CHARLOTTE – Despite Russell Matthews losing his battle to cancer nearly three years ago, several of his longtime customers continue to hang out at the bar that bears his name.
Russell’s Wood Fired Bar + Kitchen is the latest incarnation of a bar that has been a staple of the Sardis Crossing shopping center for 18 years. It was known as Five Steps II when Matthews bought it several years ago. He rebranded it as Russell’s Pub & Grill, adding TVs and eclectic decorations that matched his outgoing personality.
“I always told him I was going to put price tags on all these knickknacks because it’s like a consignment shop,” said Carly Haigler, a bartender at Russell’s for seven years. “This was like his man-cave. He came here just to hang out with everybody.”
The new owner has kept much of the vibe the same, opting to modernize the menu with the addition of a wood-fire pizza oven. Artisan-style pizzas are available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Burgers and wings are the most popular items on the menu, while customers tend to be thirsty for Old Mecklenburg Brewery Copper. Lunch specials start at $7.99. Promotions include football on Sundays, poker on Tuesdays and karaoke on Fridays.
Kieran McManus has been a customer ever since he moved to the area 12 years ago. McManus appreciated the money Matthews put into the bar, as well as bringing in live music and other events.
“It’s really the only kind of local pub around here,” McManus said. “Everything else is more of a chain or franchise. I kind of like the local pub feel.”
Unlike a lot of other nearby pubs, the bar at Russell’s is the main attraction, according to General Manager Tanoy Sisavath.
“I think people love coming here because they want an escape from the hustle and bustle,” Sisavath said. “A lot of guys use this as a mancave and just come hang out and talk to other guys. Some people come for first date because it is close to the movies.”
The pub has a linear layout, with a non-smoking outdoor patio at the entrance and a smoking patio along Monroe Road. Inside, there are plenty of places to gather, including booths, tables, billiards area and the long bar. Several TVs flank the walls.
Sisavath and Haigler want customers to leave each visit after having a great time.
“My customers just aren’t my customers. They are my friends,” Haigler said. “When you come in, it’s not like your job. It’s like your family reunion.”
Want to go?
Russell’s Wood Fired Bar + Kitchen is located at 1609 Sardis Road N. The bar is hosting a local band showcase featuring Scars Remain, George Banda, American Theory, Sister August and Rock U Roadshow Band, at 7 p.m. Oct. 13. Tickets cost $10 in advance. Call 704-814-7837