Sam Malone was my idol," says Dain Phelan, the 36-year-old proprietor of Dain's Place, which has been a fixture on 9th Street in Durham for more than six years. "All I ever wanted to do was open a bar."
Phelan's hero Malone was the bartender on the hit television show Cheers played by Ted Danson. Dain's Place opened Jan. 29, 2007, 14 years after the show's last episode. Phelan sips the last bit from a can of Oskar Blues' Deviant Dales that didn't quite fit into his full pint glass. "That day is also my birthday, so it is one hell of an anniversary each year," he says.
Because of Malone, "I was making decorations for Dain's Place all the way back in sixth grade," Phelan says. And the bar is much like the one from the show, "where everybody knows your name," as the TV theme put it. Even if the barkeep doesn't know my name, he knows what I drink without prompting: "Mama's?" he'll say while reaching into the cooler and cracking open a can of Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues and sliding it across to me.
Dain's Place features a stocked cooler full of craft beer plus some stellar drafts on tap. He can't recall what his first craft beer was though.
"Does Yuengling count?" he asked. "I drank a lot of that in high school."
As for favorite style of beer, he says, "When I opened the bar I was a stout guy. But now I'm all about the IPAs. I don't know what changed but I love a good IPA. Especially the 4.3 percent ones that are balanced and flavorful."
A favorite beer? "If I am drinking at Dain's, I mix Foothills' Seeing Double with Hoppyum," he says. "When I am not at the bar? I drink Scotch."
He loves the bar and can often be found there either behind it or on a stool in front of it. "I can complain about the hours and the hard work," he says. "But never in a million years could I have a desk job." Besides, "95 percent of my customers are always in a good mood ... it's a pleasure to serve people like that."
He has had a prime view of the changes on 9th Street in recent years. "I can't stand it," he says of some of the recent developments. "I used to play pick-up football on the field where the Harris Teeter now is. I can't do that anymore and that sucks."
"It's happening and there's no way around it," he continues. "If I could attract one out of every 20 people that go into Panera Bread to come have a beer, I'd be happy," he says, considering the possible upside of how the changes could be good for business.
Phelan is expanding with the opening of a chicken wings joint right around the corner from the bar. Heavenly Buffaloes will serve take-out chicken wings, veggie wings, waffle fries and beer. He hopes to have it open sometime this month. "I had been trying to get that spot for seven years," Phelan says. "It's the best location for the concept of take-out chicken wings and beer."
Drinking at Dain's Place is similar to drinking in your best friend's basement in high school, Phelan says, what with its panache of knick knacks and quirky décor. But, he points out, with better beer than you ever had in that basement.