The death of the Rhino has been greatly exagerated
It feels like forever since I’ve been in the Rhinoceros Club, and it’s probably been at least a couple years since I surreptitiously darkened its door. I’m not officially 86ed from the Rhino, at least I don’t think so, but I feel a little bit like an ass going in there after club owner John Horshok and I found ourselves at cross purposes over an issue back in those halcyon days of 2005. Before our disagreement, I once had the pleasure of being drank under the table by Horshok, who put away Miller
Lites over ice that afternoon like a man on fire as the row of rattan fans overhead lazily wafted to and fro, to and fro. The Rhino was one of my favorite joints back when you really needed a key in order to get in the door, back when the downtown-dollars pie was not sliced so thinly. It was an honest bar, classy without being stuffy, and you got the notion that, at some point, someone had actually read the books on the shelves. When I drank at the Rhino, the afternoons were jammed with after-work strivers and salt-and-peppered business types, evidence of the Elektra Complex in plain view. Sometimes three bartenders would work the sticks, with a couple comely cocktail waitresses slinging drinks on the floor. They’d have dozens of credit-card tabs rolling at once. I used to shoot pool with my father here when he was still drinking, and I wrote several columns from the bar when I was a correspondent for Triad Style. It was a place for epiphanies, the place where I met God Supreme (the rapper, not the deity) and I always looked a little better in the back-bar mirror than I did in real life. I’m back now on a Friday afternoon, and I can have my pick of stools at the bar. I like the ones by the door, and I sit while a woman a few spaces down works a crossword puzzle. There’s a few holdovers from the old days surrounding the island with loosened ties and roundbuying ways, but anyone could walk to the back and take over a pool table and there is absolutely no wait to go take a piss. I’m here because of a rumor that I heard on the streets, and only my own eyes and ears can tell me if its true or not. I heard the Rhino is on its last legs, that January is its last month and that the Underground will be moving into the space. But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard rumors like this, and the Rhino has never stopped charging forward. They can be very stubborn and persistent animals. But a couple quick questions confirm that rumors pf the Rhino’s death have once again been greatly exaggerated. The building itself has been on the market for years, and the business entity known as the Rhino has not changed hands. “As far as I know,” an employee tells me in a cryptic manner, “no one has bought the Rhino.” But what about the smaller crowds, the reduced receipts? This place used to do a lot more business. “So did the Wahoo, so did Walker’s, so did every other place,” the employee says. “There’s a lot more bars now.” Indeed. It’s good news to me: With or without my patronage, Greensboro needs this bar. It’s been here so long it’s part of the city’s history.
The most famous story, I guess, is the night Bruce Springsteen got on the stage and did a few numbers with the band. The room held maybe a couple hundred people that night, but if you go by everybody who says they were there it was more like a few thousand. I’ve heard the tale from several different perspectives: My old bosses at Bert’s Seafood Grille, Drew and Mary, both made it out to the Rhino that night — Mary was inside having her mind blown and Drew was the first person in line outside after the club reached capacity. And he was damn sure nobody would be leaving until the show was over. My favorite version of the story came from John Rudy, who opened the Rhino in 1982 before casting off to start CafÃ© Europa. He confirmed that the room was packed, and added a little footnote. He told me that John Hammer, editor of the newspaper begun in the bar more than 18 years ago, was working the floor and door that night. And when he saw Springsteen sitting atop one of the booths by the wall, Hammer shined his flashlight on him and made him take his feet off the seat. He might have been the Boss everywhere else, but not in the Rhino. So let the rumors cease… for now. The Rhino club is open for business for the foreseeable future, and I urge everyone to stop by for a drink this week — to relive the old glory days or to experience for the first time just how pleasant it can be to have a drink under those slowly swaying fans. And, Horshok be damned, I may even stop by for one myself.