In a new Canvas series, Beyond the Canvas, we're profiling area artists who create art outside of traditional mediums. This week, senior writer Morgan Vickers profiled Gary Crunkleton, owner of The Crunkleton.
In a bookshelf in the back room of The Crunkleton, a 19th century-style neighborhood bar on West Franklin Street, sits a waitlist letter from the UNC School of Law dated 2006.
The letter is addressed to Gary Crunkelton, the bar’s owner and namesake, who believes the reason he was able to even make a bar was because he was unable to get into law school.
“I wanted to get married and start a career,” Crunkleton said. “I didn’t get into law school, so I thought, ‘Well, let’s open a bar.’”
Crunkleton, a 1996 graduate of UNC, learned to bartend as an undergraduate, when he worked at Molly Maguire’s and Henderson Street Bar and Grille, where he was inspired to pursue a long-term career in bartending.
“Working at these bars taught me not just how to make drinks fast, but how to communicate with the guests and learn what was going on,” he said. “It sparked an interest and a passion.”
The Crunkleton, which opened in 2006, was designed in attempts to prevent Crunkleton — who goes to the bar nearly every day — from getting bored.
He designed the bar in the style of a pre-prohibition saloon, full of mission-style furniture, deer heads on the walls, and a wall of shelves lined with alcohol bottles.
“I wanted to make a neighborhood bar where everyone felt comfortable coming in,” Crunkleton said. “But I wanted to serve cocktails back in the way they did in the olden days where everything was made from scratch and you used real ingredients.”
Over the past seven years, The Crunkleton has been largely acclaimed for the use of these real ingredients. The bar fresh-squeezes many of their own juices, produces their own tonics and crafts their own ginger sodas.
Crunkleton said he intentionally uses ingredients that were used in classic cocktails in order to create a sense of authenticity.
“We have a lot of foodies in this area, so there are a lot of people with great palates who want high-quality stuff,” he said. “We try to give that to them.”
Crunkleton said the environment he is attempting to create in his bar is that of a “cocktail culture.” He said he wants people to understand that although bartending may not be considered an art, to him it is a craft.
“To me an artist is really (naturally) gifted,” he said. “But a craftsman is someone who goes from knowing nothing to learning a skill.”
“You work with the spirit and you work with the ingredients so that they all balance and meld together in a beautiful way.”
Crunkleton said his craftsmanship in bartending is something that he has cultivated over the more than two decades he has been in the bartending industry, and it is something he will continue into the future because he said it is what he loves to do.
“I didn’t really know what passion was until I opened this bar, but now I know passion means just doing something you love.”
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