It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, especially at the Angus Barn, where a half-century of decorating tradition serves guests a helping of holiday spirit.
The leaves turn golden, the temperature starts to drop and you can almost smell the aroma of gingerbread in the crisp air. The holidays are around the corner and celebrations in the city are marked by various local traditions: the lighting of the Christmas tree at the State Capitol, ice skating in City Plaza and a visit to the Angus Barn, where every room is elaborately and festively decorated.
The abundance of holiday spirit at “Big Red,” however, is no small feat. Indeed, it takes almost a year of planning before the transformation even starts to take shape.
Like clockwork on November 1st, Angus Barn owner Van Eure rolls up her sleeves and gets to work with her group of trusted helpers. Nutcrackers, ornaments, hundreds of yards of garland and much more are unearthed from the warehouse and hauled into the restaurant. With the music on loud, the group festively divides the work and starts tackling the massive job of decorating the 48,000-square-foot building.
“We start in the morning and go until 3:30 p.m. when the restaurant opens,” Eure says. “Then we start back the next day. Our goal is always to be done by Thanksgiving.”
“About 15 years ago, I’d go into panic mode,” she says. “But now that I have such a good crew helping me, it’s fun.”
The crew comprises of staff, friends, family and new additions, such as last year’s team of six moms, affectionately known as the “Housewives of Angus Barn.” Led by one of Eure’s neighbors, the group would drop off their kids at school and then head straight to the restaurant to help.
“We are looking forward to seeing them again this year,” Eure says.
The evolution of the Angus Barn during the holidays spans five decades and two generations. In 1960, the very first year Angus Barn opened, Eure’s parents, Thad and Alice, wanted to get a huge North Carolina evergreen tree in celebration.
“We would decorate it in an old-fashioned way, with popcorn that we would string ourselves—every single person in our family,” Eure recalls. “We draped the entire tree in popcorn, and we made homemade gingerbread men. We put little holes in their heads and strung ribbon through them and hung them all over the tree.”
What started as a simple tradition grew more elaborate with each coming year. Decorations soon extended to the mantle and the lobby. Then, a holiday vacation inspired the family to go all out and decorate every room. They headed to a Christmas show in Atlanta and bought a formidable number of lights, ornaments and garlands.
“It was right after Christmas so we were getting really good prices but still, when you’re buying so much stuff to decorate a building that’s this huge…,” Eure says, trailing off with a laugh. “We had to say, ‘Listen, don’t send [the bill] to us until June.’ Luckily, everything we got lasted for a long time.’”
If a small space or nook wasn’t decorated, customers would notice.
“Why isn’t the wine cellar decorated? Why isn’t the Wild Turkey lounge decorated?” says Eure. “My philosophy is ‘The customer is the boss.’”
So Eure obliged, extending the decorations into every nook and cranny. Eventually, “Big Red” transformed into more than a restaurant but a holiday destination. In fact, Eure notes, many people just come to see the decorations and not necessarily to eat. Angus Barn gets so packed during the season that, for those who want to indulge in a holiday meal, it can be difficult to get a reservation. That’s one reason why they keep the festive atmosphere in place through January.
For years, the family struggled with keeping a large, natural pine healthy for the entire holiday season.
“One year we got one and the bottom closed up, so no water could get through and all the pine needles were falling off so fast, you could sit there and it sounded like snow falling,” Eure says. “We had to get the company to bring us a whole other tree in the middle of December and decorate it.”
Now, Eure and her team can focus more on planning and less on potential hiccups. Part of the fun is getting creative and coming up with ingenious solutions. One year, the staff wrapped 200 different-sized boxes in varying shades of shiny paper. Another year, Eure left some branches out of the tree, creating a hole where they built a shelf. A child would sit on the shelf dressed as an elf and surprise guests passing by.
“It was a little crazy,” Eure recalls. “I don’t know how they put up with me. Of course, I had to use my own children and relatives. The little kids dressed up and loved it. They thought it was great! We had a big teddy bear up there when they took a break.”
Over the years, Eure and her crew have created imaginative and memorable themes: an ode to nutcrackers (you could buy one as a personal memento), a last minute red-and-white stripe extravaganza and last year’s Polar Express-inspired scene. Twice, they decorated an upside-down tree.
“Last year, we suspended a train track from the ceiling, all the way around the room,” Eure says. “Our own maintenance crew was incredible. This was like an act of congress. You can imagine how sturdy and flat it had to be. They worked so hard that I said, ‘We’re not taking the train down.’ The train will be part of the Angus Barn forever.”
Last year, Eure also decided to outline the Angus Barn with twinkling lights. “They said, ‘Van, it’s going to look like Christmas Vacation,’” says Eure, but she felt that, if done in the right way, it wouldn’t look tacky. It took 80,000 lights and the generous help of a customer. The end the result was a resounding success and Eure’s planning to repeat it again this year.
Eure is quick to note that, though she is the proverbial ringleader of the endeavor, she credits a large group of people to make it a reality, especially her staff at the restaurant.
“The roots of it are my Angus Barn team,” she says. “They’ve been with me for a long time. They know where everything goes. I could not do anything without them. Even if they don’t help decorate, they make the magic come true when people walk in the door at Christmas.”
By the Numbers
Height of the main tree
Number of lights on the main tree
Total Christmas trees
Number of lights outside