So What’s in God’s Name is a Pinhook Anyway?

In the long, obscene, and brutal discussions that we had between January and July about what the hell we were going to name our bar, we did some heavy research into the greasy, forgotten corners of Durham’s history. the word “Pinhook” came up in a few places, mostly referring to an old “grog shop.” I’m not sure, but I think grog referred to any alcoholic beverage that came in a big earthenware jug marked “XXX”, and consumed by comical, old-style hobos as they rode the rails with a cadre of bright pink elephants.

Anyway, since we are opening our own drink-selling establishment, we thought The Pinhook would be a very appropriate name.

It turned out to be more terrifyingly appropriate than we could have ever imagined.

A few weeks ago, my friend Jessica (an archivist at UNC) told me that Pinhook did not refer to the grog shop itself, but the settlement where the grog shop was located. There was an entire neighborhood called Pinhook.

The name came from an old term for a small-time tobacco hustler. Pinhookers would buy up leftover tobacco at the end of auctions, repackage it, and sell it for a small profit. It was a pretty crass way to make a living, but it was enough to keep a few people in “grog”. Pinhookers were not people who rode around in private train cars saying “fuck off” to members of the Rockefeller family, is basically what I’m saying.

If the Pinhook settlement was anything, it was raw. The dudes were harsh and grizzled, stoney-eyed men who drank rye whiskey out of their hats and pummeled each other with railroad ties. The women were all over six-feet tall, and even though a lot of them were prostitutes, they took shit from no man. This kind of woman could beat Sylvester Stallone at arm wrestling. (Have you seen that movie Over the Top? I haven’t, but I hear it’s pretty good.)

But Pinhook was also fun, as evidenced by the crowds of 19th-century UNC students who would roll in on the weekends to get their swerve on, and maybe gamble away the money their father made by inventing the Marvelous Automated Butter Churn. Can you imagine that? UNC students coming to Durham to hang out? Craaaazy!

The best story I heard about the settlement came from John Schelp of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association. Apparently the area acheived widespread fame when a man and a women, both naked as babes, embarked on a curious footrace through the Pinhook streets. The prize? A jug of whiskey!

Maybe it was a jug of grog. The answer is lost to the mists of time.

Anyway, that’s why we’re calling our bar the Pinhook. Thanks to John Schelp of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association, Gary Kueber of Endangered Durham, and Jessica Sedgwick of the UNC library system for their pro-bono educational efforts.

-Nick W.


2 Responses to “So What’s in God’s Name is a Pinhook Anyway?”

  1. 1 Jos
    September 21, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    There’s a community in N.C. called Pin Hook (spelled as two words instead of one). It’s down the road from someplace else with “pin” in its name: Chinquapin.

  2. 2 Baja Nick
    September 28, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    all around pleasing to the ears The Pinhook…….. don’t you think a literary reference would have been good though?

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