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  the Players' Retreat
Welcome to the Players' Retreat. . . . In 1951, Bernie and Mickey Hanula founded the institution known as the Players' Retreat. Less of a bar and restaurant, and more of a family, the PR (as it is affectionately known) remains a popular respite for the young and the old, the rich and the poor. It is a place where people from all walks of life rub elbows, share toasts, good times and laughs. Since the beginning of time, very little has changed since its humble beginnings of the PR. In 1994 Pete Jarrell took over the PR and continued the tradition. Our friends Bernie and Mickey passed away several years ago. In their honor, our staff and our patrons strive to keep the PR the way it has always been, and as it should always be. Thank you for your patronage and support over the years, and may the PR continue for many years to come.

NEW HOURS: 11:30-2 weekdays, 11-2, weekends

articles from the past:

Published: Nov 04, 2005
Greg Cox, Correspondent
Chili cheese fries? Looks like ol' Greg has consumed one too many orders of foie gras and has finally gone over the edge.

That's the sort of reaction I imagine many of you are having as you read this week's pick, and I can't say I really blame you. As the restaurant critic for a newspaper serving an increasingly diverse and sophisticated market, I realize that I risk losing some serious gourmet cred with such a recommendation.

But look at it this way: If I'm willing to take such a risk, maybe there really is something special about the chili cheese fries at Players Retreat. Like scratch-made chili, for starters, a classic diner-style brew chockablock with ground beef and kidney beans in a tomato-based sauce jacked up with diced pickled jalapenos.

This chunky concoction is amply ladled over a massive logjam of crisp, skin-on fries. And it's generously topped with grated cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.

One caveat: Don't order this dish unless you have someone to help you eat it. It's big enough for four normal appetites, but it's so addictive that you'll probably polish it off even if you're dining alone. I say this from sad experience.

Granted, even chili cheese fries this good aren't what you'd call gourmet fare. But they deliver a simple, deeply satisfied feeling that gourmet fare rarely does. And I'd swear that the setting -- a college-town tavern that doesn't appear to have changed since it opened more than half a century ago -- makes the chili cheese fries at Players Retreat taste even better.

Nov. 22, 2005
News & Observer
By Dudley Price
Copyright 2005

After keeping the beer flowing for 54 years, the Players Retreat, one of the city's oldest taverns, was on the verge of a final last call when an investment group bought a stake in the business last week.

With competition that has been siphoning customers and a coming rent increase, the bar was about to shut the taps for good this month, said Richard "Gus" Gusler, a lawyer who is heading the partnership.

"It was 10 days away from being gone forever," Gusler said of the bar at Oberlin Road and Hillsborough Street.

Pete Jarrell, who in 1994 bought the bar -- affectionately known as the "PR" by generations of customers -- is retaining partial ownership. Gusler is taking over day-to-day management. "It's going to be a challenge," Gusler said. "But I fully believe we can turn it around."

Gusler, who lives in neighboring Cameron Park, acknowledges that he'll have to work a delicate balancing act to maintain the PR's character while making enough changes to appeal to new customers.

"We're going to take the PR into the 21st century," he said.

In a city where nightlife tends to be centered in strip shopping centers or at trendy national chains, the Players Retreat stands out.

It's the antithesis of the high-energy lounges that dominate the nearby Glenwood South district. The decor is dark wood and vintage N.C. State University athletics. Rows of aquariums back a long oak bar. There are a few small televisions, but conversation, a pool table and a 500-can beer collection often are the entertainment.

From its founding by Bernie and Mickey Hanula during the Truman administration, the PR was a social center for West Raleigh residents, NCSU students, politicians and journalists, who crammed the place nightly.

Wedding receptions and baby showers were held at the PR, where the clientele regularly included Supreme Court justices and carpenters in adjoining seats.

About the PR ... what they're sayin'

Winner of the Wine Spectator Award for 2010 - 2015



Return of The Morning Room at the PR (at least on Friday and Saturday) Call for details: 755-9589.

Recent Reviews:
To "Gus" and the staff at PR-

Was in Raleigh on business Wednesday night. On recommendation I was told to not miss Player’s Retreat. I said- "player’s retreat?" I had been there in 15 years. Cool local bar but not sure its what I’m looking for tonight. I was told go and check out the wine list- you’d be amazed.

Well, in short- I was. I had some of the most eclectic and fun wines that in my 15 years in the business have not seen offered by the glass and for the prices that they were. To have the best $6 cheeseburger and an $18 glass of Rhone was fantastic. Needless to say- you will see a lot more of me on my trips to Raleigh.

My server- Shane or Shawn (ponytail) was great too.

