World flavors of Platypus and Gnome fill popular Front Street restaurant space

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A bleu cheese bison burger is currently on the rotating menu at Platypus and Gnome, which opened up last month in the longtime restaurant space at 9 S. Front St.
A bleu cheese bison burger is currently on the rotating menu at Platypus and Gnome, which opened up last month in the longtime restaurant space at 9 S. Front St.

The lights are back on in a once-thriving and highly visible downtown restaurant space.

The playfully named Platypus and Gnome opened its doors at 9 S. Front St. in late April, offering up an eclectic mix of fare befitting its brand in a casually chic setting.

And Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc., says the new restaurant, which plans to serve lunch and dinner, marks a welcome return to increased activity along a stretch of Front Street peppered with nighttime-only establishments.

“There are a lot of night clubs and bars in that area, and having [businesses] that are just open at night creates an inactive area during the daytime that doesn’t give much for pedestrians to see,” Wolverton said. “This helps to activate that space, which in turn helps to activate that entire block.”

For many years, the 2,600-square-foot site has stood as a main attraction for locals and visitors alike, first as a newsstand-style coffee shop that became a popular informal gathering spot for the emerging arts scene crowd in the early 80s.

Then, at the end of that decade, swanky eatery Caffe Phoenix set up shop at 9 Front and remained both a fixture and a favorite among actors in town for film projects for more than 20 years.

The building, once the longtime home of Caffe Phoenix, has been empty since 9 Bakery and Lounge shut down last summer. A new sign out front is a good sign for the block's surrounding businesses, WDI CEO Ed Wolverton said.
The building, once the longtime home of Caffe Phoenix, has been empty since 9 Bakery and Lounge shut down last summer. A new sign out front is a good sign for the block’s surrounding businesses, WDI CEO Ed Wolverton said.

It was most recently the home of the eccentric but wildly successful 9 Bakery and Lounge, which was equal parts donut shop and tapas bar. Owner Matt Schuler had to shut down last June due to a health issue and the storefront has remained empty since.

Given a major overhaul by the building’s owner – a real estate investor with several other surrounding properties to his name – 9 Front St. is now alive with the chatter of diners and the aroma of world dishes Platypus and Gnome boasts as its focus.

Timed with seasonal changes, the restaurant’s rotating menu features a unique spin on cuisine from across the globe. Playtpus and Gnome’s Facebook page, for example, showcases this week’s special: the BuffBuffalo, a hefty hand-patted bison meat burger filled with bleu cheese and topped with barbecue and bleu cheese sauces and strips of smoked bacon.

On the same block, another of the 9 Front St. owner’s buildings, the former Charley Brownz Downtown Lounge, is also being given some much-needed new life.

Renovations have been underway at the three-story property at 21 Front for more than a year and in January, the second and third levels became move-in ready for innovative app company, Next Glass.

The first floor will eventually be filled, too, Wolverton said, noting the building owner was in the process of determining whether a restaurant or retail store would be the best fit.

No matter the shape it takes, Wolverton said, along with Platypus and Gnome, that second reoccupied storefront will only further solidify the streetway as more than just a place to grab a late-night drink.

“That’s bringing more vitality to that area, as well,” he said of the building. “Having those two vacant for a little bit of a period was a bit of a drain for that area.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.

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