Victory party in the Whiskey District? Priceless.

by Brian Clarey

It’s not every day you see a member of the NC General Assembly chilling out in a corner bar in the Whiskey District.

But here it is, Election Day, and there’s the representative for North Carolina’s 57th District with her elbow on the bar and a glass of beer before her, one she’s draining pretty quickly by the looks of it.

The Offshore Tavern is festooned with balloons and Pricey Harrison campaign signs. The balloons, mostly green with a few red and white ones thrown in, float and bob on strings, buoyed, perhaps, by the eager chattering and waves of optimism that flow through the room like wavy gravy.

There’s free food – seasoned olives and portobello caps with veggies, fruits with cheese, chorizo with chunks of melon and these tiny grape tomatoes stuffed with what looks like fresh mozzarella. Also some kind of prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. Real nice.

There’s a keg on the floor and a tent on the patio and they’ve got the hot bartenders working tonight, drawing eyeballs even from the men in the room who are not particularly interested in women.

The election results roll across the bottom margins of the TV screens; the bonds are getting killed one by one and the Albright/Bray race is too close to call yet. But this one’s been decided since Mary Price Harrison set her sights on the office in 2004, the year she won her first election and became one of the forces for good in Raleigh.

The smokers gather in the tent on the patio as the rain collects in the upper folds. Jeff and Lucy, tallow-voiced hipsters who celebrated the national day of democracy by drinking all afternoon, huddle by a glowing orange heater and, after a brief discussion about where electricity comes from, start to inquire about the goings-on in the barroom, where there seems to be a lot of action.

“So what’s this Pricey all about, anyway?” Jeff asks, his hands pocketed in his crotch for warmth.

“She’s good people,” the proprietor of the joint assures them.

This is good enough for the hipsters, who then become engrossed in the retelling of the tale about the poor bastard who tried to go swimming in Beerbower’s River and ended up breaking both his legs.

Pricey Harrison still keeps her post at the bar by the door. She’s wearing a white turtleneck and a green cable-knit sweater; a gold cross hangs around her neck from a chain and rests on her breastbone. She smiles when her people bring out the sheet cake – nothing fancy, just a little yellow cake with some white icing and her name in green frosting, some ribbons made into ringlets with a scissor blade and four candles enumerating the year of the occasion, 2006.

“Congratulations to you,” they sing. “Congratulations to you.”

And so on.

Most of the people in her support system are here, her friends and neighbors, some of whom have known her since way back when, and the kinds of well-wishers and idealists who are drawn to the kind of power she carries. But right now she’s talking to a young girl, maybe 10 years old, with her mother at the bar by the door. No one else can hear what she’s saying, but Pricey is honest and earnest and the little girl looks up at her and the mother beams with pride.

It’s right about then that Pricey makes the reporter in the room, spotting him scribbling in his notebook from across the bar. She watches him for a moment and then continues her conversation, registering the information for another time.

A campaign worker stops to see her on his way out the door.

“I need to get home to my computer and my TV,” he says, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I’m very anxious about it.”

“Go,” she says.

By 10 p.m. she’s secured 63 percent of the vote and the proprietor pours three belts into tall, frosted shot glasses. They go down and Pricey stands on the footrest of her barstool.

“I really couldn’t have done it without all of you,” she says. “I want to thank each and every one of you.”

And so on.

At 11:10 the Democrats win the US House. Cheers roar like surf and the drinks are poured. But Pricey stands with her arms crossed, in serious conversation with a similarly besweatered woman, both of them with their eyes fixated upon the TV screen above the bar.

The proprietor turns up the music and the party kicks into gear as the hot bartenders weave through the crowd picking up bottles and glasses.

Across the street at the Blind Tiger the B-boys jerk and hustle to vicious beats. At the Wahoo they’re screaming along with the jukebox and at Walker’s they’ve got their elbows on the bar and their faces in their hands.

And the cold, Tuesday rain falls on the Whiskey District all night long.