For those who’ve served our country, the NCO Club of St. Augustine is a place of community and fellowship… and $2 beers on Thursdays.
With decades of experience tending bar in locales around the globe, it’s interesting to wonder about the banter that has found its way into the bartender’s ear of Kenneth “Woody” Woodruff. But, within minutes of talking to the Air Force veteran, it becomes abundantly clear that he’ll not be sharing any privileged information.
Besides, the non-commissioned Officers Club’s regulars just don’t seem too interested in gossip.
Located inside the cannon-flanked Mark W. Lance Armory on San Marco Avenue in downtown St. Augustine, the St. Augustine NCO Club was founded in 1968 to serve retired or active duty non-commissioned U.S. military officers. Before moving into the armory in 1972 the club used to meet at the White Lion on Cuna Street. It’s open to members on Thursday nights. Members are allowed to bring guests.
Originally established as a place for those with a military background to rub shoulders with people who’ve had similar experiences, military clubs have been around for decades. “We’re similar to the VFW or American Legion,” Woody says of the NCO Club. “It’s a place for those who are in the service or those have been in the service to get together, chat, have a drink, or just hangout.”
Woody, who’s served in the Air Force for 32 years, volunteers to bartend at NCO Club. An Idaho native who speaks in a fast and somewhat frenetic manner, he’s been in St. Augustine since 1991. Before that he’d bartended all over the globe. But Woody is much more interested in talking about the history of the NCO Club, than he is about his own personal history.
“Egypt was pretty nice,” he says, quite matter-of-factly.
The club is a pretty darn good deal. Membership to the NCO Club is just $1 per month and drinks cost just $2. Woody says his regulars – which usually consists of 10-12 members, but depends heavily on deployment – mostly just drink beer. “This is a beer crowd,” he says. “We drink Bud Light, Yuengling, domestic beers, stuff like that.”
The club got rid of its kegerators some years back, so members drink from cans or bottles as they take advantage of the pool tables or dartboards. A few members have started a cigar club, which takes place every third Thursday, while on the first Thursday of each month, the NCO Club provides the main course for a potluck. Woody says the NCO Club’s experiment with Trivia Night – a popular draw at many local bars – was short-lived.
“Well, we stopped doing trivia about 6 months ago,” he says. The members were coming in for the potluck, but they wanted to eat and chat. They didn’t come in to play trivia.”
Ninety percent of the money taken in by the bar at the NCO Club goes toward supporting several local charities, including Wreaths Across America, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Wags and Whiskers Pet Rescue, and the March of Dimes Cancer walk.
Woody says he always looks forward to opening the bar at 1730 (5:30pm for you civilians) each Thursday and doesn’t mind sticking around late, on the rare occasion when members want to push the conversations and revelry into the wee hours of the morning. But, he’s not one to push it there himself. And he’s certainly not barhopping.
“I’m not really one to go out,” he says. “I really just like hanging with the guys at the NCO Club.”
Photos by Rob Futrell