Payne's Old Towne Pub takes a slightly different approach to things than its neighbors on the genteel streets of old town Leesburg.
Check out the clientele. In a county seat full of button-down shirts, Payne's customers prefer beards, tattoos, motorcycle boots and leather clothes, the blacker the better.
Or take the bar's style. Instead of paintings on the walls, Payne's has yellowing snapshots of bikers. Women's panties with the words "Harley-Davidson" often hang in the front window, and scratched wooden booths line one wall.
One wit flattered the stark decor as "early Marlon Brando."
But most important, consider the bar's T-shirt motto. Given the proximity of Loudoun County's jail and courthouse on the other side of King Street, it seems quite apt: "Better here than across the street."
"The place has a hell of a reputation," grinned Tom Schwarz, a biker known as "Snorts," as he tugged on his ponytail one recent afternoon. "You'd be surprised how many people walk in that door, look around, and walk out."
For 24 years, Payne's pub has been the outsider, the rock-and-roller, on a historic street of brick row houses and whitewashed columns, where many businesses depend on tourists attracted to the burnished image.
But while little has changed at Payne's, some in Leesburg have come to accept the wayward pub. Some say they realize many bikers are nicer than their image. Others say the change is due to Payne's owner, Wallace "Banger" Payne, 54, who has quietly raised thousands of dollars in recent years for charities, firefighters and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
He was honored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association at a reception Wednesday, along with other MDA fund-raisers in the Washington area. Payne raised $6,000 by leading dozens of leather-clad bikers on rides this year. He promises to deliver more next year.
"Payne's is an important part of the community in Leesburg," said Frank Raflo, 70, a former Leesburg mayor and newspaper editor who was not always so sanguine about the biker bar. "Who am I to say bow ties are better than earrings?"
The pub still has its detractors. Some business people, who want to cultivate the town's genteel atmosphere, say Payne's attracts the wrong element. Stanley Caulkins, a jeweler with a shop less than a block away, is not shy about saying what he thinks of Payne.
"He's been a renegade," said Caulkins, who adds that he would rather the biker took his bar and bearded friends to another town. "Why don't they want to change? . . . I don't know how to approach the man, to encourage the man to try to turn things around."
Caulkins tells a story about Payne's and a Sunday concert on the courthouse lawn. It seems the concert was just starting when a group of bikers spilled out of the pub. In unison, he said, they fired up their huge bikes and drowned out the music. "It was just out-and-out devilment," Caulkins said.
Elijah B. White, 80, a lawyer with an office next door to Payne's, recalled mornings when he came to work and found the brick sidewalk covered with broken glass. But White said he considers the occasional trouble a pinprick when compared with the distress he feels about the rapid development in Leesburg and eastern Loudoun these days.
"There will be 10 or 12 cyclists out here, and when they all start up, it makes a hell of a racket," he said. "But it passes."
Police say the bar has had plenty of scrapes with the law because of fights and assaults. One shopkeeper complained about bikers urinating on the steps of a nearby bank. But things have calmed down in recent years, in part because bikers from notorious gangs such as the Outlaws or Hell's Angels don't stop in as often, said Leesburg Capt. Michael McVeigh. "It was a little wilder in the past," he said.
Lawyers and other professional types drift in occasionally from across the street, looking for what Payne says is the coldest beer in town. And they're welcome, he says, but Payne's bar remains a biker bar, down to its lewd posters, because bikers are the ones who feel most at home, he said.
A biker, he says, is someone who lives to ride, not fight. Payne said he spent nine months in jail for manslaughter in 1985 before he learned to cross the street when trouble appears. Many of his customers look tough, but are in fact easygoing and friendly.
"The image of a biker doing evil is wrong," insists Payne, who grew up on a dairy farm west of Leesburg. "Whether they're a doctor, an officer, a carpenter or a bricklayer, he gets on that bike and has a freedom."
Several officers from Leesburg and the county Sheriff's Department even call on Payne's. David Kerr, a sheriff's deputy on his seventh Harley-Davidson, says he has been going there to drink cold beer for 10 years. Like other bikers, Kerr said, he likes Payne's because its crowd doesn't take to phonies.
"If you go in and you try to put on airs or try to be something you're not, you will be welcome, but you won't be well thought of," he said.