Glass Half-Full and Refilled
Sunday Funday at Winston-Salem’s West End Mill Works
By Amy and Peter Freeman
Sure, we all love a little bubbly on New Year’s Eve, an explosion on the Fourth of July, and St. Paddy’s encourages us to party until we’re green. But hands down, Sunday Funday is the best holiday on the calendar — and the only one that comes once a week during the entire year. Taking a cue from a certain editor (who shall remain nameless), and her merry band of cohorts, who routinely gather every Sunday at The Tap at West End in Winston-Salem, we asked ourselves: Why let the drudgery of Monday ruin the waning rays of the weekend? Make it a fun-day celebration!
And there’s nothing like heating up the day by poking a stick into a white-hot flame burning at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Our Sunday Funday begins at The Olio, a glassblowing studio and community arts education enterprise located in the Twin City’s West End Mill Works, off Northwest Boulevard (theolio.org), where Rebeccah Byer, resident glass artist and founding executive director, is busy sculpting silicon craft and instructing three apprentices with varied levels of glassblowing experience. Along with Artistic Director Sarah Band and two attentive shop cats, the studio currently has nine apprentices, and offers workshops and classes for curious newcomers.
When we arrive, a chilly breeze wafts under partially cracked overhead doors lining the studio, cooling blasts of hot air escaping from glowing furnaces. The Eagles classic “Witchy Woman” is playing in the background as these ladies dance with the alchemy of water, flame, smoke and sand. The creative juices are bubbling over, as is the molten glass, formed from small wisps of air introduced through a blowpipe. Half expecting a chorus of “Double, double boil and trouble,” instead we hear instructive chants like, “Be one with your pipe” and “give it a little puff,” that give rise to objects d’art and other fanciful items available for purchase in the adjacent retail shop. After browsing the collection of glass jewelry, ornaments, cups, glasses and art pieces, my clearing mind is drawn to one of Sarah’s anthropomorphic creations vaguely reminiscent of an O’Keeffe skull. A few bucks later and we’re off to a brilliant start to Sunday Funday at the West End Mill Works.
The alley of the complex serves as a connective courtyard between the Mill Works’ various shops. It is a gathering place in its own right, where folks of all ages — families with strollers, singles, old curmudgeons, even canine companions — are reveling in the Funday day off, their footsteps crunching on the pea-gravel walking surface, among a delightfully mismatched collection of found objects. Here, weathered picnic tables meld comfortably with Phillippe Starck–designed molded chairs, and discarded hobbyhorses, string lights and industrial fans are given a new festive act.
Where rollers once processed flour for Hoots Milling Company in these repurposed buildings of galvanized sheet metal, weathered concrete block and rusted steel — listed on the National Historic Register — the aromas of artisanal chocolate, chilis and gin, and the sound of heavy breathing fill the new commercial village. Pick up a bar of Bolivian Wild or Peruvian Ucayali at Brasstown Chocolates, or tuck into a sinful quesadilla at Claire Calvin’s popular Tex-Mex cantina, The Porch. And speaking of grain, Sutler’s Spirit Co. was a pioneer among the current wave of N.C. distilleries. If you’re the more virtuous type, you could catch a yoga class at The Breathing Room, but for our money, the aptly named Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Co. is the ticket.
The brand-new, Pacific Rim Food Truck pulls up beside the brewpub’s patio, proffering pho and other Asian-inspired treats to a gaggle of Gashopper guzzlers — Gashopper IPA, that is, an enticing potion named for the Gashopper service station down the street. Wandering past owl figurines (Hoots, get it? Owl bet you do.), a Baywatch pinball machine and a vintage diving helmet atop the bar, we’re convinced that we are in the right place to hail the week’s end. As we drift toward the amplified sound of classic rhythm and blues, swaying to its beat, we think we might stay for a while . . . or mosey over to The Tap later and keep this weekend rolling. h
Amy and Peter Freeman include among their pastimes mindless wandering. Amy, a photographer, and Peter, an architect, are perpetually in search of new gigs, fresh digs and fun swigs.