by Charly Mann
1926 saw the birth of famous Tarheel Andy Griffith, as well as Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, and Hugh Hefner. Also in 1926, Chapel Hill welcomed the opening of the first restaurant that offered food that was not traditionally Southern. The name of the restaurant was HARRY’S, and the owner was Harry Stern. Though not an authentic deli or coffee shop, its culinary offerings had a combination bohemian and New York City flare.
HARRY'S ad from 1936 when it was owned by original owner Harry Stern
The first location of HARRY'S was across the street from where Four Corners restaurant is now located. In 1927 it moved down Franklin Street next to the Carolina Theater (now the location of The Gap). Harry Stern's brother-in-law Harry Macklin bought the restaurant in 1939, and conveniently its name still fit. This was a challenging time to get into the restaurant business with the Depression in full swing and most males leaving Chapel Hill after 1942 to serve in World War II. Macklin sold the restaurant in 1944, and it had one more owner after that until it finally closed in 1952.
HARRY's ad from 1943 just before Harry Macklin sold the business in 1944
In 1954 Harry Macklin reopened HARRY'S on the north side of Franklin Street just a few doors west of the Post Office. In 1960 it moved just a few doors east to the location most of us remember as HARRY'S at 175 East Franklin Street next to the downtown Post Office. Throughout the sixties HARRY’S was the intellectual and radical hub of Chapel Hill. It was at its booths that protest leaders planned demonstrations against segregation, the war in Vietnam, and the Speaker Ban Law which forbid anyone to speak at UNC who had a connection to any left wing organization that was deemed subversive.
HARRY'S in 1957, then in the location that became the Fireside in 1960
I started eating at HARRY'S when I was eleven in 1960. It was the favorite restaurant of my Godfather, Bob Pace, and had one of the least expensive menus in town. I recall my first meal there being a disappointment though. I saw on the menu something called Salisbury steak which I wrongly assumed was similar to T-Bone steak. Sadly, as I learned, Salisbury steak is much more like plain hamburger. Over the next ten years I was involved in civil rights marches, sit-ins, and even became a UNC campus leader of the anti-war movement. HARRY'S is the only place I ever recall going for a meal with like-minded individuals in those days.
As the 1960's came to a close Harry Macklin's son, Ralph Macklin, became co-manager of the restaurant. Ralph has an effusive personality and a had great gift for culinary creativity. Under his guidance the food at HARRY'S got significantly better and the sandwiches rivaled those of the best New York City Delis. During this time the patrons became more upscale, and the long-haired-types began to be replaced by sorority girls, especially from the nearby Alpha Chi Omega house, as well as local architects, and students and faculty from the UNC Department of City and Regional planning.
HARRY'S from 1966
All good things come to an end, and HARRY’S closed its doors in April of 1972. If you want a small taste of HARRY'S make yourself a sandwich that Ralph invented called The High Rise. Just get five slices of your favorite bread and place a slice of ham, a slice of corned beef, and a slice of American cheese on one layer, then place some hot pastrami, chicken salad, and a slice of chopped liver on another. Finally place some tuna salad and a slice of Swiss American cheese on the last level.
See the following article for a profile of the Harry Macklin family: http://www.chapelhillmemories.com/cat/2/75Comment
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.