Years ago, it was the grey building known as ‘Charlie’s Fundrinkery.’
Then, if memory serves, it was a pet store for a brief amount of time.
But, to me, the now vacant, lonely green building on Samford Avenue in Opelika will always be only one thing to me: the site of “Grown Folks Blues and More,” or, as the Bar Food Night Crew preferred to call it, simply “Miss Nancy’s.”
We discovered it completely by accident.
While I had driven by hundreds of times throughout my life, I had never felt an overwhelming urge to stop at that particular establishment; being the child of teetotaler Southern Baptists, bars were still somewhat of an anathema, especially bars in my hometown.
The rules of Bar Food Night and the goading of Drs. Adam Cooner and Jordan Gentry were enough to get me in the door.
The kindness, laughter and happiness exuded by the staff and patrons of Grown Folks (and Shorty’s awesome karaoke set-up) were what kept bringing us back time after time.
The patroness, Ms. Nancy, was always ready with a stiff drink and some loving words of wisdom – as well as an ever-present basket of fried okra, a necessary staple for our table.
She’d ask about school, our love lives and anything else she could think of that would matter. The Vets-in-Waiting would talk of classes and surgeries; I, of city council and school board meetings.
Her sister, Ms. Tootsie, would always be the first up for karaoke, singing her staple – the Luther Vandross version of the classic “A House is Not a Home.”
A few more Pink Flamingos, a fish platter and then we’d all be up in front of the bar and its regulars, belting out anything from Sinatra (me) to David Allen Coe (Cooner) and even Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” (Jordan).
We’d have our fill and then slowly amble out, always sure to get a hug and parting bit of advice from Miss Nancy.
“Smile, baby,” she’d always say to me. “You know you’re too blessed to be stressed.”
Those days are gone now.
Due to a dispute with the building’s owner, Blues and More isn’t there any more, leaving another empty space in the heart of all of us who love our quirky local watering holes.
We were occasional visitors in the world at Grown Folks; there were folks there who came every week, sat at the same places, did the same things and talked to the same folks.
What happens to the cast of regulars when an iconic place just up and closes?
Do they all matriculate to some other stop, attempting to blend in with established regulars at another joint, or do they just grab a bottle from the ABC store and stick close to home?
We all need a place where we can go and just … well … be, a place free of judgment, pretense or shame.
We want our version of “Cheers,” that place “where everybody knows your name” – who you are, what you do and why none of that really matters.
When you’re at that bar, you’re just another face in the crowd. Who is less important than Why, as all are there to have a nice drink and forget about their troubles in the world outside.
“Grown Folks” was that place for me, the Vet School Crew and countless others who we tried to spread “the gospel of Ms. Nancy” to.
No bartender will ever dispense wit and wisdom the way Ms. Nancy did.
No taste will ever match the crispy fried okra dipped in the slightest hint of ketchup.
No beverage will ever equal the simultaneous potency and sweetness of the strawberry-flavored Pink Flamingo – and nor will I ever be able to order a pink drink in any other bar without raised eyebrows from others.
Goodbye, Grown Folks, and thank you for everything you allowed me to see and learn.
Bars may come and go, but the memories and experiences we had in them will last a lifetime. Raise your glasses, readers; here’s cheers to the end of an Opelika institution.