The Death of The Rat

December12/ 2007

No, this is not about Coach K …. ALTHOUGH there IS a Duke tie-in to each of the three items we discuss today.  …. (1) The “final days” of The Rathskellar ….. (2) Roger Clemens did he or did he? ….. (3) June Jones going to SMU…. How does Duke fit into all of these ???? …. READ MORE

Every college town in America has its legendary “hang-outs”.  Quirky odd-ball joints that are the scene of assorted ribald “campus legend” incidents ….. mythical incidents that grow in ribaldness over the decades.  Places where goofy students could be goofy students and, in fact, are encouraged to be “goofy students”.  The beer is cheap and the comfort food abundant.

Actually, to even BE a “college town” one must have a quirky eccentric eatery that is popular simply BECAUSE it is “quirky and odd” ….. like “The Rat”.  The quality of food and service in these places usually dies about 20 years before their reputation does.  “College memories” die hard, if ever.

The physical environs of these “hang-outs” is always eccentric and each generation of students is encouraged to leave their mark be it in carved initials or frustrated slogans lamenting the socio-cultural hot buttons of the day ….. from Viet Nam to Timothy Leary to Reverend AlGore’s enviro-rant ….. archeologists can trace the assorted bohemian bloviations of fuzzy-cheeked know-it-alls passing thru to adulthood and the flocks of “permanent students” who nest in “college towns” in lieu of facing the harsh realities of a real world geared to individual production.  Such a place has existed for 60 years in Chapel Hill’s Amber Alley – The Ramshead Rathskellar.  Alas ….. the gambler and double gambler may be “foldin’em”.

“The Rat” changed ownership a few years ago and, among a host of operational changes, the new owners chose to forego the paying of their taxes ….. uh oh.  The Feds have padlocked the legendary subterranean bistro and prospects of its reincarnation are slim.  Ye Olde Internet Legend did some snoopin’ and discovered some sad realities …..

(1)   The primary reason for The Rat going dark is poor management.  The Rat’s quirky eccentricity “worked” for decades due to (A) its labyrinthian environment ….. (B) its waitstaff of quite cool “colored men” who were decidedly a key part of “the show” …. (C) its menu which featured homemade lasagna, pizza and Chapel Hill’s version of “Philly Cheese Steak” the aforementioned “Gambler” and “Double Gambler”.

The new owners hired COED WAITRESSES which sounds good but not for The Rat.  Flirty wenches have their place in the fantasies of geeky nerds for sure but what UNC frat boy did not enjoy snappy repartee with “a for-real black dude” who probably played bass for Doug Clark.  Animal House fans would imagine Otis Daye taking their order and trading some hip lingo at the same time …. Maybe     even one of those 10-part handshake thingies. ….. (oh well, there’s still Time Out.)

… and then the new owners changed the menu of Rat favorites.  There is even a rumor of frozen lasagna and FROZEN PIZZA.  Why bother to run a gauntlet of derelict panhandlers thru a dark and dingy “alley” for FROZEN PIZZA served by ditzy waitresses.  Increasingly fewer folks bothered to do so.

(2)    The quirky subterranean location MIGHT have actually complied with at least one current building safety and fire code but no one is willing to bet it did …. For the past 20 years.  Between bumping your head on low overhangs, tripping on uneven floors and nightmarish thoughts of what might happen if anyone yelled “Fire” …. The Rat was one spark in a faulty greasetrap away from reducing all of Franklin Street to a smoldering ruin. ….. and Amber Alley …. Oddly, no one owns Amber Alley.  If a patron slipped on gawd-knows-what he would find no entity public/private for which to sue.  So sue everybody ….. Insurance companies frown on such circumstances.

(3)    And then there’s Franklin Street ubiquitous “homeless guys” …. “the panhandlers” …. “the bums”.  Derelict panhandlers have replaced tie-dyed hippies as the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce’s poster children.   What UNC alum hasn’t tried to relive halcyon campus memories on “quaint Franklin Street” in the past 10 years and encountered these lovable ambassadors of psychotic mirth and mayhem.  …..  Charles Manson and Norman Bates lurking in Amber Alley.

The Rat will soon join Jeff’s and The Porthole as Franklin Street “used-to-bes”.  Their murky memories will live on in oft-told alumni tales of “that time back in 19_ _ when a bunch of us _____ “.   The cheap beer will always be cold …. The gambler sizzling …. The black waiters hip ….. in our memories of the subterranean labyrinthian maze of The Rathskellar in Amber Alley on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill …..

If you didn’t go to UNC …. I’m sure you had your own quirky bistro at your alma mater.

