Nothing like your average sports bar (Demo)

The Player’s Retreat is nestled off of Hillsborough Street on the small end of Oberlin Road. Started by Bernie and Mickey Hanula in 1951, the PR, as it is affectionately known by the regular patrons, has been a staple for students at NC State University and for many others in the area. In 1994, the restaurant was bought by Pete Jarrell. In 2005, days from having to close its doors, Richard “Gus” Gusler joined the partnership and turned the PR into what it is today. The biggest change came when Gusler hired Jean Paul Fontaine to head up the kitchen. Fontaine was trained in traditional French cooking at the legendary Cordon Bleu who has owned and run a number of restaurants in the Raleigh area. With the new chef came a new menu using fresh and local ingredients.
The menu has a large selection. With the standard hamburgers and wings, several types of sandwiches, pasta, steaks, and a number of salads from Caesar to spinach. There are nightly specials on various meal options including a Friday and Saturday special which is up to Fontaine. The first Friday of every month is Mexican food. Everything from triggerfish on fresh, homemade corn tortillas to a traditional lamb barbacoa to tamales have been offered. The rest of the month is anybody’s guess. I have seen foie gras, reef-caught sheepshead with mango-pineapple-smoked chile salsa, blackened Scottish salmon with crayfish andouille butter and a whole host of other things that are just as unexpected as the last. The burgers at PR are a specialty. Julie Crenshaw, a manager, said, “they are Black Angus filet, they hand grind the meat every morning and you can get it as well-done or rare as you want it.”
It is this variety that draws people back. Brent Wilson, a regular patron, said, “I go to PR at least once a day, every day.” The first time he can remember eating there was in 1972 and he has been going back ever since. “I think it is a great gathering place,” continued Wilson, “as the longest functioning bar/restaurant in Raleigh, it is a place almost all of Raleigh knows about and loves.”.
On my most recent trip to PR, my friends and I sat outside to enjoy the nice weather. There is plenty of seating both inside and out, and there is heating and cooling that makes it possible to enjoy the outside seats except in the coldest days of winter. My friends and I got a variety of food. Our order included the Thursday Reuben special, a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce, and a simple cheeseburger cooked rare. Everything was excellent. The Reuben had a perfect blend of corned beef, sauerkraut and 1000 Island so that neither overshadowed the others. The meat sauce lived up to its name and was extremely hearty and a very large serving. The hamburger was outstanding, the ground beef was melt in your mouth juicy and tender. This comes as no surprise. Having been to PR a number of times before, I can say that nothing I have ever had has disappointed me. The steaks are pricey, but that’s to be expected with the quality of meat they use and is worth every cent.
I’d give the Player’s Retreat a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. The food was great, the service was great despite the fact that it was packed to watch the basketball game that was on that night, and the atmosphere is fantastic. PR is nothing close to your average sports bar. The quality and variety of the food, and the chance it gives people to simply sit and talk with one another while having a fabulous meal make it a great place to go for any occasion.

The Thursday night Reuben and fries
The Thursday night Reuben and fries

Spaghetti and meat sauce
Spaghetti and meat sauce

Cheeseburger and house-made chips
Cheeseburger and house-made chips

Leave a comment