In Good Company?

by Nicholas Heller, May 25, 2010

“Do you want me to bite your face? Better be careful, or I’ll do it in public!”

Middle aged men, free-wheeling about the Fort Bragg drinking scene, have few reservations about making their feelings known to potential sweethearts.

As I sat atop the only vacant seat in the house, I surveyed the packed grand opening of Fort Bragg’s newest drinking establishment, the Company Bar, where the quarters were so close I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the potential for romance amongst the elder patrons positioned at the table nearest me, lightly intoxicated.

The alcohol was flowing at a steady pace, compliments of yet another addition to the ballooning bar scene here, located inside the Company Store on Main Street. The place, dubbed a wine bar, had more swank than what I had grown accustomed to in other Fort Bragg lounges, which caused me to hesitate upon entry and to re-consider mingling with the local business owners, who seemed to be out in droves to celebrate (and who, as it turned out, didn’t want to mingle with me anyway).

Fake Roman pillars lined the corners of the parameter and newish-looking art adorned the walls of a little cubby section furnished with bookshelves, a coffee table, and leather sofas. Folks sipped wine and cocktails. They conversed loudly over the collective din produced by an excited crowd. Red, green, blue, and pink spotlights illuminated the inside of each exterior wall—a prerequisite of any classy joint. Roving waiters and waitresses took drink orders and offered flashy sample plates of free hors d'oeuvres. According to Mike, who took my order, the top-shelf liquor prices were “ridiculous” (in a good way). The cast of employees was familiar—friends, good people often seen serving customers in other watering holes—who piece together an existence here on the coast.

Once a place selling hardware and groceries to mill workers and their families, the Company Store is currently an example of the Fort Bragg make-over, containing art, raw food cuisine, a café, a bistro, and now a wine bar, all within the confines of the central-downtown establishment’s walls . The Company Bar is part of what’s been described by Freda Moon­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ as the New Fort Bragg, shedding the lumber-town reputation with new, tourist-oriented industry.

I embrace the New Fort Bragg, and often take advantage of what it has to offer—great food, places you can take out-of-towners or in-laws, and opportunity. But if you want to find the grit—the Fort Bragg I have come to accept and love, with juke-boxes, pool tables, and blathering glassy-eyed drunks hunched over the bar in dim-lit spaces drinking themselves into oblivion—where the only appetizers available crumble out of a Doritos bag and the guy sitting next to you may spit a few choice words in your direction or become your best friend, it isn’t going to be found at the Company Bar. Keep stumbling down the side-walk, where there are whispers and shreds of an older, golden Fort Bragg, clumsily revealed at the right time of night.

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