Our town: Fayetteville

A tavern hasn’t been open for business on the downtown square of Fayetteville since the president of the United States was a member of the Whig party.

This very long dry spell came to an end a few weeks ago when the Olde Courthouse Tavern opened on Glynn Street South, serving up Southern-inspired pub grub and a full bar to a town that seems hungry for both.

The place was packed during lunch Wednesday, with customers buzzing about a new place to eat and drink. One that's more stylish and adventurous than the throngs of chain restaurants along Ga. 85. The opening of the tavern marks slow, but steady, progress in the city's efforts to reinvent the square. The building dates to the 1890s, and restoration efforts show a reverence for the structure’s history with exposed heart pine beams and brightened-up original brickwork.

“It took us more than 150 years to get a tavern back here,” said John Lynch, curator at the Holliday Dorsey Fife Museum, which sits behind the new bar and grill. “I hope it leads to other businesses coming in. Fayetteville needs something like that. They need to get downtown going again.”

The city has a long history and a quirky Southern charm that local government is hoping will appeal to even more fresh, new businesses. The tavern could be a magnet for other merchants, restaurant owners and entrepreneurs who would contribute to the vision for downtown as a pedestrian-friendly destination that looks old but feels lively and contemporary beneath the facade. Change like that won't happen overnight. As a conservative, faith-based community, revitalization of the historic district moves forward cautiously.

“We have to make fiscally sound business plans that will pay for themselves without relying on tax dollars,” City Manager Joe Morton said.

Careful business planning means the Downtown Development Authority and the Main Street Staff are enticing would-be property owners with aid in exterior-improvement grants, assistance with permitting, and waiving sewer fees for restaurants on the square.

A few doors down from the tavern, a similarly restored 4,215-square-foot restaurant space sits vacant. It was purchased by the DDA in 2008 and renovated with the aid of a Georgia Cities Foundation Loan. The city is hoping a buyer will see the potential in an open floor plan and a large rooftop seating area that looks onto the architectural jewel of the city: the oldest surviving courthouse in Georgia, built in 1825.

“One of the most important things in our role is building relationships and staying connected to business owners,” said Director of Downtown Development Brian Wismer. “You hear the good and the bad, but you build a trust level with them that gives them added confidence that the city supports their efforts."