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Hero worship 

Sadlack’s Heroes, the beer-music-sandwich institution on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, started as Baxley’s, a simple sandwich wagon back in the ’40s that was dragged in and assembled for former soldiers flocking to N.C. State on the heels of World War II.

But it was on the toes of the disco years, the early ’70s, when Frank Sadlack carved out its modern use: freak habitat, an unencumbered oasis providing respite from the cloistered environment of the provincial burg that was Raleigh. Marriages, births, deaths—the old, aluminum shed had borne the generations, marked the milestones of life for a legion of free thinkers, hippies, punks, artists, intellectuals, musicians and the insane—all welcome into the metal box, open to all, so long as you were nice.

The old Island of Misfit Toys ended a 30-plus year run recently. Sadlack’s wasn’t much of a building to begin with, and the decades had not been kind. Finally, inevitable geriatric degradation caught up and there was no fixing it; it was time for something new. It’s being renovated. Change is good.

On Saturday, April 29, the last night in the old place, the crowd was a mixed bag—of course the regulars, but some fresh faces as well, plus a few that hadn’t been spotted in a while, all rolling with the music. Dancing Tony, running the floor, the people working with him while he did pushups and knee bends. He dipped Mary, who had approached me and given me moist hugs. There were tears, for sure. A local place can become part of one’s life, part of a comforting, familiar ritual one measures reality with. To be severed can be a wrenching experience, especially when it includes a form of medication which cannot be fathomed by an outside entity.

It is part of the big change. Despite workmanlike attempts by the city and the goopy home investors in University Park who together have been trying to piss Hillsborough Street out for years, Hillsborough refuses to die. See, plus Sadlack’s, the operators of the formerly downtown restaurant Est Est Est, driven out by the 2006 Fayetteville Street follies, are relocating to the old Darryl’s location, and the venerable Player’s Retreat is mercifully under new management.

The Patty Hurst Shifter was setting up. On the way out, I spoke to a few people out front whom I would never see in the context of that dented box again. The mood was positive, people recognizing the necessity of forward motion, like a shark to breathe and live. Look for the new Sadlack’s in August.

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