For Liz it was in defiance of her father’s admonition, “Whatever you do, don’t meet a Melungeon in a bar.” While technically she did meet a Melungeon in a bar, it wasn’t quite like that; we were both at a going-away party for a mutual friend, a poet who had taken a teaching job on the other side of the United States, in San Francisco.
Last Friday night Liz and I visited that bar for the last time. When the doors closed in the dark of Saturday morning, Bull Branch was gone. The owner Scott had closed it down the way she does everything—full throttle all the way. She swung open the doors and threw a smash-up party. Don DiLego, backed by a fantastic band, gave us a good dose of his soulful Americana. Everyone danced, and drank, and reveled in the company of old friends.
Open in 2001, Bull Branch was a restaurant and a bar, but it was more than that. It was a place to meet people interested in more than hookups and college football; it was a place to talk about art and literature and music; it was a place to hear music that ranged in the course of an hour from Willie Nelson to Morphine to Fela Kuti. If you wanted to dance, you did it between the tables. And that was fine. People did it all the time.
It feels like our town has lost another bubble of sanity, a local sanctuary from the bland corporate-store kitsch that appears to be spreading like gangrene across the city. Another place with personality goes, another Cracker Barrel or Buffalo Wild Wings—or two, or four—opens.
Friday was great fun. Saturday was sad, as if another friend had moved far away. Funny how a place has its own personality and can come to feel like a friend. Bull Branch was like that to me—a friend I hadn’t seen as much lately because I had three kids to usher through the teen years, but an old friend nonetheless.