NORFOLK, Va. — For Carl Stutesman, the iconic Norfolk sailor bar known as Greenies was his happy place.
A former Navy machinist’s mate and a civilian tugboat engineer, Stutesman spent many nights in the Norfolk dive, which first opened its doors in the 1930s in the currently-less-than-reputable neighborhood of Ocean View.
The bar’s smoke-filled rooms were a home for locals and sailors of all backgrounds, seekers of frosty beverages, food and companionship — all served up with an incredible view of the Chesapeake Bay.
“No place like it, you could sit on the deck and look out at the bay,” Stutesman said, reminiscing on an adjacent sidewalk while watching heavy machinery rip the once-proud structure apart. “That incredible view alone made it appealing. You could eat breakfast with the sunrise on that deck or watch the sunset — it’s such a shame ... someone couldn’t have saved it.”
Stutesman’s nostalgia was echoed by many passers by, each telling brief stories of fond times in the watering hole before continuing on their way.
But the old sailor lingered, standing in the sand where the spacious deck once stood — real estate that was initially purchased to provide more access to Norfolk’s beaches.
“I don’t see where they’re getting a whole lot of parking lot from this small space,” Stutsman said, “Sure is a prime piece of property and commercial spot though."
It’s that notion that seems to have the city government backtracking from Mayor Kenny Alexander’s March 2018 statements, when the $3.4 million acquisition of Greenies — along with other Ocean View buildings — was announced.
The original plan to demolish oceanfront properties was designed to provide more access to Norfolk’s seven-plus miles of beaches, coastline that doesn’t get the same amount of tourism generated by the nearby Virginia Beach.
But the city’s planner, George Homewood, was singing a different tune Dec. 4 when an expanded plan was announced that would also “provide some residential opportunities to maximize the value of the land and ... some commercial activity, whether it’s retail or restaurants,” according to a report by Norfolk’s WAVY-TV.
The area’s city councilman, Tommy Smigiel, confirmed that some kind of waterfront restaurant option could very well be included in the plan, a process he said would include giving locals a voice in how plans proceed.
Smigiel’s goals are to change the perception of the Ocean View neighborhood, which for years has been associated with shady characters, ladies of the night and yes, thirsty sailors.
Navy Times reached out to Smigiel requesting details on the city’s plans, but as of publication, he has not returned multiple contact attempts.
But in the WAVY report, Smigiel said he’s not opposed to the bar — or at least the name — being reprised in upgraded digs.
“I don’t know if anyone owns the rights to [the name] Greenies, but they could call it that, if they wanted to,” Smigiel said. “It’s just restructuring it and rebuilding it.”
The bar officially closed Sept. 10, with locals toasting the establishment’s end with drinks and t-shirt purchases commemorating the final “last call.”
“It’s time to say goodbye to the oldest continuous operating bar in Virginia,” the bar noted in August on its Facebook page. “We are grateful for the years of loyal support from our Friends and Party-Goers.”
After Greenies closed, banners were hung saying the establishment had “moved” a half-mile up the road to another iconic sailor dive, the Thirsty Camel, but nothing indicates that the signs were anything but a gag. Instead, the name has vanished — for now — and demolition has moved into final stages.
As of Dec. 21, a small portion of the building still remained standing. Strong rains in the area bought the iconic property at least another day or two, but it’s not long for this world.
“Per the demolition contract, the building must be down by the end of [December],” said Lori Crouch, spokeswoman for the City of Norfolk.
“It’s a sad day,” said local activist Michelle Willoughby, who said she worked to collect signatures to try and force the city to operate the Greenies property as a non-profit, a concept familiar to the city of Norfolk, which owns and operates the Pagoda Restaurant on the downtown Elizabeth River waterfront in such fashion.
“I could not find any credible supporters who were willing to run Greenies as a non-profit,” she said. “Even though there are good examples ... at the end of each conversation with potential leadership, there was a problem — they all wanted to make more profit than what was allowed."
Fair winds and following seas, Greenies.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.