Back Room reunion filled with memories

Posted: July 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

Former Back Room Lounge bartender Stuart Swink (center) is reunited with patrons Denise Bridgeforth (left) and Diane Veverka of Myrtle Beach, S.C., at The Back Room Lounge Reunion 2013 near Boyce. The establishment, which closed in 1981 after about two decades in business, was known for its pizza, beer and music. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
ABOVE: Debbie Corrigan, an employee of The Back Room Lounge in 1978, holds a commemorative beer mug she designed for the reunion. BELOW: The Back Room Lounge logo decorates a cake served at the party.
ABOVE: Former Back Room Lounge patrons Giles Brent (from left), Cindy Adams, Lou Spangler and Eric Hoover catch up at the reunion. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

BOYCE -- The Back Room Lounge  was the place to be in Winchester over 30 years ago.

That was apparent Saturday as former customers, employees and the owner sat down to reminisce about the best meatball subs, fantastic local and regional bands and even the quality of husbands to be found there.

The Back Room Lounge Reunion was the idea of Giles Brent, who keeps a Facebook page about the establishment, which was run by Harold and Alina Learned.

The venue began in 1961 as The Pizza Shop at 928 Berryville Ave., but Harold Learned’s interest in music led him to do over the “back room” of the shop for a lounge where live bands could perform.

Brent said Learned had worked as a deejay before coming to Winchester. After leaving an engineering post at a local manufacturing facility, Learned opened his own business, a pizza shop, on Valley Avenue in 1960. Brent credited Learned with bringing pizza to Winchester.

A year later, he opened a second pizza shop, named just that, on Berryville Avenue.

In 1965, Learned decided to renovate a small room at the back of the Pizza Shop, where he could sell beer with the pizza. His musical background made the addition of bands or a deejay obvious, Brent said.

“The club was fantastic to play in,” said Jan Willard, who was part of the No Limit Band performing for Saturday’s reunion. Learned knew “quality entertainment,” he said.

Michele Mauro, who sang with a band called Damien and The Classics, also played several times at The Back Room Lounge in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Back Room closed in 1981.

“It was a great place for musicians, very friendly,” she said. Although she lived in Frederick, Md., Mauro said she, like a lot of other musicians, enjoyed dropping in at The Back Room on days when she didn’t have a gig to hear other bands play.

Even 30 years later, she still runs across people who tell her they remember hearing her sing at The Back Room.

“That makes you feel good.”

Stuart Swink’s career at The Back Room led to a feature story in The Winchester Star.

He lost his left arm in an industrial accident, and after his recovery, he was looking for a job. He saw an ad for a bartender at The Back Room and applied.

He was hired, even though the manager at the time, Pat O’Brien, believed he would be unable to do the job, because it involved moving kegs of beer.

Swink found ways to lever the kegs with just one arm.

“It was the challenge of doing something people thought I couldn’t do.”

And, while The Back Room was a bar, it sold only beer and wine, and it was first and foremost a restaurant. “We had to sell more food than beer,” Swink said.

Learned also had a dress code for customers and a “bouncer” to enforce it.

Swink said the bartenders had to wear ties, and since he could not tie one, he always wore a clip on bow tie.

The Back Room was unusual in Winchester then, Swink said, because it had entertainment seven nights a week. Learned had live bands five nights and a deejay spinning records the other two.

“The Back Room was romantic,” he said. “As far as entertainment, you could go and dance.”

“I used to go there every single night” in 1977-78, said Terry Long. “I loved the place.”

Learned was “everybody’s dad or brother.” He knew everybody and called them by name, Long said. He liked to take pictures of his customers and post the prints on a bulletin board, then give them to the customers the next time they came in.

“His wife was a sweetheart, too,” Long said. “The bands were great, and it was safe.”

Renee Thompson had something to say about the romance angle. She met her husband David at The Back Room.

“I was working the day shift,” she explained, when David was hired as a bouncer for the night shift.

She saw him and thought, “Who is that guy?”

Later, Renee said she saw him having dinner at the restaurant and he left his glasses on the table. When his waitress picked them up, Renee said she practically grabbed them away and insisted on returning them herself.

“We went out that night, and we’ve never been apart since,” she said. They have been married for 34 years.

 

As part of the reunion evening, Brent said everyone was invited to donate to create the Alina L. and Harold J. Learned Scholarship to benefit a student in the Winchester school system who desires to go into business as an entrepreneur. About $2,000 was raised to begin the scholarship, and Brent said the caterer, Top Flight Barbecue, has also offered a contribution.

 

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com