WILMINGTON — Craft beer, coastal cuisine and outdoor festivals will be rising from the ruins of the twice-closed Fibber McGees.
Watermans Brewing, which will be taking over the long-vacant spot on Eastwood Road, will be the latest craft brewery in the Wilmington area. It’s a crowded scene, but for owner Bob High, making an entrance is about patience, perfection and parties.
“If we had really wanted to, I suppose we could have been open already,” High said. “But this building needed a lot of work, a lot of love. We put a new roof, new floors, we put in all new pretty much everything.”
After a year of renovation, Watermans is nearly ready to open. As construction nears completion, High gave Port City Daily a sneak peak, but said he refused to rush an opening.
“I want it to be perfect. We’re not going to open a brewery until we’re ready to serve you our beer and we know it’s [expletive] great. We’re not going to serve you food until we get it right, just the right balance, affordable but awesome…man, we want everything to be way better than it needs to be,” High said.
High has been in the North Carolina brewing business for a long time, having worked at Natty Green’s in Greensboro and Crank Arm in Raleigh, but he’s turned over head-brewing duties to veteran Zac Brown.
“We’re really all about the beer,” High said. “Zac is an absolute rock star. He’s going to do great things here.”
The Watermans brewmaster said he looks forward to showing off a broader spectrum of beer.
“I want to highlight a lot of different styles, not just IPA,” Brown said. “Will we make a great IPA? Absolutely. But I don’t think that’s as challenging as making a great, balanced ESB (extra special bitter). Everyone has an IPA. What about a Kolsch or a Hefeweizen?”
In the kitchen, High and his team have enlisted Mel Melton, a Louisiana transplant who has made his home – and won several culinary awards – in North Carolina for the last 30 years. Melton has cooked across the nation, but said in his heart he prefers Cajun cooking. Melton and High said the kitchen will start out serving dinner and quickly add lunch. The seasonal menu will feature food celebrating the coastal cuisines of the world, High said.
“That’s the Watermans spirit. It’s about our love of the ocean and all those places that depend on it and are entwined with it. So we can do food from New England, or Vietnam, Costa Rica or New Orleans and it all makes sense. Our seafood is going to be crazy fresh, but we’re not going to be fancy. I’m not going to charge people $15 for a hamburger or something like that. Just great [expletive] food that you want to have a beer with,” High said.
High said Melton would be heavily involved early on, but that the kitchen would be entrusted to a Wilmington native, Andrew Stanley. Waterman’s chef-to-be said that, except for a brief time in New York attending the Culinary Institute of America, he’s spent his life cooking in Wilmington. Stanley has cooked everything from fried seafood at King Neptune to high-end French bistro food at Brasserie, and “a lot of things in between.”
In addition to a planned series of events in the outside area, High said Watermans also plans a number of other activities.
“We want Watermans to stand up in the region as one of the great breweries, so we’ve put in the time,” High said. “We want to have absolutely awesome beer and killer food – and we will – but we really want it to go beyond that. We want to be a part of this community. Not just a neighborhood bar, but something more.”
Along with co-owners Don Weber and Craig Gee, High says Watermans will capitalize on its outdoor area to create a “festival atmosphere.”
“We’ve got this great deck space and we’re going to use it,” High said. “We want to share the great things about coastal culture from all over. We love oyster roasts and crawfish boils. We love live music. We love drinking beer in the sunshine with the salt in the air.”
Watermans is also planning a series of outdoor events, according to High.
“We’re going to sponsor a beer mile, and if you don’t know what that is, you gotta check it out,” High said, referring to the international competition in which contestants drink a 12 ounce beer at the beginning of each of four 400 meter laps.
“We’ll be sponsoring an outrigger canoe team at Wrightsville SUP (stand up paddling). We’re going to have a run club on Tuesdays, and bike club Wednesdays. We want to do fat bike tours out on Masonboro,” he said. “Just ways to get people together, and have them enjoy the outdoors, and then enjoy a beer or two.”
High said his team plans to build a surfboard-rinsing station, bike racks, and “as many other things as we can think of to make this place feel welcoming. It’s not just one more place to drink a beer, it’ll be part of your routine, part of your life.”
Watermans Brewing is located at 1610 Pavillion Place, between Wrighstville Avenue and Eastwood Road. It will open this summer, High said.