8:30, all of the beer was gone. A pub without pints. Imagine that.
Bartenders made jokes as they handed out hugs and started improvising with the liquor they had left. Champagne was served in a plastic cup. It was a good night to be a regular. You got a hug if you were a regular. Men and women sauntered in and extended their hands to the folks who usually hand them beer. One bartender said someone came in to apply for a job. Today. Bad timing, that.
One grey haired guy at the bar stood in shock. “I’m glad I stopped in,” he said, looking a bit glassy eyed. He’d been coming here since the place opened in 1995. He remembered the German restaurant that was there before. A couple deliberately thought out loud about what their last drink should be, their voices tinged with British accents. A man lurking in the corner said Sir Ed’s was his home. He was only half-joking. A younger man in an orange polo tried to play it cool. “My friends, they dragged me here,” he said to a woman. “Bah humbug.”
People started to ask why this was happening. They wanted to know why the bar was closing. The owner was there. This was his night. He wasn’t beaming. His t-shirt became more unkempt and his blue jeans started to sag as the hours passed. He was working. He had been fielding questions from reporters all day. He told one he’s closing because of financial problems. He told another he’s tired. A third just got a vague, “It’s time.” When last call finally came, he looked like he was ready for it.
Nobody else was. Once the beer ran out, people showed up with their own cans. Once the music was cut off, people sauntered outside. They were strewn all over the patio, still talking even though, at ten o’clock on a hot summer night, their bar was dead. It was a boozy wake. They didn’t want to go home. But they couldn’t stay here.
Bars and restaurants, they come and go. They change names and owners. Menus adapt. Beer selections rotate. Nothing in Charlotte lasts forever. Fifteen years in Charlotte SEEMS like forever. For a lot of us, Sir Ed’s has always been there. Now it’s gone. Some people got away with a picture from a wall or a glass from the bar. The rest of us will just have to make do with the memories.