Recent Guest of the PR
Carolinas Regional Manager

Chef Jean Paul is killing it again this week. If you haven't seen our review in this past Friday's News & Observer, check it out at http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/01/13/1770992/broadening-flavors-in-a-familiar.html

Broadening flavors in a familiar place

Raleigh News & Observer
Published Fri, Jan 13, 2012 02:00 AM

Modified Wed, Jan 11, 2012 06:16 PM

- Correspondent

The Players' Retreat was already a local institution by 1971, when Richard "Gus" Gusler, then a senior at N.C. State, began working there to help pay his way through college. Twenty years' worth of students (including the basketball team, back in the days when the legendary Everett Case was coach), faculty and Wolfpack fans of every stripe had already passed through its doors. Even a move in 1961 from Hillsborough Street to its current location on Oberlin Road hadn't dampened enthusiasm for the PR - as it came to be known affectionately.

Gusler went on to become a lawyer. Meanwhile, new team photos took their place beside the old ones (some dating to the days of leather football helmets) on the PR's wood-paneled walls, which acquired a dark patina with time. But for the most part, the college town tavern remained unchanged for the next three decades.

And therein lay the seeds of its near-demise. A new generation of sports bars began cropping up, boasting extensive draft beer selections, "gastropub" menus, and plasma screens by the dozen. In 2005, the PR came within days of closing in the face of the competition.

That's when Gusler came to the rescue, heading up a partnership that bought the PR. He immediately set about the challenging task of bringing the tavern into the 21st century, while preserving its original spirit and timeworn charm.

Updates to the menu
Gusler had made considerable progress by the time I reviewed the restaurant in 2009. The bar offering now included draft beer, 100 wines by the glass (part of a cellar that would go on to win a Wine Spectator award), and the largest collection of single-malt Scotch whiskies in the state. Four antiquated TV sets were replaced by 13 large flat screens.

Changes to the menu were less obvious, and for the most part reflected an increased emphasis on quality ingredients. Basic pub fare was still the order of the day. But the food - especially house-ground, grilled-to-order burgers - was a notch above the sports pub norm. Tables and barstools were filling up again, and it appeared that Gusler had done what he needed to save the PR.

Turns out he wasn't finished with the changes. He'd saved the best for last, in fact, from a foodie's perspective. Last year, Gusler hired Jean Paul Fontaine, erstwhile chef-proprietor of the excellent (and sadly, now closed) Bistro 607, to take charge of the kitchen. Fontaine's presence was soon evident across the menu, from the fresh cod in the exemplary fish and chips to the locally made sausage in the addictive sausage dip.

But by far the most noticeable change - the gourmet icing, you might say, on this homespun cake - comes on Friday and Saturday nights. That's when Fontaine offers a list of specials that wouldn't have looked out of place on his French-inspired menu at Bistro 607.

Wide-ranging choices
Last summer, highlights of a memorable meal included a Caprese salad of heirloom tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella; irreproachably fresh and expertly cooked reef-caught sheepshead with a mango-pineapple-smoked chile salsa; and blackberry peach crumble with homemade peach ice cream.

More recently, patrons have been lured away from the regular menu by the likes of Brazilian shrimp stew over basmati rice, blackened Scottish salmon with crayfish andouille butter, and lamb lollypop with an eggplant, potato and ground lamb lasagna. A late December feature of tournedos Rossini with foie gras and a truffle red wine reduction no doubt evoked fond memories for fans of Fontaine's signature daily foie gras special at Bistro 607.

The first weekend of each month, Fontaine heads South of the Border for inspiration. Figuratively speaking, of course. In fact, the Mexican Night menu was inspired by staff meals prepared by two of the PR's line cooks, both natives of Mexico.

Recent offerings have included traditional lamb barbacoa, trigger fish tacos on homemade corn tortillas, and pork carnitas, slow-cooked to fork-tender succulence in their rendered fat. Chiles rellenos, fresh-made guacamole and authentic tamales (cheese, chicken or pork) are usually available. Regardless of what you order, you may be surprised to look up and realize you're not eating it in one of the area's best Mexican restaurants.

When you do look up, you'll find yourself ensconced in pretty much the same surroundings that have welcomed generations of Wolfpack fans. Now, thanks to the vision of Gus Gusler and the culinary talents of Jean Paul Fontaine and his kitchen crew, the PR is widening its embrace

From southern living November, 2011
Ashley Christensen on the PR
"Locals call it "the PR", a tavern across from North Carolina State University that's been there since 1951. A friend of mine took this place over. It's a great place to watch a game, drink a beer, and chow down on Mimi's Sausage Dip and Chips ($5.95), made with local sausage from the Farmers' Market, cream cheese, tomatoes, and hot peppers."

