The bartenders at Phil & Tony's start moving tables together every Thursday evening around 4:30.
They know the “P.T. Cruisers” will soon show up for their “usual” – sipping, snacking and yakking.
The group of about 20 women has met at the Arboretum restaurant every Thursday night for about five years. They hail from southern Mecklenburg and Union counties, and say their regular girls' nights out are like group therapy, only with cocktails and appetizers.
It started five years ago with then-co-workers Monnie Smith and Becca Mower, who enjoyed a drink together after quitting time on Thursdays. A third buddy, Becky Hobbs, started coming. Soon, they began inviting other friends they knew from their neighborhoods, work or church.
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“Now it's a ‘bring whoever as long as she's fun' kind of thing,” says Pattiann Parsons of Weddington, who has been in the group for three years. “We've literally met women in the parking lot who were going in to grab a to-go dinner alone and dragged them over to sit with us.”
When they heard Phil & Tony's has half-price bottles of wines on Thursdays, it became their favorite spot.
The group grew even closer as it supported Smith through her treatments for breast cancer. Manager Reem Rabie gave the women the nickname “P.T. Cruisers” and has sponsored them in the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure event for three years.
Parsons says Smith consistently impresses the group with her strength and humor.
“She missed only one or two gatherings while she was in treatment, and that was about 10 months of chemo and radiation,” she says. “She said it was better to come enjoy a glass of wine with friends rather than staying home and hiding out.”
Smith is now healthy and says her friends' support helped her keep a positive attitude.
The weekly gatherings begin around 4:45 p.m. They've had as few as two people and as many as 30.
“It's not a ‘call and see if it's happening' kind of thing,” says Parsons, of Weddington. “It's a given that if you show up, you'll have good company.”
The majority “are 50-ish,” says Parsons, 55. The youngest is college student Amanda Duckworth. Phil & Tony's bartender Brittany Young, 27, is an “unofficial” member; she joins in nights she's not working.
At the restaurant, they've celebrated birthdays and children's graduations. They've mourned the loss of parents and supported each other through other traumas.
“If you don't show up on Thursday, you can count on having a million calls asking where you were and if you're OK,” Parsons says. “We're really lucky to have such a support system.”