He’ll be at the bar, even on Christmas

Dec. 12, 2013 @ 10:50 AM

“The Crunkleton is the best secret I have.”

Chapel Hill author of “Big Fish,” Daniel Wallace was writing in “Garden & Gun” magazine about a West Franklin Street bar, The Crunkleton.
Wallace writes that the owner, Gary Crunkleton, “provides more than just the name: He’s the personality. He’s the talent. He makes drinks I’ve never had or heard of before.”
But there is another secret, Gary Crunkleton’s secret.
He will not say anything about Daniel Wallace at the bar.
“As a bartender I can't really talk about how Daniel would know about the bar. It is a tacit code, a tacit rule, that bartenders can't talk about their guests at the bar. So I think I know who Daniel Wallace is. I have been seeing him around town. I’ve seen him at Whole Foods. I don't know if he's ever been at the bar. Wink wink.”
Crunkleton says all this with a big grin.
Wallace, though, has obviously spent some time at Gary’s bar. You can tell from what he writes that he loves the place. “On the wall behind the bar are hundreds of beautiful bottles: well over a hundred kinds of Scotch and whiskey, and at least two of everything else. But more than the river of spirits on the wall, it’s this place I love, this space.”
Wallace’s good feeling is not an accident. Crunkleton has his visitor’s total experience in mind.
“It starts with the moment you walk in the door,” he told me. “I think it's important to pay attention to all the details so that what we’re doing at the bar is … selling an experience. It's not just coming in and having a drink it. It's coming in and having a drink, meeting some people, be comfortable in the space, shoot some pool, talk to the bartender, meet friends. It's the culmination of a whole experience once you walk in the door.”
Gary had worked at the old Henderson Street Bar before he opened his own place about five years ago. “It was, like Cheers [the bar in the long running TV series]. It was a great bar. A neighborhood bar. I wanted to do the same thing at The Crunkleton, and I fixed it up so that when people knew, when they came in, that they were going to get a great experience.”
“When I'm on the bar, I try to pull people together. Say you had ties to Davidson. There may be somebody a few stools away who is from Lake Norman. I might say ‘D.G., this guy is from Lake Norman and you are from Davidson. That’s nearby. So maybe you all should get together.’
“A long time ago, here and in Europe, people would go to church, get right with God, and then they would go to their public house, have a pint, and talk about civic things and politics. The public house was an institution of the community and the town, and I wanted to create a similar environment for The Crunkleton, too.”
Crunkleton keeps the bar open on holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. When folks told him he should be able to afford to close on those days, “What I told them was, there are people who want to get out, and we are providing that. I enjoy working holidays because I get to meet these people when they want to talk. They want to have real conversations.”
So Gary Crunkleton will be at work on Christmas evening, giving folks a place to meet and talk. Come to think of it, maybe I will drop by for a few minutes, too.

D.G. Martin’s conversation with Gary Crunkleton is available at: http://chapelboro.com/category/wchl/lifestyle-weekly/whos-talking/

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch” on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.