Forty years ago this month, Chapel Hill went to Four Corners.
Remember when Woody Durham intoned on the radio, “Dean Smith has raised four fingers, and the crowd stirs as the Tar Heels are going to Four Corners”? Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.
So a year after liquor by the drink passed in North Carolina, a group of us got together and opened the first sports bar in Chapel Hill, and we named it – you guessed right – Four Corners. It was the second restaurant in town after Papagayo’s that served mixed drinks across the bar and with your lunch or dinner at tables.
Four Corners was an instant hit for another reason. It was named after a stall offense that Smith created, popularized by fabulous Phil Ford, who when his legendary coach raised four fingers, he did the same and Carolina spread the court on the offensive end to stall away another victory in the pre-shot clock era.
At the entrance, Four Corners had a 10-foot tall photo of Phil, dribbling the ball with his left hand and holding up four fingers of his right. Ford had graduated and won Rookie of the Year in the NBA in 1979. One of our owners was Smith’s assistant coach Eddie Fogler, and the menu had items named the Worthy Burger after Big Game James and, eventually, a tongue sandwich named for Michael Jordan, who played with that ever-present fleshy flap hanging out.
As far as sports bars go today, Four Corners wasn’t much. Two televisions, one big projection screen and another TV stuck in a hole in the wall over the bar. But it was a basketball maven’s dream, action pictures of Tar Heel heroes on the wall and even current players stopping in for a sandwich the day of a home game.
On the night of the 1982 national championship, with a blue-paint spree expected on Franklin Street, our manager Rebecca Ikenberry bought big rolls of plastic and with the help of the wait staff, taped them across the front of the building, over the big brass letters, trying to avoid a window wash the next morning.
Despite 5,000 revelers jamming the 100 block, Rebecca and crew succeeded after Jordan’s jumper had beaten Georgetown. Four Corners is still there on one corner, better than ever, under current owner Kristian Bawcom. Forty years, but it sure seems like yesterday.