CMUS talk of the town award
Friday, October 14, 2011

Players Retreat, Award Recipient for Excellence in Customer Satisfaction

From: Talk of the Town Awards Division
Our research team calculates each score by reviewing all information gathered from user-review websites, social networks, business-rating services, and other
awards and accolades. Only those who reach 4 to 5 stars will win the award.

Congratulations on your 5 star rating.

2010 and 2011 Wine Spectator Awards
Submitted by gregcox on 07/14/2010 - 09:27
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Tags: Mouthful | awards | Wine Spectator

Let's raise a glass to this year's winners of the Wine Spectator awards. And no, that's not a typo: The Players'
Retreat, long known as a burgers 'n' brews joint, has been polishing its act of late and is indeed a newcomer to the
list. If you haven't been there in a while, you may want to drop in and check out the changes.

In the no-surprise category, The Angus Barn does us proud again, bringing home the coveted Grand Award for the
umpteenth time in a row (the first was in 1989, if you're counting).

Here are the winners:

The Angus Barn


Fearrington House

42nd St. Oyster Bar
Bin 54
Bella Monica
Carolina Crossroads
Chamas Churrascaria
Elaine’s on Franklin
Lucky 32
The Melting Pot
The Mint
Piazza Italia
The Players’ Retreat
Second Empire
Six Plates Wine Bar
Sullivan’s Steakhouse
Vin Rouge
Zely & Ritz

From Raleigh News and Observer - November 20, 2009
An old favorite with a few nice upgrades
BY GREG COX - Correspondent

Team photos dating back to the days of leather football helmets hang so close together on the walls of the Players' Retreat that you can barely see the age-darkened wood paneling behind them. Hundreds of beer cans, some of them brands that haven't been brewed in decades, stand in neat rows on high, narrow shelves. Beer steins and mugs belonging to longtime regulars hang over the timeworn bar, where customers alternately chew the fat and watch the action on a couple of overhead TV screens.

You get the feeling that the PR (as it has come to be known affectionately) has changed very little since the late Bernie Hanula, a former Wake Forest football player, opened it with his wife, Mickey, in 1951. Beneath the timeworn patina, though, the place has undergone a number of substantial changes in recent years.

In 2005, the PR nearly closed in the face of increasing competition from modern sports bars boasting gastropub menus and plasma screens by the dozen.

Richard "Gus" Gusler, a Raleigh lawyer and loyal fan of what had by then become a local institution, came to the rescue. While preserving the original spirit of the pub, Gusler has boosted its appeal to a 21st century fan base in a number of ways.

He installed a computer, for starters, which is available to all customers (and, with the aid of Google, has been known to settle more than one bar bet). He has assembled the largest collection of single malt scotch whiskeys in the state, including a few rare gems he discovered on annual trips to Scotland. More recently, Gusler bought a state-of-the-art wine preservation system that dispenses more than 100 by-the-glass offerings. Meanwhile, the selection of draft microbrews and bottled beers more than lives up to the pub's sudsy heritage.

Changes to the menu are less obvious and, for the most part, reflect an increased emphasis on quality ingredients. Certified Angus beef is used exclusively in everything from the 12-ounce New York strip steak to the meat sauce for pasta. That includes the burgers, too, which have always been a PR staple and, now that they're ground fresh daily and can be flame-grilled to order, are better than ever. Several burger variations are available (the Bernie, with bacon, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo is popular), as well as an assortment of sandwiches ranging from chicken salad to a jaw-stretching overstuffed corned beef and Swiss on rye.

The appetizer list rounds up the usual pub nosh suspects, and throws in a couple of offbeat options such as Brunswick stew and sausage dip with chips to keep things interesting. I'm partial to the cheese fries, especially when they're topped with the PR's chunky chili (homemade with an ample portion of beef - Angus, naturally). Fried oysters are plump and succulent. I confess I'd happily eat those house-made meatballs by themselves. For my money, the pick of the entree list is the baby back ribs, whose toothsome rewards aren't smothered under a blanket of thick sauce.

The PR is due for a couple more changes in the near future. Construction on Hillsborough Street, which has hurt business for several weeks, should be complete any day now. And on Jan. 2, the statewide smoking ban will mean that those overworked Smoke Eaters in the bar can be retired.

