Dudley’s offers haven for blues bands, good times

by Daniel Bayer

‘“Dave? He’s in the closet.’”

Dave Hillman, who along with Howard Kay owns and operates the downtown Winston-Salem eatery Dudley’s on the Park, is, indeed, literally in the closet, adjusting the music selection of the restaurant’s sound system. After he dials in a mix of classic ’50s and ’60s R&B and early rock, we adjourn to the patio that overlooks Winston-Salem’s Winston Square Park for a Q&A on Dudley’s, blues bands and the rebirth of downtown Winston-Salem.

‘“I’m from New York, I’m a city person,’” says Hillman, who’s lived in Winston-Salem for eight years. ‘“I’ve always lived in cities. I see what’s going on down here, and it’s pretty exciting. We’re probably two or three years away from a major, major boom, once everybody starts moving downtown. It’s just a matter of timing. I wanted to get in not too early, and not too late. That’s what motivated me to do this down here.’”

Hillman’s no stranger to the Triad restaurant business, having opened Burke Street Pizza in Winston-Salem’s West End district three years ago.

‘“We own Burke Street Pizza, myself and Howard Kay,’” says Hillman. ‘“He’s the kitchen manager over here. Howard’s background is running kitchens all his life, basically. He used to run the Village Tavern up on Reynolda Road. I worked in the business world for years, but I also worked in restaurants and nightclubs for 15 years, so that’s my background. The two of us got together and we did Burke Street Pizza, and we had a good amount of success with that, and we decided we wanted to open up and be part of the downtown that’s going on and when this space became available we jumped on it.

‘“We opened up in November, which is pretty much the worst time of the year for restaurants downtown. November through February was very, very slow, but it’s been picking up. Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with the way things have gone.’”

Winston-Salem, whose downtown revitalization seems broader-based and further along than Greensboro’s (though the Gate City is quickly catching up), has offered both challenges and opportunities for those in the restaurant business, says Hillman.

‘“The first wave of restaurants came in, and the strong ones survived, and a few failed. Now the second wave is coming in, and I think the same thing is going to happen. I think the benefit of having a lot of restaurants is that people have a lot of choices,’” giving them more reason to come downtown. ‘“It’s a win-win situation.’”

The bar at Dudley’s is located in a glass-walled extension of the restaurant, so instead of staring at a wall of liquor bottles or an old-time western movie saloon mirror, one can look out over the park with its rock garden waterfalls, amphitheatre, metal sculptures and raised concrete walkways that recall some futuristic city from a 1970s sci-fi TV show. The semi-pastoral scenery has a relaxing, uplifting effect, quite different from the dark brass-and-oak interiors that have been de rigueur in downtown taverns since the heyday of ‘“Cheers.’” The rest of the restaurant has a matching airy atmosphere, with bright colors and open ceilings, and the comfortable outdoor patio, with its green umbrellas, offers an excellent view of the park and the downtown Winston-Salem skyline.

‘“Personally, I love sitting on patios. I think most people do,’” says Hillman, who’s sought to create a ‘“festive’” atmosphere at the restaurant. He hasn’t forgotten, however, that he’s located in the business district, with its all-important lunchtime crowd.

‘“We designed everything in the kitchen so we can produce fast lunches,’” says Hillman. ‘“People don’t have 30 minutes to wait for their food. We can bump everything out in 10 or 12 minutes.’” Dudley’s menu is eclectic, with sandwiches, steaks, seafood, salads, pasta and homemade soups and deserts.

‘“We’re not marketing for a specific niche. We want people to be able to come here multiple times a week, multiple times a month, and not get tired,’” says Hillman.

Dudley’s has also provided a haven of sorts for many of the Greensboro blues and roots rock bands that were left adrift when their stronghold at Ritchy’s on Elm Street in Greensboro closed and its replacement, the Green Burro, changed musical formats. Allison King, Bump and Logie’s Afterhours Blues Band, Ladies Auxiliary and the Fairlanes have all played here on Friday and Saturday nights. Dudley’s also has music on Thursday nights, following the Alive After Five performances in the park.

‘“The bands that we’ve been grabbing from Greensboro, a lot of them haven’t played here in years, so they’ve told me,’” says Hillman. ‘“These are just bands that typically don’t play around here, and we’re trying to get them on a regular basis.’”

‘“It’s a nice place to play,’” says Sheila Klinefelter, of the Ladies Auxiliary, who was playing last Friday. ‘“The crowd is really nice and into it, and the food is great here. For several years we didn’t have a place to play in Winston, and we played in Greensboro a bunch. Now we’re in Winston a bunch, and don’t have a whole lot to do in Greensboro.’”

And who’s Dudley, by the way?

‘“He’s my dog,’” said Hillman.

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