Back in the Day with Sanctuary

There are plenty of great places to grab a drink in NoDa, and new places are opening up regularly, but for many NoDazens, you just can’t beat the old stalwart that is Sanctuary Pub. Sanctuary isn’t a place to chase down the newest fad in craft beers or rare wines, but it can’t be beat for a perfectly poured Guinness, a beer and a shot before a show at the Neighborhood Theater, or wings during a Panthers game.

The complex that now houses Sanctuary at the corner of 36th and North Davidson Streets was originally built in 1946 by Charles Sears, who used it to run his business, the Charlotte Motor Company (now Boudreaux’s). Sears later added the Astor Theater (now the Neighborhood Theater) and the Astro Soda Shop (now Sanctuary).

The economic decline that resulted from the closing of the mills lead to the close of Sears’ businesses in the early 1950s. The building went on to house a number of other things, including a beer hall and a store for adult toys and magazines—complementing the Astor Theater’s revival as an X-rated film venue in the 1970s.

In the mid-1980s, the Church of Jesus Christ and the Word of Truth Family Church tried their hand at rehabilitating the building.

Like so much of NoDa, the space became an art gallery in the 1990s. Its life in the arts began under the curatorship of Paul McBroom who bought it in 1997 and named the space Art Gallery Unlimited. Later, local painter Tom Schultz took over the space and renamed it Empathinc Gallery. The space was a fixture during the heyday of the monthly art crawls in the neighborhood and hosted many important art shows in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including an exhibition of musician Scott Avett’s (of the Avett Brothers) paintings in 2004.

The legacy of that art history is reflected in the pub if you know where to look. The graffiti mural towards the back of the pub is a relic of Tom Schultz’s use of the space as a studio, and the name comes from the final art show held there in 2006: a solo exhibition by Osiris Rain entitled “Sanctuary.”

In a 2012 interview with the Back in the Day Committee, Osiris explained the origins of the name. “I called it ‘Sanctuary’ generally out of the idea of finding sort of a solace and a safe place within because there was a lot of aversion—I mean, a lot of appreciation [too]—but generally a lot of aversion to the type of work I was doing, and that I still am doing.” Osiris had shown some of his earliest work there as a teenager, so to have a solo show for the space’s last show as a gallery was especially meaningful to him. When the management of Boudreaux’s took over the space to open the bar they decided to keep the name and the signage. Somehow it seemed fitting that with all the changes that were taking place in the neighborhood, locals should have their own sanctuary to escape to. Osiris got a $50 bar tab out of the deal, which is not so bad when you consider that that’ll buy you 25 PBRs.