Still, for all its changes, the Players' Retreat remains at heart a college town tavern of the old school. I, for one, am happy to toast another 50 years of its continued success. A glass of Laphroaig Quarter Cask single malt ought to do nicely.

click to enlarge
Review from www.GoodnightRaleigh.com  (John)

Any time an organization or establishment uses the phrase “the oldest ___ in ___”, there is bound to be controversy. The title “Oldest bar in Raleigh” is no exception. Mitch claims as much for his bar, near the spot on the menu that also mentions the appearance in Bull Durham. While it may be the oldest bar that is still in the original structure, the Jolly Knave was sold to Mitch after the PR was established. Red’s, also owned by Mitch, has been closed for more than 30 years. Another local bar that claims the title is The Office Tavern. There seems to be dispute because they relocated from five points to the Johnson Street location long ago.
It seems as though any person that has lived in Raleigh for a significant amount of time knows the inside of Player’s Retreat. The web site states that it is "a Raleigh tradition since 1951".
While I haven’t lived in Raleigh very long, this place is special to me too. Once I had an instructor who moved class to this location to discuss topics over drinks–before noon! In addition to the history of the place, there is something special about the atmosphere too. Similar to Mitch’s, it is chock full of eye candy attached to the walls with phrases such as "Our waitresses go from zero to bitch in four seconds". It is quite large inside, especially given the location. It has a decently sized pool room, a separate dining room, outdoor seating, and a spacious bar.
One of the most interesting parts of the PR is the computer with free internet access and printer. The internet (Google in particular) has made us realize that any disagreement over a fact, figure, or history item can be settled in a matter of seconds with almost zero effort. Coffee/tea houses, restaurants, and bars in particular have always been filled with people having philosophical debates of every variety. This frequently leads to one person disagreeing with another person’s presentation of the facts of an event. By placing a computer with internet access and a printer for free public use, you are assured there will never be a conversation’s completion left hanging upon promises of future consultation with Google or Wikipedia. As far as I know, it is the only bar in the area with a free public computer.
Bert, one of the PR’s bartenders, was wearing a shirt that said "Beer - it’s not just for breakfast anymore". He’s been around for quite some time and has some unique information on the cultural history of Raleigh. He told me stories of a bar on Hillsborough Street with a swimming pool, the old headshop underneath of Daryl’s (now Red Hot & Blue), and some of the large name musical acts that came through Raleigh in the mid 70s to early 80s. When asked about Mitch’s claim about being the oldest bar in Raleigh, he stated that
"Mitch’s isn’t the oldest bar and he knows it. It’s been around for 30 years. There is some debate about The Office Tavern, but they moved across town."

With an established reputation for great food, vegetarian options, the largest selection of single malt scotches in North Carolina, fantastic drink specials, and a well designed web site–they have all of the ingredients for the best bar in Raleigh.

COMMENT (click to add comment)

Great Neighborhood Pub
The PR has good wine, lots of liquor and tons of new beers on tap. There is also a non-smoking section and a great jukebox. They have pool tables and the crowd is really cool and nice --not your uppity Glenwood South. crowd. The service is excellent at PR, too. The waitresses are all really friendly and fast. Great cheeseburgers. I just moved from Charlotte and the PR is my new favorite bar in Raleigh. They also have really cool fishtanks. The bartenders are oldish men (not hot) but they're nice.

  • Overall user rating: Recommended

Great Drink and Food Specials
Being on a student budget, this places rocks. Cheap beer and food. Best place in town to watch NCSU and the CANES on HD TV's. Mondays pints of Bud and Bud light are $1.00. House liquor drinks $2.50 on Sundays.

  • Pros: $1 pints on Monday
  • Cons: no
  • Overall user rating: Highly Recommended

The best ribs I have ever eaten
Very eclectic group of customers. In one booth is a guy drinking a $1.50 PBR and the next booth a guy drinking a $40 glass of Cognac. Great jukebox, pool and darts. Very extensive menu. Every thing on the menu is great and fresh.

  • Pros: Ambience
  • Cons: None
  • Overall user rating: Highly Recommended

I love scotch and this place has a huge selection. All the steaks are black angus and they don't cut them until you order them. They are great. Best burger and cheese fries

  • Pros: SCOTCH
  • Cons: NONE
  • Overall user rating: Highly Recommended

Best Burgers, ribs, steaks and 42 brands of Single Malt Scotch
... the place has been sold and powerwashed from top to bottom. Clean and cool!!!! New owners added outdoor seating, good wine, Black Angus Steaks cut to order and every type of liquor you could ask for. Every piece of equipment in the kitchen, except for one, has been replaced. Free high speed internet and 50" HD Plasmas. All the sports packages. Late night breakfast until 2am on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

  • Pros: Great jukebox, pool tables, darts
  • Cons: None
  • Overall user rating: Highly Recommended



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