WILMINGTON — For years it’s been on the lips of many who traverse the downtown scene: Wouldn’t the property at Red Cross and Third streets, which used to house a 1950’s garage, make for a great restaurant or bar?
Local entrepreneur Joe Apkarian (Pour House, Tacobaby) has had his eye on the spot since 2009.
“From what I always understood, there was an issue with the tanks underneath, but that’s all been sorted,” he said. “The owners did an entire environmental report and there are no tanks present — no contaminated fill.”
Where gas pumps once serviced cars, the Eagle’s Dare will service patron’s cocktail needs. Apkarian and his Pour House partner, Nicholas LaMastus, Jeff Taylor (bartender for manna and Earnest Money and Sons), Ben Shaw (founder of Happy Hour Vitamins) and a handful of private investors have come together to launch a cocktail lounge and beer garden at 420 S. Third St. by late spring 2022. Apkarian signed the lease Thursday.
The half-acre lot — purchased in June for $1.4 million — is a prime location in an area that has seen tremendous growth in the last five years. It’s located on Third Street downtown, which connects to MLK Parkway to Eastwood Road into Wrightsville Beach. Blocks away, across the Meadowlark Lemon Bridge, the Wilson Center keeps a roster of shows bringing traffic to North Third Street. Farther down is the newly opened Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park, which hosts at least 22 concerts or events a year.
Earlier in the fall, Dead Crow Comedy Room and its adjoining lounge Lush opened across the street from the soon-to-be garage-turned-bar. The heart of the Brooklyn Arts District is located just one block east, populated with a plethora of businesses, from Flytrap Brewing, Brooklyn Arts Center and Bottega, to newly opened restaurants like The Kitchen Sink, Three10 and Don Luca Pizza.
“I would say we are bridging the gap between the Brooklyn Arts District and downtown,” Apkarian said. “A couple years ago, if you were downtown, you were downtown — and if you went to Palate [on 4th Street,] you went to Palate. There wasn’t much in between. Hopefully, now, people will want to walk from Edward Teach to Eagle’s Dare to Tacobaby to Pour House.”
In essence, downtown will feel more connected, he added.
Apkarian takes pride in the fact all Eagle’s Dare partners are locals, including those who will renovate the 4,000-square-foot building. The architect is Rob Romero from Romero Architecture (End of Days Distillery) with contractor Nigel White from Rumble Street and designer Morgan Dale of Deeply Rooted Interiors.
Apkarian said the design aesthetic will take into account the nostalgia of the mid-century gas station — “old Texaco signs” and “Rockabilly themes” — but will primarily be “industrial chic.”
“I snicker when I say the words ‘industrial chic,’” he quipped. “But it will very much be exposed — exposing the concrete, exposing the brick.”
The color scheme will be red and white, matching the Eagle’s Dare logo.
The three garage doors at the front of the building will remain, as will the awning, which will host the front beer garden. The partners have planned a separate area that will be dog- and family-friendly as well.
“We want people to bring their kids or bring their dogs and enjoy themselves, the same as people who want to enjoy their friends and not have to worry about dogs or babies,” Apkarian said.
A 20-foot container will be upfitted to serve as a second outdoor bar.
“We want the place to look fun and funky, but also rough around the edges, so that you can be a young professional and have a martini or look like a young Marine Raider and have a High Life.”
The large front lot allows the bar to be one of the few downtown that will offer parking. However, Apkarian envisions also utilizing it for special events, specifically blocking it off from parking during busier times of the year like Azalea Festival or St. Patrick’s Day.
When the lot is in use, he imagines addressing modern-day needs, while keeping within the original scope of the building. “Hopefully, we can put in some electric charging stations that are modified to look like old school pump stations,” he said.
The lot also will have room to park food trucks and live entertainment will be on the roster, according to Apkarian.
The bar program itself will offer top-shelf spirits. “If you know Jeff Taylor and the kind [of] pedigree he has, you know Eagle’s Dare will absolutely have a strong curated cocktail program — inventive cocktails but also the classics,” Apkarian said.
Craft beer and wine will be offered, too. Apkarian has tapped Andrew Bopes at Mon Ame Chocolate and Wine Bar on Second Street to help oversee the selection.
“Obviously, all our wines that we serve will be available at Mon Ame,” Apkarian said, “so, again, this is all about the Wilmington community.”
Community is what paved Apkarian’s path into the hospitality industry to begin with, he said. Years ago, he would join his peers from the Marine Special Operations to have beers at the Pour House weekly. When the opportunity arose to purchase the bar, he decided to take the leap.
“Pour House is very tied to the Marine Raider community,” Apkarian said. “And that’s pretty much how I found myself now as a food-and-beverage guy. I mean, my peers are all Lieutenant Colonels and I’m still slinging booze, which I didn’t necessarily expect. But here we are.”
(The. name “Eagle’s Dare” is a hat-tip to the 1968 World War II action film starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton.)
Earlier in the year, Apkarian expanded into the restaurant side of the market as well, becoming an operations partner for Tacobaby on Grace Street, a three-block walk from Eagle’s Dare. He said the recent developments underway in and around downtown have helped lay the groundwork for his next moves as an entrepreneur.
With the changing landscape, Eagle’s Dare, he said, will be a place where customers won’t necessarily feel like they’re in Wilmington: “It will be a design-forward aspect so that when you walk in, you have to remind yourself you’re not in Charleston, not Chicago.”
Apkarian is shooting for a Memorial Day opening next year, but noted the crew really are at the mercy of what the market dictates in terms of shipping delays and construction needs and impacts.
And then what happens next is anyone’s guess.
“I can’t even see past tomorrow,” he said. “But whether or not I want to do another spot — you know, we’ll have to wait and see.”
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