ASHEBORO — The nondescript brick building was once home to a store that specialized in seafood. More recently, it held a chair caning operation, and, finally, plants and flowers.
After considerable renovations, the modest structure is seeing new life as the Rusty Rooster Pub and Patio. It opened to customers on Dec. 21 with plans by the owners “to be the pub of Asheboro.”
Cory Luetjen and Duane Latham are co-owners, having learned their craft by restoring the once rough-and-tumble reputation of Lucky’s Burger-N-Tap near Walmart. But they yearned to bring an authentic neighborhood bar to downtown.
“We’ve been best friends for years, playing music together,” Luetjen said one afternoon recently. “We were running Lucky’s Burger-N-Tap and turned the reputation around. Then we had the opportunity to put a pub downtown and decided to take it.”
Luetjen admits he had had his eyes on the building at 126 W. Academy St. for about three years. It’s just across the parking lot from Bicentennial Park, where summer concerts bring large crowds downtown. So, when the building became available, the two snatched it up.
Extensive renovations included removing the wall separating the front and rear rooms, adding restrooms, installing a fancy wooden bar, and punching a hole in the parkside wall for a window to allow those on the patio to order without having to come inside.
Oh, and there’s the large painting on the wall of the rusty rooster. Patrons will also find numerous other roosters placed here and there. Luetjen said they’ve even considered having Count the Roosters Days.
Then there’s perhaps the most unique feature: An upside-down canoe with lights brightening up the bar.
Luetjen said the idea for the canoe came from Joe Clark, a builder with East Coast Construction. Clark suggested to Latham that they could hang “a canoe right over the bar. We found one in Charlotte that a Boy Scout troop had built in the ’70s. It was fully functioning when we bought it but we had to put holes in it for the lights.”
That was personal for Luetjen and Latham since they enjoy taking canoe trips every year.
Other personal touches in the Rusty Rooster include the hood of John Andretti’s No. 43 race car, a photo of Luetjen’s father with Mark Martin, a picture of the old Elliott’s Seafood and a guitar hanging on the wall.
They also have made room for a small stage in the corner for live music.
“We want to make it a hometown bar,” Luetjen said.
Still touring with his Traveling Blues Band, Luetjen said the Rusty Rooster moniker came about from his playing at various venues. “The coolest bars are an animal with an adjective,” he said, “like Blind Tiger, Red Lion, Brass Monkey.
“I wanted our name to embody the local market, to be a good corner bar for hardworking people,” he said.
Rooster is a connection to the area’s agricultural and farming legacy. Hence, Rusty Rooster — “I like alliteration,” he said.
As for the interior, “We wanted it to look vintage and distressed, to have some character. We wanted a brand-new, 100-year-old bar.”
Luetjen said he likes the “smallness of it — a dozen people in here with conversation. I like that about it. People are comfortable here,” he said. “We have something for everyone” at the full-service bar.”
The Rusty Rooster has four TVs tuned into sports programs. For that reason, there have been large crowds during the NFL playoffs. But that’s not all that’s offered, Luetjen said. “The bar can morph into a music venue or sports.”
Similar to the nearby Flying Pig, where customers often bring in pigs for display, the Rusty Rooster has been getting roosters. “It’s kind of cool,” Luetjen said.
As if on cue, Mark “Opie” Opalenik brought in a rooster atop a bell, which Luetjen accepted gladly.
Opalenik said he moved here eight years ago from Erie, Pennsylvania. He first met Luetjen at Lucky’s, talking guitar music, but has been coming to Rusty Rooster about once a week for the past few weeks.
“I like the bars (in Erie) but this is the only place like this in Asheboro,” Opalenik said. “I really like this. It’s almost like home. It reminds me of the bars up north.”
Luetjen and Latham will be sponsoring the Asheboro Zookeepers summer collegiate team this year. Whenever an opposing batter strikes out, the sound system will send out a loud “cock-a-doodle-doo” with the announcement that “This strikeout has been presented by the Rusty Rooster Pub and Patio.”
Luetjen concluded, “Rusty Rooster plans on being Asheboro’s neighborhood bar for a very long time.”
The Rusty Rooster is open seven days a week from noon to midnight and is located inside the Asheboro social district.