Friday, December 21, 2007

A Chapel Hill institution closes its doors

(OK, so I lied about yesterday's post being the last before the holidays. So sue me. I just couldn't resist not commenting on this below.)

I was in either seventh or eighth grade, and my classmates and I from Dunn Middle School made the trip to Chapel Hill to visit the Morehead Planetarium. (It was for an educational show, by the way, not a Pink Floyd Lazer Show or some such.) Before the visit to the planetarium, we all went to the Rathskeller for dinner.

As a small-town boy from Harnett County, it was a cultural experience. The dankness of the place; the names written and carved into the tables and walls (we swore for years that we saw "Michael Jordan" written on our table); the bottomless cup of sweet tea.

As a lifelong N.C. State fan, I have been taught to mistrust and despise all things Chapel Hill (save for the magnificent School of Government, by the way). I will admit, however, that the Rathskeller has long stood in my mind as the quintessential college hangout.

Well, it is no more.

"Signs in the windows of the 59-year-old business stated the department had seized the property because taxes on it had not been paid," writes the Fayetteville Observer. "A note posted on the restaurant’s Web site by owner Francis Henry made it unclear when or if the place will reopen. ...

"That sense of history is part of what endears the place — known for serving extra cheesy lasagna, greasy steaks and apple pie topped with cheese — to alumni."

Genny Lou Exum, who lives in Fayetteville and graduated from UNC in 1958, likened the Rat to Franklin Street’s version of the Old Well, a campus landmark.

“I think the charm of it just never, ever leaves you,” she said. “I think everybody that ever went down there just fell in love with it.”

R.I.P., Rat.

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