By Taylor Sisk
At OCSC, of a Friday, on this you can rely: Jamie in the early evening, Lee on the late shift and $1.50 Pabst Blue Ribbon till the quittinâ€™-time whistle blows.
Tricia Mesigian is seated on her throne. Well, actually, sheâ€™s seated on a back patio bench at the Orange County Social Club on a lovely early-autumn afternoon, pausing her prep to chat. But the calm of this familiar perch affords a vista of the past 10 years of rich memories and solid times, over which she has reigned as downtown Carrboroâ€™s hostess nonpareil.
The Orange County Social Club has just turned 10 (a full week of festivities will ensue), and Jamie McPhail and Lee Waters have been inked in as Friday bartenders since that first weekâ€™s schedule. Jamie opens, Lee closes, and, in the interim, the Pabst doth flow.
Itâ€™s a family thing, you see â€“ a family that now numbers some 8,100 members; intimates all â€“ and thatâ€™s how it was intended.
â€œI just made a list to thank everyone whoâ€™s ever worked here,â€ Mesigian says, â€œand it was only, I think, 21 people. And that counts the nine working here now,â€ including Jenny Waters and Tracy Swain, who came on board early on.
Mesigianâ€™s objective in opening the OCSC â€“ aka, Orange County, the social club, the club â€“ was to accommodate. Sheâ€™d headed south out of Virginia Tech, worked at Skylight Exchange and Catâ€™s Cradle, met tons of folks, interned at Mammoth and then Merge records, and there at Merge mined her muse: thirsty rockers.
Her job at Merge was in sales, but she learned she had a talent for hostessing.
â€œMy favorite part of the job was when Merge bands came to town,â€ she recalls, â€œand I took them out, took them around, they stayed at my house and I made them big breakfasts. â€¦ It wasnâ€™t a paid part of the job.â€
But it surely was fun. It was a calling, is what it was.
A bar. A bar bar.
â€œHell was awesome,â€ Mesigian says of the once and glorious Chapel Hill establishment, itself a bar bar: cheap beers, good tunes, heady language, little to distract â€“ and a sound model for what she had in mind.
â€œIt would be a bar; itâ€™s not a rock club, itâ€™s not a restaurant â€“ itâ€™s a bar. And then I wanted to create a place where there was a happy-hour crowd, there was a mid-evening crowd and then there was a late night.â€
And, of course, it had to be in Carrboro, which Mesigian had long since made her home.
She would be home; she would preside. It was, she says, â€œa hostess thing.â€
The town embraced her. Mark Dorosin, owner of Hell and a Carrboro alderman at the time, became for Mesigian â€œthis amazing mentor.â€ He guided her into a small-business training course, and town hall otherwise provided what assistance it could.
â€œI really didnâ€™t think I was taking a risk in opening this place,â€ she says. â€œI always said, â€˜I know that everyone in town whose first names I know wants to come to this bar.â€™â€
And they came.
As for how the name came: Mesigian and her friends riffed, like will-be rockers, on names for months. She had a fondness for bars with geography in their titles. The Buena Vista Social Club CD had recently been re-released. And there it was.
â€œI donâ€™t even know if I said it or who said it,â€ she now says. â€œAnd then OCSC just falling so gracefully off the tongue â€¦â€
Buck and a half
Dean Smith keeps watch from the television wall, biding his time till game time. â€œI always loved hosting basketball game party-times,â€ Mesigian says, â€œso that stuck.â€ The energyâ€™s electric on big-game nights for the Heels.
Otherwise â€“ unless something bigâ€™s gone down â€“ Obamaâ€™s elected, Michael Jackson dies â€“ the setâ€™s turned off, a distraction.
Has the clientele changed in 10 years? Mesigian says no, though certainly many of the faces have.
â€œI think that people start peeping in here when theyâ€™re 21, start really dipping in when theyâ€™re 25, and itâ€™s their place when theyâ€™re 28. They start peeling off when they get married and have kids â€“ and then come back on a date night.â€
Open to close, Mesigian says, Jamie to Lee, â€œitâ€™s about great bartenders and great music. Itâ€™s different people, but drinking PBR, be it 6 or 1 in the morning. That I know.â€
And, my, what a body of PBR, far, far and away â€“10 times more than any other brew. And still at a buck and a half a bottle, just as the day Mesigian opened the joint. Right refreshing at 5, 9 and 2. Glasses raised to a most gracious hostess.
In appreciation of the communityâ€™s 10 years of support, Mesigian is establishing a scholarship fund with the town to allow, initially, seven individuals to enroll in a small-business class similar to the one she attended prior to opening OCSC. All proceeds from the OCSC anniversary happy hour shows on the event calendar will go to the scholarship fund. Mesigian will also be donating proceeds from the Catâ€™s Cradle shows and a raffle to Hunger Relief and MusiCares.