Been to the Player’s Retreat (PR) lately? If not, it is worth a visit. Across from N.C. State’s campus on the corner of Hillsborough St. and Oberlin Rd., the PR is a Raleigh institution since 1951, when Bernie and Mickey Hanula opened its doors.
I remember going to the PR when I was still in high school (Mom, I hope you’re not reading this!) The drinking age back then was 18, the driving laws were laxer and most places on Hillsborough Street didn’t check IDs like they do now. It’s amazing that some of us are still alive. When I was legal to drink and in college, it was a great place to meet and play some pool before going to the Brewery or somewhere to listen to live bands. After my first husband and I divorced in the mid-80s, my best friend Rose and I were saved by many a Gabby burger after a long Friday or Saturday night. But as Raleigh started exploding with new bars and restaurants, the PR became lower on my list of places to go. That is, until a couple of weeks ago.
The twins go to the YMCA after school, and I started to notice some changes at the PR whenever I drove by – notably the new outdoor seating and the bodies filling those seats. And then I read that the PR nearly closed its doors in 2005, until Rich “Gus” Gusler, a Raleigh attorney and loyal customer, stepped in and saved the day. Since then, the PR has seen a few changes. According to PR’s website, it now has the largest collection of single malt scotch in N.C. And, believe it or not, the PR won a 2010 Wine Spectator award of excellence (yes, the PR – yes, the Wine Spectator). They now have more than 75 wines by the glass, including a 2004 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cab for $25.00. So on a recent Friday night, Brad and I had a short reprieve from the kids and decided to go check it out.
Luckily, parts of the PR are still the same, like all of the beer steins and mugs and beer cans that adorn the walls, the fish tanks behind the bar, the big round wood table with various carvings in the front where you first walk in, and the pool tables in the side room – basically how it looked the last time I was there five years or so ago, but without the cigarette smoke. And you can still get their famous Bernie and Gabby burgers, but now you can order them to taste, as they are ground fresh daily (this just may be where I go for my first burger when I start eating meat again in August!) But like the wine list and scotch selections, there have been some pleasant upgrades to the menu, including daily drink and food specials.
I was happy to see that there were five choices of Sauvignon Blanc by the glass – I had a 2002 Bancott from New Zealand, and received a nice pour (no, I did not order the Silver Oak). I had the fried oyster special, at $18.95, and it was worth every penny, and then some. The oysters were plump, juicy, succulent and breaded perfectly – more than I would have ever expected from the PR. And I received a full plate of them – I was so stuffed when I finished, but I was not going to let even one of those wonderful morsels go to waste. The PR also offers a fresh, “never frozen” cod and chips special on Fridays for $12.95 – if it’s anything like the oysters I will have to try it. Brad had the Turkey Shelia – kind of a turkey club on a huge Kaiser roll – which he enjoyed. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he ordered the oysters next time. Drink specials on Friday include house martinis or cosmos at $5.00 (or upgrade to Grey Goose or Hendricks for $7.50).
We sat at the bar since we hadn’t really planned on eating; however it wouldn’t have made a difference as every table was full, with a good mixture of college kids, families with kids, older folks, and all ages in between. The bartenders were friendly and we never lacked for anything. I went back a few days for lunch (that will be a future blog on mushroom sandwiches) and received the same friendly service.
Happy 60th anniversary PR, you are truly a diamond in the rough, but now with some of that shine you had back in the 70s and 80s. We will be back!