Connections Were Forged At The Union

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photo: Scott Winland

Bars sometimes have their own niche of clientele, but for The Union Bar & Grill's regular patrons there is no niche — everyone is welcome.

Some who have frequented the historic venue in Athens have come away with a special connection, be it to the music or even love, and after last Sunday's downtown fire severely damaged The Union, the hurt is being felt even more so because of those connections.

Tiffany Chapman of Athens considers herself a regular of The Union. She had her first date with Chris at the bar on Nov. 11, 2003. Nine years later, the two were married.

"He had just gotten off work and asked me to meet him at The Union," she told The Messenger. "That was that. it turned into a date and it went well to say the least."

Chapman said her first reaction to news of the fire was horror.

"I was devastated. I thought 'This cannot be real. These places could never burn down.' I was in shock," Chapman said. "I went uptown and the first person I saw at the College Gate area was Eric Gunn (owner of The Union) and you could see the hurt on his face."

Chapman said the perception of The Union is that it is a dive bar, one that students wouldn't venture into even while attempting a bar shuffle. She said some would come to see the concerts upstairs, but not visit the bar downstairs because of that perception. However, Chapman said the real atmosphere of The Union is the exact opposite.

"It really is the most welcoming bar in Athens. You can't help but make friends quickly. I took my parents there for lunch while they were in town once and my dad made friends right away," she said. "It's the kind of place that makes you feel welcome and accepted no matter who you are. That's a huge part of its charm. The Union is a place every type of person in the city can go to hang out. It's not limited to a certain demographic."

While the Chapmans don't go out as often as they used to, they still frequented The Union when they could and continued their love for each other alongside a love for the bar.

Misty Stump and her husband, Jeremy, were never able to visit The Union together, but it still resounds in the love they found for each other.

"My husband and I had a long-distance courtship for our first four years together. I remember, many times, he would call me for our nightly chat from outside The Union," Misty Stump wrote on The Athens Messenger's Facebook page. "He and I got married in 2009 and moved here in 2011. I remember being so excited to finally have a building to put with the name. I have never been inside the doors, but the place has an extremely special place in my heart. Every time we drive by there I think of our early years of long-distance phone conversations and hearing the music in the background and the clink of glasses."

Stump later told The Messenger that she was sad to see that The Union had burned and said that because it was a special place for her husband, it was a special place for her as well. She said he hopes the bar makes a speedy recovery.

Ken Dobo of Athens shares a love of music and of The Union with his son. Dobo played bass in a band called Saturday's Asylum in the 1980s and relished playing at The Union. His son would later follow in his footsteps.

"In the beginning, The Union was an anything-goes type of place. There was no established type of music there, so we were open to doing our own type of shows," Dobo said. "We had a lot of fun."

His son, Wyatt, plays guitar in a band called Dweeb and was actually scheduled to play a set at The Union until the fire obviously created a delay. The younger Dobo has played at The Union though, and his father says he's more upset about the fire than the elder Dobo.

"I'm proud of him for the work he's put in to be a good musician," Dobo said of his son. "The first Union show he played was really a special moment. Most of the other venues I've played are gone now, so it was nice to see him play where I did."

The elder Dobo told The Messenger he was playing music with some friends when news of the fire reached him.

"One of my friends said it was like we were fiddling while Rome burned," said Dobo. "It's sad to see that. It's sad for the owner, too. That place had a lot of weight to it. Some big names got their start there and some big names came back to play there. I hope they make a quick recovery and music continues to thrive in Athens."