Although the television sitcom "Cheers" ended several years ago, the same friendly, personable atmosphere portrayed in the bar where "everybody knows your name" can be found right here on the Corner at St. Maarten Café.
Owner and manager Jim Roland said when he opened St. Maarten in 1985 with his partner, Linda Roland, he envisioned it as a neighborhood meeting place where people of all different backgrounds could eat and drink together.
"At St. Maarten's, you'll maybe have a contractor sitting next to a banker, sitting next to a carpenter," Roland said. Customers "tend to socialize both inside and outside of here."
Patrons can sit along the walls on cozy wooden benches or on stools around the bar, which is situated in the middle of the square-shaped restaurant below a rack of loyal customers' beer mugs.
"People have their own specific place when they come in - they feel really comfortable in here," Roland said. "Some people will wait just to get the one table or the one seat at the bar that's their favorite."
The menu at St. Maarten presents a wide variety of dishes that serve as a complement to the restaurant's diverse atmosphere. The trademark appetizer is the chicken wings, which are offered from the conservatively mild "Teriyaki Sesame Wings" to the outrageously spicy "7th Plane of Hell Wings." Although there were eight barbecue flavors, and some are only for the boldest of tasters, all the wings were succulent and fresh.
Other appetizers such as crab legs and nachos are offered on the menu, which ranged in price from $3.99 to $9.99.
The entrees vary from standard American fare such as burgers and chicken to dishes with Southern, Mexican and Caribbean flares. The turkey burger was moist and grilled to perfection, and so was the tuna burger - both were fresh and prepared to order. The barbecue chicken was both tender and flavorful, although it was not as vinegary as North Carolina barbecue. The entrées ranged in price from $5.99 to $12.99.
The dessert choices ($2.99 to $3.99) are rather limited, but didn't lack in quantity or flavor. The Reese Brownie was the epitome of chocolate indulgence - a warm homemade brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Another dish, the Bananas Foster Pie, had too much ice cream, but not enough bananas.
The service at St. Maarten was unusually personable. Roland said his customers will never see a "please wait to be seated" sign in his restaurant. When a customer enters, they are immediately hailed by a bartender or waiter and then seated.
The waitress was extremely friendly, as well as being helpful and patient during the meal. She even took a Polaroid picture of the table when one of the customers announced that it was her birthday.
"Birthday's are big here," Roland said.
He said many students come to St. Maarten to celebrate the big 21.
Perhaps even more famous than the food served at St. Maarten is the alcoholic drinks. Above each table, various laminated signs are posted describing scores of creatively named drinks. In addition to the plethora of drinks, the most famous tradition at St. Maarten remains the "Coconut Club."
Regulars can join the club based on their acceptance by the bartenders and managers.
"We have probably about 1,800 members right now," Roland said. He describes the club as a group of "regular, responsible drinkers" who receive tin mugs as their induction.
"They get nicknames - whatever they go by in here - engraved onto the mugs," he said, "and use them every time they come in.
"Some people who haven't been in here for 10 years come back in during Homecoming or the Virginia Tech game and I just pull them out of storage," he added. The Club mugs line the top of the bar, the rear wall and even overflow into the kitchen.
Roland said he puts the mugs into storage if they haven't been used in about eight months. "It's all computerized inventory," he said.
St. Maarten is situated at the intersection of Wertland Avenue and 14th Street on the Corner.