Iconic pub in Tryon closes doors

Published 5:46 pm Monday, June 4, 2012

Patrons enjoy a final Friday afternoon drink in Elmo’s Pub & Grill in Tryon. The historic pub closed its doors Sunday, June 3. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Pam Johnson drew her last beer from the taps at Elmo’s Pub & Grill in Tryon Sunday, June 3 as droves of patrons marked the closure of a Trade Street staple.
“It’s sad for me because this place means so many things to so many people,” Johnson said Friday, June 1 after making the initial announcement that the pub would close. “But running a small business, it’s just hard anymore. I’m rather overwhelmed by all the messages and phone calls we’ve gotten. I knew Elmo’s was loved but I could never have realized how much.”
The band Speedwell played into the evening Sunday as a send off to staff and those who have patronized the bar over the years.
Founded in 1934, Elmo’s Pub & Grill was originally established as “Pop’s Beer Garden” by Pop Burnette.
Whitey Baron named it Whitey’s when he purchased it from Burnette. Then he sold the bar to Sam Summey in the 60s, at which time it became Sam’s Place and actually sat in the storefront next door to Elmo’s current location.
Summer sold the place in the 1970s to Horace “Doc” Smith but remained a regular.
“I owned it for 12 years at its location next door – there’s no doubt it will be missed. We’re here every day,” Summey said.
The “we’re” Summey referred to includes himself and the four or five other guys he meets every day at 4 p.m. for a beer – or two. Rat Bradley is one of those guys.
“This is my office in the afternoons,” Bradley said. “We meet every day to shoot the breeze and find out what’s going on in town.”
These guys aren’t the only ones who have made a stop by Elmo’s a part of their daily or weekly routine for many years.
“This place closing is going to have a big effect on a lot of people,” said regular Patricia Gossenreiter. “People have shared a lot of laughter, a lot of tears – we’ve shared our lives in here.”
These people stopped in after Doc Smith died and the bar came to be owned by Curt Barnette. They pulled up bar stools when Tim Ballew and Phillip “Fat Packy” Pack bought the place – keeping the name Doc’s before selling it to Preston Kirby in 1985.
Their loyalty remained when the pub moved next door to its current location and became “Preston’s of Tryon.”
Pam and her husband, Elliot, purchased the bar in 2004 from Tommy Southard. Pam had managed the bar for Southard for almost a decade. Later that year, Elliot was killed in an accident and the name of the bar changed to Elmo’s in his honor.
As most locals know, the bar has seen several owners, different names and experienced that small location change, but it has maintained a place in many locals’ hearts.
Janet Jackson has frequented the pub since 1979. At the time, Pam Johnson managed the bar and the two became good friends.
“It’s a hometown pub with people that we all know and have grown up with all our lives. People come in here and work out their problems,” Jackson said. “Out of everyone’s life experience, there’s usually someone who has been through what you are going through and, without criticism or judgment, they help you sort it out.”
Lots of things got sorted out over a cold beer and a burger at Elmo’s.
The “family” of regulars that take their seat at the bar or tables in the front window shoot the breeze about everything – town politics, relationship issues, babies on the way, deaths in the family and even legal problems.
Sunday night they shared laughter and tears as Elmo’s – the place Jackson said they all felt completely safe to be themselves – sold its last round.
Johnson originally posted the announcement of Elmo’s closure on Facebook early in the morning on Friday, June 1.
“This is very hard for me to say, but Elmo’s will close its doors after Sunday night. I would like to thank everyone who bought a beer, mixed drink and down to a burger through the years. I have been there 18 years and I thank all of you for all your support!”
With Elmo’s closing and her son, Wesley, preparing to head off to the Navy in four weeks, Johnson said she plans to enjoy time with him and then figure out her next step.

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