Everything old is new, improved

by Brian Clarey

Everything old is new, improved

It’s the same damn d’j’ vu all over again.

This triple redundancy comes on as I’m sitting in north Greensboro’s newest sports bar, REFS, in the building behind the Village Tavern by the Westridge Shopping Center. And I’m tripping on the locale because A) I used to live in this neighborhood, and B) I’ve sat in this exact same seat before, in the corner of the barroom, back when this place was known, I believe, as Cheap Seats just a few years ago. In fact, like three jobs ago I sat in this very structure and wrote a lengthy review when the sign out front said “Steak Street.”

But I’ve got a cold Red Oak in front of me, I’m watching the Yankees tank against the Angels while Carolina holds its own against Florida State, I’ve just ordered a Giacomo’s bratwurst with a side of chips and I am right at the median age for the room. So what the hell.

Dare I say there has been a buzz building about REFS, the capital letters of which may stand for something, though the proliferation of shapely young employees in referee zebra stripes suggests otherwise. I’ve gotten a few e-mails name-checking the place, eavesdropped on a conversation or two and seen a bunch of cars in the parking lot. So here I am on a Thursday night and the place is fairly jumping, perhaps due to the big-ticket sporting events on tap for the night, or maybe because this room has finally found its own level.

It’s a sports bar, of course, with a menu rich in burgers, salads and aps; a beer and wine list that’s decent without being imposing; and a vibe that could be described as “sophisticated… for a sports bar.”

Taking in the high ceilings and clean lines, the architectural details of the space, I am once again struck with d’j’ vu.

Steak Street, the original tenant, saw the installation of a New Orleans-style balcony on the second floor, but it didn’t make it at this location, probably because it was so similar in concept to the Village Tavern about a quarter mile yonder. Cheap Seats, a sports bar geared toward college-age patrons that authorized the multiple television hookups, didn’t take either. In the years between the structure has housed a few different restaurants, but the sheer size of it — the place is huge — has been a daunting factor. And nothing seemed to work in this space.

Tonight the place is packed with expensive ladyjeans and tight black tops, Carolina grads made good, after-work stragglers and members of a caste known affectionately as “recycled singles.” Sitting throughout the building’s many chambers are a handful of genuine hotties. all seemingly here of their own volition.

The bratwurst is grilled to a deep amber hue, served on a buttered club roll with roasted peppers and onions. The chips are flash-fried through and through, and the mustard is tip-top. Even the ranch dressing is inoffensive, and that’s saying something.

And I’m thinking: Hey… this place might actually do something.

Carolina’s sewn up their win against Florida State as I polish off my brat, and the room clears a bit. But the Yankees are still down 4-0 in the sixth, and I’m well known as a gamer, so I’m not going anywhere. Another Red Oak. Another inning of scoreless Yankee baseball. Another Carolina touchdown. Another sports bar in north Greensboro, this one with promise.

POSTSCRIPT: I am well aware of the reasons people love to hate the New York Yankees. I even sympathize.

wanna go?

Refs 3404 Whitehurst Road Greensboro, NC

Bratwurst done right at REFS in Greensboro. The sausage is packed locally, at Giacomo’s, and does well with sauteed peppers and onions. The chips were excllent, with nary a soggy one in the batch. (photo by Brian Clarey)