The Little Bar That Refused to Go Away

Photos © Paul Cotter Photography

In the past decade, 880,000 people have moved to the Charlotte, NC metro area, making this one of the fastest growing cities in the country. New construction is sprouting wilder than kudzu vines. But in the midst of this booming growth and development, there's a feisty little bar that's held its ground. It's called the Thirsty Beaver Saloon.

For years, developers drooled over this prime parcel of land located just outside of Charlotte's center city.  The bar owners and their landlord refused to sell, and they declined every purchase offer. Determined to steamroll ahead anyway, the developers bought every inch of land surrounding the Thirsty Beaver and dwarfed it on all sides with high-rise apartment buildings.

On a recent Sunday, I asked Thirsty Beaver patrons to step outside and show how they felt about the standoff. They were proud to give a defiant finger in support of the bar.

Why was this little bar worth saving? Why do people from every walk of life -- from bikers to bankers, from handymen to hipsters -- love to come here? Step inside and you'll understand.

In a world full of upscale bars and pubs with trendy themes, this place is authentic, raucous and raw. No fancy wines or pricey microbrews here. This is a place where you pay two bucks for a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hear kickass honky tonk music played live or pouring from the jukebox. A sign on the wall proclaims "You either love Merle Haggard, or you're wrong."

On this particular Sunday, the Moses Jones band was cutting loose with a fiery mix of outlaw country music they call Dirty Southern Soul. Their pedal steel guitar player was out sick for the night, so the other guys kicked it into overdrive as a trio. Hot damn, they were good.  You could hear why they won last year's Queen City Music Award for country group of the year.

While the music and the beer flowed, I had a ball photographing the band and the crowd. It wasn't the easiest of shooting conditions. The only available light was coming through one small window, and the little bar was filled with people jostling around. But it was exhilarating to photograph, because there was an energy and a togetherness that you don't feel in too many places nowadays.

While there's a strong spirit of rebelliousness here, it's also one of the friendliest bars you'll ever come across. At the Thirsty Beaver, It doesn't matter if you're young or old ... if you're wearing a cowboy hat or a fedora ... or if you rode a Harley, an Uber or a Segway scooter to get here. Everyone is welcome. When you grab a seat at the bar, you'll find yourself chatting easily with a person you've never met before.

I'll leave you with a story that defines the character of this place.

Several years ago, when it was clear that the Thirsty Beaver property was not for sale at any price, the developers played hardball.  They put up a chain link fence around the bar, boxing it in and apparently hoping to choke it into submission. The strategy didn't work. The bar regulars responded by hanging bras on the fence, with signs saying "Thanks for your support."

I raise a two-dollar can of Pabst Blue Ribbon to you, Thirsty Beaver. Thanks for letting me capture the fun with my camera on a lively Sunday at your saloon.

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~ Paul