One year after a shooting, the Silver Moon Saloon still seeks to light up Winston-Salem nightlife

By Bella Ortley-Guthrie

Kimberly Varnadoe stands beside a barstool, adorned in a painting smock with a drink in hand. Her drink of choice at the moment? Tonic water and lime- she’s on duty preparing for her upcoming art show at Artworks down the street.

A former professor of art at Salem College, Varnadoe has attended the Silver Moon Saloon for over 20 years. For her, the arts district and Trade Street are like home.

“When I come here, I know it’s always gonna be around people that care about me and I care about them,” said Varnadoe. “It’s not just a drink and bar. It’s really camaraderie.”

In June 2021, a shooting shattered the communal vibe at the Silver Moon Saloon. The case was resolved in court earlier this month with the acquittal of Mikkcos Quick, 39, who claimed that he shot Caleb Williams, 39, in the face in self-defense during a fight. With the charges resolved, staff and customers at the Silver Moon are still grappling with the shooting and their sense of safety and community.

James Douglas sits outside on the side patio of the Silver Moon Saloon. He leans back in a metal chair, having just come back from picking up liquor for the week, one of his many duties as manager and bartender. His hands gesture behind him towards Silver Moon Saloon’s hand-painted cinder block wall with red and blue letters and speckles of stickers.

“On first glance, you’d say it’s probably like a seedy, scary biker bar type place, but it’s not,” Douglas said, “It’s got its own character. It’s got some aesthetics. It’s honestly more of a commune type thing.” 

The bar stands apart from other buildings on Trade Street. The bar, with twinkling fairy lights hanging above liquor bottles, lines one side of the narrow interior, which opens up onto a back patio. A smell of cigarettes hangs in the air. Boxes of beer bottles crowd the corner, leaving little room for customers, who cram together- some sitting at the bar while others are backed up against the wall- their voices filling the space. 

 “I say 90% of the people that come here (are) people that we know already. They’re all locals. They’ll work here. They’re all like the service industry or musicians, academics … like I said, it’s an open environment. But also it’s safe. And so we keep a sharp eye,” said Douglas. 

Now that more than a year has passed since the shooting, Douglas said that such violence is a fact of life for local bars. He noted a shooting Sept. 3. at the West End Opera House, not far from downtown. “When I say that we’re a safe space, that doesn’t mean we are completely safe,” said Douglas.

After the shooting, the Silver Moon Saloon has become more vigilant.

Inside the Silver Moon Saloon.

While not enforcing a dress code, Douglas says that their bouncer (who’s on duty six days a week) will pat people down and bartenders have started cutting customers off on alcohol.  “Bartenders have more freedom to be … not discretionary, but conscientious of who they can serve or who they want to serve …who they feel safe serving,” said Douglas. 

Additionally, the local bartenders and bars in Winston-Salem keep tabs with each other through text messages or a Facebook group, communicating regarding problems or any news of bad behavior. “I can text somebody on First Street; I can text somebody on Fourth Street,” said Douglas.

John Bridges started coming to the Silver Moon Saloon after moving to Winston-Salem from Massachusetts four years ago and is now a regular and a bartender there. He leans on a fence post beside the Silver Moon Saloon, a cigarette in his mouth and donning a red cap. As he’s lighting the cigarette, a man comes up to him, rubbing elbows with him in a familiar way.

“That’s one thing I love about this place … I love when people come up and try to rub open sores on you,” said Bridges in a joking manner. 

 “I grew up in a bar room. My mom owned a bar when I was a kid so it’s a very comfortable atmosphere. It’s like family,” said Bridges. “What isn’t there to love? Like … it is one of those places where you can literally run into any kind of person at any time of the day.”

Bridges making a drink at the bar.

The Silver Moon Saloon was first opened in 2003 by Richard Emmett and Vicki Moore, but the building itself was originally built between 1910 and 1915. Once a linen press shop, beer hall, and restaurant, the Silver Moon Saloon has encountered and seen an array of history and people.

 Douglas notes that this diverse community makes Silver Moon Saloon stand out among other bars in Winston-Salem: “It’s not based on race or class or age or sex or even political affiliations,  but for the most part is pretty progressive. I mean, we’re all welcoming. And … some people just like strong drinks, cheap beer, and good conversation. And so there’s no … you know, we don’t deal exclusively to … frat boys or hippies, or whatever it is. Just people come in here just for the fact that it is different.”

Both the inside of the Silver Moon Saloon are marked with stickers and black sharpie graffiti marks of names, slogans, and funny phrases. “People come here …you can tell it’s left its mark on so many peoples and other people have left its mark in this place,” said Douglas.  

A door inside The Silver Moon Saloon.

Now with a cigarette in hand, Douglas takes note of the scene around him with customers crowding around the side and back patio -some petting their dogs while others share a laugh together.

“So people go to where they feel comfortable,” Douglas said. “Maybe this place is full of outcasts. So, I don’t know. It’s weird, I haven’t gotten fed up with it yet though.”

Author: Bella Ortley-Guthrie