by Charly Mann
The Rat in 1963 (burgundy was a popular color than year)
The Ram's Head Rathskeller, better known as “The Rat” opened in 1948 by Ted Danziger. For much of its history there were long lines in Amber Alley waiting for seating at peak lunch and dinner hours. The Rat had everything, a variety of great food, impecable service, and an atmosphere of romance, and Chapel Hill tradition.
The Rat was the first of at least four incredible restaurants owned and operated by Danziger, including The Ranch House, the Zoom Zoom, and the Villa Teo. The Rat was located in what was originally a dilapidated basement under a successful gift and candy store owned by Ted’s parents, called DANZIGER’S. That business was started in 1939, and occupied the location that had been Gooch's Restaurant. The Rat’s food was incredible. They were famous for an array of specialties including their chewy steak called The Gambler, which was served on a sizzling iron plate. They also had the first, and many say the best, pizza in Chapel Hill, as well as incredible lasagna. Their most popular drink was not beer, but the sweetest ice tea you can imagine, served in large pitchers. Their signature desert was great apple pie which one could watch warming from a window in Amber Alley. It was usually served with cheese or vanilla ice cream.
The Rat in 1950, then only two years old
Ted oversaw The Rat and The Ranch House until he died in 1965. His wife Bibi continued and expanded the Danziger Empire, while maintaining the standards Ted had established. Unfortunately neither of their sons, Avery or Randy seemed to have restaurant genes, and after Bibi’s death the restaurant fortunes declined until it closed in 2008.
I started going to The Rat when I was about five, and continued doing so as often as I could during the next fifty plus years. I had my first date there when I was in the fourth grade with Brook Barnes, and in the sixth grade convinced Terry Boyce to go there with me. Remarkably the wait staff never seemed to change or age, and included great men like Kenny Mann Sr., Ulysses Cozart, and Jim Cotton.
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.