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Who is Winnie of Winnie’s Tavern on Burnett Boulevard?

Jim Ware
StarNews
Winnie Swanson 1941

Winnie Swanson, founder of Winnie's Tavern, as she looked in 1941. (Contributed photo)

Winnie Swanson – namesake of Winnie’s Tavern and its popular Winnie Burger – was an independent woman who touched three legendary Wilmington eateries before her death in November 2008.

“She was doing her own thing until she died,” granddaughter Wendy Fincher-Hughes said.

Swanson, who had taken the name Walker before her death, had been married five times, Fincher-Hughes said.

A real estate agent, Fincher-Hughes has taken over running the restaurant, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.

Winnie Swanson worked at the Chic-Chic drive-in at 1404 N. Fourth St., Wilmington [Map this], before opening Winnie’s Drive-In at 1601 Dawson St., Wilmington [Map this], her granddaughter said.

In 1962, Swanson bought the block where Winnie’s Tavern is now, at 1895 Burrnet Blvd., Wilmington [Map this]. At the time the property housed a trailer park in the back and a building that was to become the tavern in the front, Fincher-Hughes said.

In the last half-century, the tavern built a reputation among locals, and even served as a location for the cult classic film “Blue Velvet.”

Winne’s Tavern has become known for serving a great cheeseburger, Fincher-Hughes said. It wasn’t always that way.

“A lot of time people didn’t know what it was and didn’t know we had food,” she said. Several bars are near the tavern, including the popular Satellite, probably leading to the confusion, she said.

Now, however, the burgers – and rave reviews on Internet food sites – are the biggest draws, Fincher-Hughes said.

Ironically – and perhaps the greatest compliment – is that locals who work in downtown Wilmington restaurants frequently stop by Winnie’s Tavern to eat before going to their jobs, Fincher-Hughes said.

On March 31, 2012, Winnie’s Tavern will celebrate its 50th anniversary – and the life of Winnie Swanson – with a pig picking and music by Chris Bellamy.

“It’s important to honor my grandmother,” Fincher-Hughes said.

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7 Responses to “ Who is Winnie of Winnie’s Tavern on Burnett Boulevard?”

  1. On February 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm Sarah Langley wrote:

    I remember Winnies as a teenager,would go there with Mr, Cleve Cardwell & his daughter Dorthy.We love being with him in what we thought was a Bar,& were so lucky to be allowed!!It was a very Happy place back in the 60′s!

  2. On February 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm jeff baltezegar wrote:

    there was a bar in the front building before it became Winnies Tavern.

  3. On February 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm Wendy Fincher-Hughes wrote:

    I have not taken over (as I am a full-time Real Estate Agent, with Intracoastal Realty.) I have stepped in to help my Mother, Jean S. Johnson, who currently owns Winnie’s Tavern, with staffing, suggestions and minor improvements as the word gets out about our incredible cheeseburgers!

  4. On February 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm jean s. johnson wrote:

    Jeff’s dad had it when my mother bought it. He only rented the bar. Before that Buddy Best rented it also. Before going downtown to open the bars there.
    My mother bought the block from a Mr. Dowling who wanted to go to Fla. because family moved with the Coastline Railroad. In the shipyard day the tavern was a grocery store and grill, there where 34 trailer spaces in the park at that time.
    my mother started her work in food service at the Winnieburger near the old Pepis plant, near the beginning of Orlander Dr. Pop an older Greek men owed it then, moved to open the Hilton grill and truck stop near the Christmas tree. After she went to work at shipyard. After shipyard closed she went to work at the Chic-chic and with a partener bought it. In the early 50′s they split and went to third and Dawson. To build the 3D Drive-in. When the then new bridge came to Wilmington she moved up Dawson to Sixteenth St. to build Winnie’s Drive-In. And partener went to Carolina Beach road to open Merritt’s Burger House.
    When lease on Dawson was up she tore down building and bought the block on Burnett Blvd. to open Winnie’s Tavern

  5. On February 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm Susan Taylor Block wrote:

    When I was a little girl, I would go with my young parents to the 3-D Drive-In every few weeks. Just having waitresses serve food car-side was wonder enough, but those hamburgers were the best I ever did taste. Sometimes when I drive by the old location, I think about those simple happy times, the coldness of infrastructure, and I wonder again how anyone could make a hamburger taste that good.

  6. On June 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm Elliot Hunter wrote:

    A very obscure fact concerning Winnies Tavern is that it once was the location of a radio shop. My father, W.G. Hunter was the owner and operator of Communications Maintenance Company, the franchised Motorola 2-way radio service dealer for Southeastern North Carolina. This business was located within the right half of the Winnies building during the years 1954-1956. The left side of the building was occupied by Byron’s Grill, a short order food and drink establishment.
    If you visit Winnies today for one of their great burgers, notice the remnants of the partition wall which separated the two very diffirent businesses!