By Laurie Paolicelli
Hillsborough has a bar as distinctive and interesting as the town itself. It’s called Yonder. Owners Eryk Pruitt and his wife, Lana Pierce, have created a space that serves as Hillsborough’s unofficial living room and art space, where folks can gather to enjoy craft cocktails, beer, wine, and the arts. Live music, yoga classes, and local rotating artist installations make Yonder more than a bar: it’s a destination, almost a lifestyle. It’s safe too: in addition to your I.D., be prepared to show your vax card at the door.
Yonder is a warm, comfortable room full of that homey, second-hand furniture you won’t feel bad spilling a little bit of your drink on. There’s a piano against the far wall and there are almost as many books in the bar as there are bottles of bourbon.
On the shelves above the beer taps, against the beautiful, exposed brick wall, is a fake human skull, some bitters, copper mugs for a Moscow Mule, and four paperbacks, all written by the same author: Eryk Pruitt.
Yes: the co-owner of Yonder is a novelist. This is as it should be, in a town that might claim more writers per capita than Brooklyn, NYC or Oxford, Mississippi. Eryk is a crime novelist. His titles alone are worth the price of a shot of banana-infused Jameson’s: Dirt Bag, What We Reckon, Hashtag, and Townies. What We Reckon received a nomination for the Anthony Award, named for Anthony Boucher, one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America.
Before it was Yonder, it was the King Street Bar. It was struggling. Its owner reached out to Lana and Eryk to help with managing the bar to see if they could transform it. “We ended up trying out a few things and really digging it and getting to know all the people around here in the community,” Pruitt said. “We had things going on the upswing, but it wasn’t enough. So, when the business went under, we asked the landlord if we could take over the lease and do it as our own bar.” Yonder was born.
Why the name Yonder? “It’s one of those semi-archaic words and most southerners will just get it,” Pruitt says. “We ran through a bunch of different names, and we wanted to kind of set ourselves a little different from the dive bar.”
Drinking and writing have long been partners in crime, and Yonder takes that idea of a literary lifestyle to its logical dénouement. A regular event at Yonder, “Noir at the Bar,” features local authors reading from their books and discussing their work with patrons. Specialty author-inspired cocktails are also on the menu. Author Jeffery Deaver is the spirit behind a popular drink that Yonder calls the Carte Blanche Martini.
Eryk and Lana are feeling optimistic about Yonder’s future for the first time since March 2020 when North Carolina’s restaurants and bars were closed to sit-down service and limited to take-out or delivery orders. Yonder could only serve off-premises sales. That was a time of great worry, stress, and fear.
“From March 17 to June 1, we just shut down,” says Lana. “Our landlord was very, very kind to defer three months’ rent, but that ended on July 1. So, we needed to find some money. We had all this beer that we bought up when things were going well, so we decided to sell it and see if people would come out and support a retail store. That’s about all we’re legally allowed to do.”
Through it all, Pierce continued to sell homes with Fathom Real Estate and Pruitt kept fiction writing.
“What surprised us was the unwavering support we received from the Hillsborough are area community. Customers lined-up to ask how they could help. Our take-out orders went through the roof. What we realized more than anything else is that Hillsborough gave us a sense of love and community. We had become an extended family. We were familiar with each other’s job struggles, family and school issues, and all the things you share with those you love.”
Says Lana: “I’ll always be grateful for the support of Hillsborough, and I am proud to be part of the renaissance on King Street and the downtown community. I sense the future is very bright for Hillsborough and Yonder. As long as we continue to prioritize safety, and we do, we anticipate more people coming down Yonder for holiday cheer for a healthier 2022.”