Hemingway’s brings out the local celebs

by Brian Clarey

So I’m at the soiree and I’m in a rented tux that makes me look like a middle-aged prom date, and my wife is radiating beside me. I’ve got an imported beer in one hand and the other I’m extending for a handshake and to be honest, I’m more than a little bit cowed. It’s not every day ‘— it’s not any day in my life thus far ‘— that I get to shake the mayor’s hand.

And it’s not because he’s so elusive. We don’t live in New York or LA or DC or any of the other towns where the mayors live in relative seclusion from the people and travel in limos amid a phalanx of beefy security mooks. There is no Gracie Mansion in Greensboro, and it’s not uncommon to see Mayor Holliday in area restaurants and on the street downtown. Even I’ve seen the guy out in public, so it’s really no big deal, I guess. But I’ve never had the audacity to just walk right up to the dude and stick out my hand. I mean, the guy’s the mayor for crying out loud. He’s certainly got better things to do than chat it up with a clown like me.

The tux makes me do it, that and the Newcastle and the serious swank and the inordinate amount of exposed cleavage in the room. I’m dizzy with it.

And the man’s got a presence. He looks so much like a mayor that he could play one on TV.

The event is the grand pre-opening party at Hemingway’s, the swanky new piano bar with great frontage on Elm Street, with entry gained by invitation only. And Holliday is not the only heavyweight in the room. Over there is downtown developer Milton Kern, sitting at a cocktail table. Right here is Guilford County sheriff BJ Barnes, filling a chair near a column in the center of the room. And over by the bar is’… well, he’s wearing a really great suit and he’s probably someone important, too.

Even the piano player, Derek Floyd, is something of a big shot ‘— he was once Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s musical director during the heyday of PTL. Tonight he’s playing mellowed out standards by the likes of Elton John and Sinatra, delivered with a touch of gospel in his smooth, smoky voice. But you can barely hear the piano over the din ‘— voices, chuckles, slaps on the back, caroming off the copper and brass and wood and glass.

Thank God I’m not the only riff-raff in the room. There’s a full cadre of print media pros here to glean what they can from the scene. I see the Rhino Times’ Scott Yost getting his schmooze on amid the banks of tables, WC Jones from In the Spotlight Magazine enjoying a smoke on a stool by the baby grand, and Patrick Egan, who took over the Last Call column in GoTriad (where I used to hang my hat), snapping shots on his digicam and speaking seriously to all who approached. I even caught glimpses of two of my old bosses: Diego Gómez, publisher of Spotlight, and Jeri Rowe, who as editor of Triad Style and then GoTriad greased my wheels in the Greensboro print scene.

By Greensboro standards, it’s a media circus.

Now I can’t speak for my fellow ink-stained wretches, but I sometimes have trouble with gigs like this. I try my best to maintain the long-standing journalistic tradition of soaking up as much free food and booze as I can wherever and whenever it’s offered, but when you’ve got every print outlet in town on-site and prepared to make copy the goal is to try and write something original, something nobody else can touch.

My guess is that the big story will be about the moment when, after comments by my new friend the mayor and Brad Semon, consultant for Hemingway’s and the mind behind the Painted Plate, managing owner Jeff Schleuning takes the microphone, thanks the crowd, and then whips out a rock and proposes to his longtime girlfriend Jamie Watson. Nobody sees it coming.

But my favorite story of the night is Schleuning himself. There’s a bit of a biker’s burliness to him, and the shaved head and pierced ears make him look like a bit of an outlaw. But the dude has serious business chops honed in the corporate world, most recently as chief executive officer at Granite and Marble by Malave. And the guy knows how to hustle. Just a couple of hours into the evening and he’s got his jacket off and the sleeves of his tuxedo shirt rolled up past his elbows. I see him bussing tables, changing paper towels in the men’s room (which, by the way, is fantastic), running beers and doing the kind of gladhanding practiced only by those in the upper tiers of the executive food chain. When the bleary-eyed guests file out the doors near midnight, bound for Café Europa or some other nightspot, Schleuning is still gathering glasses and bottles from the small-topped tables.

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