The Passing of An Iconic Place

The Passing of An Iconic Place

Sheryl Keiper, Brunswick Forest


It was a place where you could forget all your troubles and just smile. Laughter abounded. Glassware tinkled, paper utensils made popping sounds, and mouths crunched down the best French Fries in North Carolina. Napkins were in demand, as the sauces of the famous grilled Grouper Rueben’s dripped down people’s faces. Five TV screens featuring news,  sports, and reality shows were visual but muted.

Fireballs slid down the bar to patrons. Yes, it was Willoughby’s – the new local “Cheers” tavern in Leland, North Carolina.

It was a Northerner named Tom whose dream was fulfilled. He built it along Highway 17 among the trees and dirt. He decorated the floors with retro record album covers. You could dance on Elvis, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, the Beatles, the Stones- your choice- your favorite album at your feet. The atmosphere was highlighted by crystal chandeliers. That’s right – an eclectic mix of paper plates, chandeliers, and colorful patrons.


The pert blonde DJ spun tunes on karaoke night with her very young son asleep in the back room. Of course, this was her second job as a devoted young mother, and her tip jar was very visible. She made everyone feel very special. If you couldn’t sing, it was fine. After all,  the word “karaoke” derives from the Japanese language and translates into “leave the room.” You were respected in their culture even more if you couldn’t sing but you made a humble effort.

It built character.

I remember doing my famous “Jumpin’Jack Flash” impersonation of Mick Jagger (scarf flying, of course) in a karaoke contest for which I didn’t formally register. The crowd went wild.  The Elvis impersonator who actually won the contest offered me a gig with his group of singing impersonators in Myrtle Beach. I graciously declined since aging had slowed me down (not Mick, of course), and I knew I couldn’t perform at 2 pm shows on a hot pier in the heat of the South Carolina sun. Even my friend Izzy (who swore she would never sing karaoke even after 3 margaritas) did a Dolly Parton song on that small Willoughby’s stage at her 50th birthday party.

Then, there was the performance with Jimmy. Wilmington Funeral Service had sponsored a free dinner and entertainment to encourage patrons to arrange and pre-pay for their funerals. Jimmy and I delivered our version of the Rolling Stones song “Dead Flowers.” How ironic! Those lyrics went “Send me dead flowers at my wedding, And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.” We really helped their business!!

A huge statue of dancing Elvis greeted patrons out front on the lawn of Willoughby’s. One night some moron chopped off Elvis’ arm. It was alright though. Elvis the Pelvis was still good at greeting us.

And so it was with great sadness that at about 2:30 pm yesterday afternoon, I happened to be driving by on Route 17. I was rocking out to some 80’s punk rock tunes in my car, and I happened to glance over at Willoughby’s. The sold sign was gone. In fact, Willougby’s was gone! I watched as a John Deere bulldozer finished smashing the last of the debris from the dilapidated building. It was truly one of the saddest sights I can remember. Yes, Elvis had really left the building for the last time…