Auction Likely Brings
Rathskellar Era to an End
It’s not often you can take a seat in history. Bidder No. 22 did just that Feb. 2 —
in fact, he took seats by the booth, all eight
of them for $4,500, at the auction to sell
The Ramshead Rathskeller’s assets to pay
its back taxes.
The first of more than 200 people
began lining up shortly after 8 on a chilly
Saturday morning to buy memories of the
restaurant that served overloaded dishes,
many with extra cheese, at affordable prices
since 1948. Francis Henry ’ 67, sole owner
of the below-ground eatery since 2002,
owed the taxes. The restaurant closed in
mid-December, under an agreement with
the N.C. Department of Revenue. Henry
had closed the restaurant once before, for
repairs in summer 2006, reopening in time
for the students’ return that August.
“It’s a strange thing. It’s a legal entanglement that has more to do with the people
who own the building than the tax situation,” said Henry, making reference to a
long-standing dispute he has had with the
building owners over the need for repairs,
which included a leak that closed the popular Cave Room for several months. The
restaurant, in Amber Alley off Franklin
Street, also faced increasing competition
from a wealth of new, better-lit cafes that
have mushroomed along Franklin over the
past couple of years.
Court records showed that the Ramshead
Rathskeller LLC owed $159,651.57 to the
federal government, $49,427.66 to the state
Department of Revenue and $2,626.11 to
Orange County. The amount netted in the
auction is not public record.
Auctioneer Tony Furr of Classic Auctions
in Locust explained how an auction works
to the crowd packed into the warren of
rooms, with more in the alley pressing to
enter. A beefy aide with a long, gray ponytail hoisted a large stockpot. Strategically
posted spotters scanned the room, alert to
the flick of bidders’ cards that indicated
they were interested in the item. Furr took
a deep breath and reeled off a staccato patter
of ever-increasing numbers. Seconds later,
bidder No. 97 had bought a piece of the Rat.
“Pass the pot to No. 97,” Furr said, and
the aging hippies in the crowd snickered as ciates, speculated that the closing stemmed
the vat was surfed toward the alley from a shift in emphasis by the BW3 chain
entrance. from a student-oriented bar to a family-
Bidder No. 22, aka Jim Lilley of Jim Lil- friendly restaurant.
ley Properties, banded with two other local Liz Parham, executive director of the
several thousand dollars
to buy big-ticket, irreplaceable items such as
tables and booths with
an eye toward allowing
which manages the
building housing the
D TH/KELVIN YEUNG
Francis to reopen at
some point. Johnny
Morris III, president of
Rathskeller, and Bob Auctioneer Tony Furr closes a deal as fans spanning several generations
Britt, co-owner of packed the Ramshead Rathskeller auction Feb. 2, snapping up pans,
Merritt’s Store & Grill, signs and other fixtures. The restaurant, which opened in 1948, closed
in December and sold assets to pay back taxes.
completed the trio.
Bidding grew heated over the Cave
Room entrance sign, but Kyle Smith ’ 97
won out for $340 and found out later he
was bidding against a friend.
“It’s worth it,” Smith said. “The $340 I’ll
forget about, but I won’t forget about the
Moments later, he snagged a framed
caricature of Dean Smith for $200. “I
thought it would go for twice that,” he said.
He and his sister, Jomarie Zon ’ 99, and
their parents drove from Cary, as they had
every month for years to dine at the Rat.
“Until I was 18, this was the only restaurant in Chapel Hill I’d ever eaten at,” Smith
said. “The Cave was where we always sat.”
In October, Kyle and Jomarie’s father,
Larry Smith ’ 66, collapsed at a Carolina
football game, was rushed to the hospital
and underwent lengthy heart-bypass surgery. As the hours wore on, Kyle and
Jomarie went out for what was to be their
last meal at the Rat.
“We sat in the Cave Room, waiting for
Dad to get out of surgery,” Kyle said, “and
Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership,
pointed out that there are still 81 restaurants downtown. Within days of the closing, she received inquiries from four businesses interested in taking over the space.
Shop Serves Teas
Wings Restaurant Closes
Buffalo Wild Wings took flight the end
of December, closing the West Franklin
Street sports bar a month shy of the Super
Bowl party season. BW3’s landlord,
Antoine Puech, president of Prestige Asso-
Chill Bubble Tea counted among those
81 downtown dining options, for the liquid
lunch crowd. Bubble tea is a tea-based
smoothie, blended with a selection of ingredients from one of three categories. Chill
Classics are just that: flavors such as coconut,
cherry, strawberry and the more adventuresome lychee, mango, taro and purple Oreo.
Fresh Fruit bubble tea blends in the likes of
banana, kiwi and pineapple. Chill Creations
cater to your wild side, with flavors named
cool blue raspberry, cotton candy and
strawberry shortcake. More flavors are
available depending on the season.
The bubble teas are priced in the $3 to
The Chapel Hill store of the franchise
has upstairs seating overlooking Franklin
Street. The decor is colorful and contemporary: hardwood floors, leather couches
and flat-screen TVs.
Chill Bubble Tea, 145 E. Franklin St.,
Chapel Hill, (919) 338-2472