The link to Duke ???? ….. the column title The Rat Is Dead got many of you excited that Coach Krzyzewski might be the victim of one of Derm’s daily drive-by shootings.  Nope.


   Did Roger Clemens “do it”?  Only two people really know …. Clemens and his accuser.  As for the jury of public opinion ….. the “he said – he said” conflicting statements will not change anyone’s opinion of Clemens or of “spoiled over-paid athletes”.

If you are a Red Sox fan, a Yankee-hater, a Texan-hater, or a rich athlete-hater you have The Rocket strapped into Ol’ Sparky and you’re ready to zap his needle-punctured butt.  “Get A Rope for Roger”

If McNamee comes forward and retracts his accusations you will cynically mutter that “he was paid off” to retract it.  If there is some blood test to check if the steroids were ever in his system, and it says “he’s clean” you will claim the test is a hoax.

Roger Clemens will go to his grave with a large % of sports fans convinced he is “a cheater” regardless of anything that might happen from this point on.

That being the sad reality …. Ya got kinda hope he IS GUILTY for his sake.  Death Row is populated by self-avowed innocent men.  Some might really be.

I got to thinking how Roger’s situation might happen locally. ….. The Duke Link.  Who is this area’s most reviled and despised sports figure ….. Mike Krzyzewski.  Not even close with whoever is second.

I am on record as NOT being a goggle-eyed K-Hater …. But I know plenty of otherwise level-headed adults in professions demanding integrity and logical decision-making who are convinced “Coach K is consummate evil”  These hardcore fans of area schools other than Duke have drunk so much K-hate Kool-Aid for so many years that there is no perverted act so vile that they are not convinced that Mike Krzyzewski commits it a dozen times each day …. before breakfast.

Every time I use my line about “Mickie operates a whore-house at Hope Valley Country Club” I get reader replies that “Hey BobLee, I know a guy that rented one of Mickie’s gals for a bachelor party”. ….. yikes!

Imagine being prepped for complicated brain surgery and as the gas-man is taking you under your last recollection is a brilliant neuro-surgeon ranting “Coach K is a space alien and is Dickie V’s common law wife ….”

If an unconfirmable rumor came out about Mike Krzyzewski similar to the Clemens – McNamee “only they know” scenario ….. how many of you would IMMEDIATELY assume Mike was guilty as sin “because” ….. “because” you hate the man so much that your “want him to be” overrules any possibility of “he might not be” ….. yikes!


    Hawaii’s June Jones is jumping to SMU.  As I told you after the Rich Rod fiasco in West Virginia, once a precedent is set in these sillinesses, look out.  Remember the Governor of West Virginia jumping into the Rich Rod mess ….. now Hawaii’s Governor-ette is pleading for June to stay.  Apparently June Jones has joined Do Ho and Steve McGarrett as Hawaiian icons.  Who knew?

Reports say June was torn between the big bucks on Beverly Drive in Highland Park and the outpouring of Aloha love.  Twenty Mustang fat-cats are putting up $100,000/each for five years to guarantee June $2,000,000/per.   Yee haa!

NOTE:  This is NOT a Jimmy Sexton deal.  Leigh Steinberg did this one.

I have this vision of the Governor-ette of Hawaii being “Brandon DeWilde in a grass skirt standing forlornly on a beach” facing east …. “Shane/June, come back Shane/June …. Come back.”

Watch your fellow human beings go really really goofy …. And laugh like hell.

As June bolts for Big D, I’d pay cash money if SMU arranges an annual game w/ Mike Leach’s Flying Circus in Lubbock.  First team to 100 wins. ….. now The Duke Link 

  June will encounter the same situation at SMU that David Cutcliffe faces at Duke.  June and Dave can find plenty of rifle-armed QBs (like Leo Hart and Anthony Dilwig) with the SAT scores and intellect to see the value of a Duke or SMU degree.  And offensive linemen (ala Harris Barton and Jim Richter) are available to protect them AND go to class ….. but what about “fleet foots and running backs” ????  For Hawaii, June found his receivers in Juvy holding tanks and in the sub-800 ranks of SAT scores.  Neither Duke nor SMU much want knuckle-draggers and gang-bangers roaming their campuses.  Or do they?

How bad do ya wanna win ?????  How bad indeed!

Kirsten, Gwyneth and Charlize admit THEY can’t tell themselves apart.  Only SpiderMan knows for sure.

  I almost felt sorry for Oliver Purnell last night …. almost. ….. Is Eli Manning old enuff to shave yet? ….. Two local NFL QBs led their teams to big Ws yesterday.  My school was not one of their alma maters ….

  For the record …. the words “John Edwards” do not appear anywhere in the above commentary.  See, I CAN do it!  No reference to “loonies” either.


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